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What to do with children at home during schools closures and our top tips to educate them

Schools have shut and parents all over the country are wondering how best to look after their children at home.

It’s daunting to realise you are now their sole educator for the foreseeable future.

It’s also a challenging time for children – they can’t see their friends and have lost the security of their usual routine and activities.

But now they are away from playground chat about Coronavirus, we can shield them better from anxiety and make this as positive a time as we can for them.

After all, they are living through a period which will be remembered in history – one day they could be telling their grandchildren about the time schools closed.

So, let them remember it for all the good stuff, when they got to spend quality time with the people who love them most.

Where they played games, had fun and learned about things that really mattered to them and interested them.

Read, explored hobbies and passions but above all felt loved and secure at a time when the world around them was confusing and different.

We’ve put together some ideas to help you.

But whatever you do or don’t manage, please don’t feel inadequate or guilty.

EVERYONE is in the same boat. Children are not at school, remember, you are a parent not a teacher.

Timetables and routine

Children respond well to a routine. And their normal schedule has been taken away from them.

You can make a timetable to add structure to their days and a lot of children benefit from having a visual plan in place.

I’m going to attempt to get my children up and dressed first thing – wish me luck, they do love a pyjama day!

I’m also hoping to set aside periods for learning, reading, exercise and creative time but will be flexible and lead by them.

Make sure to set aside good chunks of time for child-led play.

Remember, this is NOT the time to be nagging or upsetting children if they really don’t want to do something.

And if they don’t learn much some days? Don’t worry!

Exercise

Children need plenty of exercise.

Besides keeping their fitness levels up, they’ll feel happier, more positive and more energised if they keep active.

*You could start the day with a PE session – body coach Joe Wickes is doing a free PE lesson at 9am every weekday on YouTube #PEwithJoe.

PE with Joe

*When allowed out, plan a daily walk or jog and try different routes, keeping well away from other people. If you are feeling particularly enthusiastic, make a treasure hunt of things to find or collect bits for a picture!

Keep a safe distance from others and avoid playgrounds and anywhere where children may touch surfaces.

*Plan your own PE sessions in the garden or obstacle courses.

Adapt learning to match their interests

Example: Harry Potter

I have two Harry Potter fans so, I am really thrilled to have found some amazing resources which will combine one of their favourite subjects with ways to learn and be creative.

The Ultimate Harry Potter Project – this blog gives some fantastic wizarding ideas as trialled by a Harry Potter-loving family like potion making, wand making, a Quidditch creation and how to make Mandrakes.

And this site provides loads of carefully made Harry Potter printables like crosswords, words searches, colouring pages and maths worksheets.

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And of course, encourage them to dress up and play and let their imaginations run wild.

Topics

Take a topic and research the subject together then do different activities relating to it.

I’m going to try making our own volcanoes, write about them, make poems and paint pictures of them after being inspired by this great website Ways To Learn Through Play At Home (by SEN Resources Blog) and its fantastic YouTube videos.

Life skills

This is the best time you will ever have to learn life skills together such as:

*Gardening: A lot of children love helping in the garden. I’m not exactly green-fingered but I’ve bought packets of seeds and ordered biodegradable seed pots to get us started.

*Decorate (with care): This is potentially a good time to spruce up the house. I’ve splashed out on a huge tub of emulsion and a new roller and have optimistic visions of us all having a go at this together, which could all go horribly wrong. We are also going to have a go at painting the shed.

*Cooking and baking: My two always love to make cakes and biscuits but I’m hoping they’ll enjoy trying some other easy recipes.

*Even cleaning and housework can sometimes be fun!

Virtual playdates

Make sure they don’t lose touch with their friends by arranging regular video calls for them.

We are loving Facebook Messenger where you can do group video chats. There are some hilarious filters you can use too.

It’s also proved a saviour for me and my friends later on in the evenings, with wine in hand!

It’s easy to use, just open Facebook Messenger, select a friend/friends or a group as if you were writing a message then press the video camera icon. To get the filters, press the smiley face.

I saw one mum had asked all the children in a group call who could find various items, which proved entertaining.

One-on-one time

Set a timer and dedicate all your attention to one child.

Let them choose exactly what they want to do and be enthusiastic and supportive.

Do the same with all your children and give the others something to occupy them if possible while they wait their turn, without (good luck with this) interrupting!

Reading

Read to your children, get them to read to you and give them time to read alone. I’ve got two little book worms and it’s one of our biggest joys.

