With parents looking ahead to more and more weeks of homeschooling, it’s increasingly difficult to keep those energy levels up and the kids focused. To take the pressure off, we chat to primary school teacher Kirstie Theobalds about what’s realistic and find out why a little bit of Little Mix can go a long way…
With 5 weeks down and who knows how many to go, keeping your children learning and happy – while also juggling your own work deadlines and meetings – can seem like a lot to get your head around.
To help you out, we’ve rounded up some Ofsted-worthy strategies from a London-based primary school teacher, plus some excellent resources to keep your kids (and you) engaged.
Meet the teacher
Kirstie Theobalds, 42, is a primary school teacher from South East London, who usually teaches a large class of nine-year-olds. Since the start of lockdown, she’s changed her focus to her six-year-old twins, Rosanna and Zander, and she’s loving the smaller class size. Here, she shares her top tactics for home schooling…
1) Have a structure – but keep it flexible
“If there’s a structure and routine, the children know what they’re expected to do and when,” she says. “I think it’s a great idea to ‘start school’ at 9am, and have break time mid-morning.
“It’s also good to be consistent about where you do your home schooling so that you get into the right mindset before you start. “Taking that one step further, I have a friend whose kids have decided they want to put their uniforms on every day. For me, that’s one battle too far, but the point is to go for a routine that works for you and try to be consistent.”
2) Take the time pressure off
For primary school kids, three hours of home schooling is plenty, so don’t feel bad about putting away schoolwork after a few hours. “We usually start at 9am and finish by 12 midday,” says Kirstie.
“Don’t worry if you can’t do much more than an hour one day. It's much better to have a really successful hour and then have a break than to struggle for three.
“In the afternoons, my kids go out on their bikes or scooters for their allotted exercise. After that, sometimes they might do a bit of informal learning, for example about countries, but they might also bake or play in the garden.”
3) Tap into your child’s other interests
What’s important is that your child is still learning – and that doesn’t need to mean blasting through schoolwork. According to Kirstie, a project exploring your child’s grand passion, whether it’s ancient Egyptians or Little Mix, could be a better fit than hours spent working on grammar or comprehension.
“If your child is independently finding projects to work on, finding resources for further investigation, taking responsibility for the work and enjoying doing it, this is great,” she says. “This sort of independent work can help set them up for secondary school.”
4) Keep them motivated
Few children are eager to start their schoolwork each morning, and Kirstie’s kids are no exception. “I try to keep the mood really positive, and give the kids breaks when they need to stop,” she says.
“Don’t drag on anything for too long – if you spend too long on anything, you know you’ve lost them.”
You could also try reward charts in which the kids complete schoolwork to earn stickers. “I know of families who are in competition with cousins, for example,” adds Kirstie.
5) Tweak your input
“The amount of expectation you have can put pressure on. For example, you might be giving them not enough help or too much help.
“To help with this, check how much time your child is spending on a task and whether they’re struggling or getting stressed. Ask yourself: can they do it independently? Then you can tweak your support levels.”
6) Tap into online resources
You don’t need to do this alone. “There are so many amazing online resources available and so many people are providing parents with extra fun learning tools,” says Jessica Ennis-Hill, Olympic athlete and mum of two. Here are some of her favourites:
BBC Bitesize: This much-loved resource has just launched its now lockdown schedule for kids from primary school up to 16+ years. Look out for three new lessons a day for each year group on top subjects including maths, English, geography, history and science. Jess has found this very useful with her kids.
Khan Academy for Kids: Aimed at children aged two to seven years, this award-winning programme has lots of activities for kids, including maths, writing and reading. One of Kirstie’s kids’ favourites.
White Rose Maths: Click on the ‘home learning’ section for maths lessons for children from early years all the way up to year 10.
Duolingo: Both kids and adults can learn any one of a number of languages via this handy app that rewards you with hearts and gems. Content editor Carole’s kids have been having lots of fun learning Spanish with it.
Twinkl: This online education publisher is created by teachers, and has a parents’ section so you can access lesson plans, too.
7) Be kind to yourself
Finally, and this is a really big one: “It’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself. Remember that your children are still learning – just in a different way from before,” says Kirstie.