Supporting learning at home

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As parents, we want the best for our children, and a first-rate education is an important feature of setting our children up for a fulfilling life. COVID-19 aside, its good practice to see home as very much part of children’s educational journey. Home is the place infants begin to learn from the moment they enter the world. The pre-school years are jam-packed with learning potential and opportunity, years before formal education begins. There is no reason to stop that integrated learning once a child does begin schooling outside of the house. And, whether a family chooses to home educate or enrol their child in a school, all parents, and indeed all children, can benefit from strategies to support kids’ learning in the home environment. That includes making use of both online and offline resources. Let’s take a look at some strategies for supporting your child’s learning at home.

Real-life problems, real-world learning:

As adults, we rarely use skills or learning in isolation.  We are constantly faced with challenges and scenarios that require problem solving.  For example, trying to balance the various conflicting preferences around mealtimes with the desire to cook nutritious food on a budget and with limited time: now there’s a real-life problem!  Responding to this challenge requires numeracy, nutritional understanding, negotiation, conflict management and communication skills, time management and – of course – cooking skills!  This is something kids can get involved with, helping them to be active in learning in a way that doesn’t feel like formal learning and integrates learning into daily life.  Setting your child(ren) a challenge, asking them to help solve a problem can be a great way to stimulate curiosity and get them to develop and apply a range of different skills.  This means, as a parent, you become a coach or project manager, rather than a teacher in the traditional sense.  You pose the challenge, you ask your child(ren) to identify steps they can take in solving the problem and then provide opportunities to review and coach along the way by offering questions rather than direct advice.   Then you let them get creative in problem solving!  You’re always there to provide suggestions if needed, but beyond that you allow your child(ren) the space to problem solve for themselves.  This conveys to your child(ren) that you trust them in their own learning and development and you are also willing to allow and even support them to make their own mistakes and, most importantly to then adapt and revise their strategy as a result.  Powerful learning!  To increase literacy skills, ask the child(ren) to produce a written report with their conclusions in and an explanation of how they reached their decision.  This is a great way to then prompt discussion and communication about the skills they learnt along the way.

Real-life challenges you could set your child(ren) include:

  • What will be the best way to arrange the furniture in communal family room to maximise space?
  • How can we eat more vegetables as a family without increasing the weekly shop budget? What meals would we create for a week to meet this goal?
  • How can the family reduce their carbon footprint whilst still accommodating people’s needs?

Reading for life:

Confident readers have a greater chance of academic success [1].  A child’s reading skills are important to their progress across a range of subjects, in that reading unlocks a powerful form of communication.  Reading also stimulates imagination and reading can be a fun and imaginative time for children, opening the doors to many adventures and journeys.  So, cultivating reading at home can pay dividends for your child.  That begins with setting a positive example.  Simply having plenty of books in the house has been shown to be a predictor of academic success [2].  And if kids see parents reading enjoying regularly, that sets up a powerful example.  Reading stories to young children at bedtime, and as the grow older, having them read you a chapter allows for the powerful bonding hormone of oxytocin (often labelled the “cuddle hormone”) to link shared reading with a positive emotional experience.  And, when its not practical to be reading a book, literacy and reading skills can be developed through conversation.  Other family-based reading opportunities include:

  • At the meal table, ask young children to think of words rhyming with the foods you are eating to encourage phonemic awareness.
  • Singing songs and reciting fun poems and ditties, such as limericks, are also fantastic ways to develop literacy and phonemic awareness.
  • Ask children to read you the ingredient lists on the back of packets in the grocery store.
  • Model reading a range of literature to children:  magazines, newspapers, cookbooks, fiction novels, reference books.
  • Books can be a special treat to reward children for special achievements:  even better, give them a book voucher and allow them to browse the book shop to select their own book.

Make effective use of the best available resources:

So far we’ve explored how parents can make fantastic use of a number of amazing resources to impact their child(ren)’s learning.  That includes parents themselves:  powerful role models who have a plethora of skills and life experience to pass onto their kids.  And children themselves are a wonderful resource!  They have innate creativity and, with support and the right environment, can make important gains in their own learning.  And, of course, books and other reading and literacy materials are a great resource.

It’s also important to recognise online resources that can be a boon to parents who want to support their child’s learning at home.  With so much choice out there, online resources can feel somewhat overwhelming at times, and parents can worry about too much screen time for their child(ren).  Therefore, having a manageable number of trusted online resources and also some knowledge around how to best use these can make online resourcing less daunting.

So, before we get into 3 recommended online sites, here’s some tips about how to use online resources to best effect.

  • Active learning is more powerful than passive learning.  Think of online resources as information that you then want children to apply and process in some way.  Some online resources factor this in through problem solving tasks or interactive challenges.  If not, consider setting a “real-life” challenge that can enable your child(ren) to apply their online learning.
  • Build in wellbeing awareness to the online learning by chatting with your child(ren) about helpful posture when working online and the importance of taking screen breaks.
  • Be aware of competitiveness and consider how that relates to a growth mindset.  Online resources often allow children to build up points and compete in results tables.  That can be a great motivator to return and keep practicing.  However, it can make it challenging for children to then manage the emotional impact of making a mistake.  As discussed above, mistakes and a growth mindset around making mistakes can also be a very powerful learning tool.  Keep the balance by chatting with your child about ways to handle both competition and mistakes.

Finally, as promised, 3 great resources you may find helpful for online learning:

  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize:  Bitesize is the BBC’s free online study support resource for school-age pupils in the United Kingdom. It is designed to aid pupils in both schoolwork and, for older pupils, exams
  • https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/ Watch animal web cams, learn interesting animal facts, see and share photos of nature, learn about different countries, try science experiments, and much more
  • https://www.howstuffworks.com/ Articles answering a range of questions, helping to stimulate your child’s curiosity.

So, hope some of the tips here help you in supporting your child’s learning at home.  Enjoy the adventure!

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