A girl reads a book

Also Amazon Audible has made hundreds of titles free during the Coronavirus.

And World Book Online has made its collection of over 3,000 ebooks and audiobooks available for free for children to access at home.

Plus, there are lots of children’s authors doing online read-alouds and activities, find out more here.

Coding

If your children like coding or want to learn, a company called Code Camp which teaches children aged 7 to 12 to code, has scrapped its subscription fees during this period.

LEGO

Loads of children love LEGO and it helps develop lots of skills including fine motor skills.

If they are really keen, you can print out a free 30-day LEGO challenge here.

30 day LEGO challenge

Make a diary

This is a time they will remember. Use this free printable stay-at-home diary.

Blue Peter Badges

If you have children aged six to 15, apply for a Blue Peter badge. And then they’ll have over 200 places to visit for free until they’re 16, once they are allowed out again.

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Planet Earth

On BBC iPlayer they have episodes of Planet Earth. One mum played them for her children and quizzed them at the end of each episode.

Pictures in the window

Children have been painting a picture of a rainbow or something else of their choice to put in the window for their friends to see when they walk past to keep everyone smiling. It’s the #frommywindow initiative.

If you are working from home

Everything is far more challenging when you are trying to work too.

Make sure your colleagues and employers know that you have children at home with you so they have realistic expectations of what you can achieve.

If you have partner who is also working from home, try to take shifts.

Give children activities which don’t need as much supervision where possible.

Accept that the children will have more screen time.

Most importantly – have lots of fun

Try everything you all enjoy – have pillow fights, have a movie night, play music and dance, sing, play tig, make dens, camp in the garden, laugh and be silly.

Concentrate on your children as much as possible, let them mess up the house, give them the freedom to play.

Finally

There has been a great deal of advice and links and websites to help us muddle through this crazy time.

But this has been one of the best things I have read. The author is said to be an experienced home educator who wishes to remain anonymous.

Tips for PARENTS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN who might be spending a lot of time at home together in the near future, because 😷🦠.

Hopefully these are some useful tips/thoughts/experience from a HOME EDUCATOR’S PERSPECTIVE on what can work at home. NB: this is what works for us and all families are different, so take however much is useful to you and leave the rest. Bare in mind, if your child is receiving work to do at home from school, that external factor may give quite a different dynamic to home ed, so your experiences may differ too. But I still hope some bits of this might be useful.

1. Replicating school at home doesn’t work. This is a truth almost universally acknowledged in home ed groups by parents who tried it, including qualified teachers. Naturally sometimes parents begin home ed in a school-like manner, perhaps after removing a child from school, thinking that’s the way to go. But it seems 9/10 times families quickly discover this is a route to frustration for children and parents. So if this happens to you, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal, read on for alternatives 🙂

2. It’s fine for children to be bored. Actually it’s good for children to be bored. Perhaps not all the time, but definitely sometimes. Boredom breeds creativity. Our minds cannot stay idle, so inevitably they find something to do, and often they find surprising and interesting things. Isaac Newton began his discovery of gravity at home when Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Shakespeare also wrote some of his best regarded plays while hiding in the countryside from the plague. Possibly if feeling bored is unusual for a child, they might find it uncomfortable at first, but rest assured it is good and valuable. Parents, we do not always have to ‘solve’ boredom.

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3. Schools spend less time on learning than you might think. There are several calculations by teachers-turned-home-educators that attempt to quantify actual learning time in schools. When the breaks and moving around and getting things out and putting things away and controlling behaviour and setting expectations and golden time and school photos, and last day of term, and a million other things are taken into account, how much focussed learning time is left on average per day? The calculations range from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Consider scaling back your own expectations accordingly.

4. Learning doesn’t have to be at a table with a worksheet. Oodles can be learnt through cooking, gardening, household tasks*, reading stories to each other, board games, card games, toys and roleplay, sewing and knitting, art and crafts, DIY, servicing a car or bike, music, radio, discussing the news, magazines, documentaries… Some families find that things learnt in an active practical way can stick better than learning on paper.
* Yes cleaning really can be educational – think of all the science involved in descaling a sink, enzymes in washing up liquid, microbes on surfaces, dissolving stains in solvents…

5. You don’t have to already know everything your child needs/wants to learn. Welcome questions and try to find answers together if you don’t know. Actually you might want to search for answers together even if you do know, because how to find things out for yourself is a valuable skill for kids to develop. In periods when children’s questions aren’t forthcoming, try voicing your own questions out loud while you go about your tasks, or ask kids their opinion on something to start a discussion. For older kids (we aren’t there yet) it seems to be about helping them find resources (people, clubs, books, courses) that they can learn from. ‘Facilitator not teacher’ is a phrase sometimes used.

6. Learning doesn’t have to happen in school hours. You probably have the children with you longer than they would be in school, so you have the option to pick times when they are more receptive, or that fit with family needs. Some families come to consider all-day every-day as learning time, by noticing and using learning possibilities in all of everyday life.

(7. Because I can’t not mention it after 4 and 6: home learning doesn’t have to happen at home. Unfortunately right now there may be No, or Very Limited, options to go out – follow the advice for your country. But rest assured that there are some (many) home educating families who usually go out a lot, and they may well be having similar challenges staying at home as school families do).

8. Set expectations/ have a rhythm. This might be very individual, but what works for us, while not being too rigid, is to have a pattern of when we do activities together and when we don’t. Eg you might come together to do a joint activity in the morning after breakfast. And during meal prep and clear up might be independent play/activities that they choose themselves. I find I still need to remind frequently that I won’t be taking part in complicated parent-dependant activities when I’m in the middle of clearing up the lunch carnage! And reminding of the slots when we do those things together really helps.

9. Consider including quiet time/a break for everyone. Ours coincides with the toddler’s afternoon nap. But even before a younger sibling, we found it helpful to have a quiet break after lunch. This is when I get some quiet thinking/headtasks time (those things not being at all compatible with awake toddlers). The older one might have some screen time, and/or she usually has creative projects that she wants to work on. It took us some practice to get this going well.

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10. Having a bad day? However crazy and distracting your household (younger siblings, pets, deliveries, illness, broken washing machines…) is it truly more crazy and distracting than 30 other kids? Or, if you feel like you didn’t give enough attention to your child today, was it really less than 1/30th of the attention of the teacher at school? Probably not. These can be helpful thoughts, especially on a bad day.

11. Minimise prep, or include the kids in preparing for future activities. Because, quite differently to a teacher, you have these kids with you *all the time*. If you can’t find a way to get it done together, it probably isn’t going to happen. I try not to use the quiet time/break for prepping because that isn’t a really a break and I wouldn’t emerge sufficiently refreshed for getting through the rest of the day.

12. Look for activities that you get something out of as well as the kids. This is how to stay sane. Do as many of these as possible.

13. Atmosphere. You can always subtly change how a situation feels by putting on music, changing lighting, opening a window…

14. Lead by example. Do you wish your child would show an interest in something (more) wholesome (than what they’re doing right now)? What might happen if you gather some interesting objects on the table, and some paper and pencils, and begin drawing? Or put on some exercise clothes and get out your yoga mat and video? Make sure to just casually happen to have some spare pencils & paper/floorspace nearby ready for any requests to join in. Play it cool and don’t be obvious about hoping they’ll take an interest, and keep an open mind about what follows. This can work with so many activities. They might choose to join in, or they might not this time. But chances are they’ll have noticed, and you hopefully got to do something you enjoyed for a short time, and you’ve set a great example, and… sometimes interesting responses emerge much later. 😉

15. Don’t compare. Inevitably we tend to share the highlights where a child made something we’re proud of. We don’t share the moment when the floor can’t be seen, every opportunity provided for doing something wholesome has failed all morning, both the kids are screaming because you dared to use the loo, lunch is hours late, and the toddler has smeared poo on the coffee table. 🤦 But even with the highlights, just because a friend seems to do lots of X or Y, doesn’t mean we all should. Families are different, so focus on what works for yours. Including, ignoring all of the above advice if you think that’s best!

Good luck and enjoy!

More ideas and free resources for home learning

Twinkl

This website has loads of great teaching resources and is offering a free access code UKTWINKLHELPS.

https://chatterpack.net/blogs/blog/resources-list-for-home-learning

https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/135609/list-of-education-companies-offering-free-subscriptions/

https://classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome/grades-1-2.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/tarahaelle/2020/03/15/101-ideas-to-keep-your-kids-busy-during-coronavirus-closures/#1ed3fe4774a4

https://blog.learningresources.co.uk/free-home-learning-resources-for-families/

We’d love to hear how you are getting on, let us know below!

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