Which Food Will You Choose? by Claire Potter & Ailie Busby ~ #PictureBook #AuthorInterview ~ @ailiebusby @BloomsburyEd

Picture Book Perfect

I am delighted to be interviewing Claire Potter, the author of Which Food Will You Choose? which is beautifully illustrated by Ailie Busby. I will also be sharing my tips for playing the supermarket game during lockdown.

Which Food Will You Choose? by Claire Potter & Ailie Busby Bloomsbury Education cover

You Choose meets The Hungry Caterpillar in this fabulous interactive picture book. The story begins with a grumpy mummy who is utterly fed up of the family eating the same old boring beige foods like chicken nuggets, pasta, chips, cereal and crisps. She decides that this week they are going to play the supermarket game.

Which Food Will You Choose? by Claire Potter & Ailie Busby Bloomsbury Education book

Each day of the week, the children go to the supermarket on a mission to pick three items of a particular colour. On Monday, Mum tells them to choose three red foods. After they’ve chosen they come home and enjoy eating them.

Which Food Will You Choose? by Claire Potter & Ailie Busby Bloomsbury Education eating red food

On Tuesday, they must pick three yellow foods and on Wednesday, three green foods. Thursday was…

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How I Got the Job by Martin Travers

As part of our Plays for Young People celebration week, we spoke to Martin Travers, playwright and author of The Kids Are Alt Right and Whatever Happened to the Jaggy Nettles? about how he got into playwriting and what words of wisdom he can offer young drama students of today.

How I Got the Job by Martin Travers

How does anyone end up becoming a playwright? I imagine some silver-spooned glitterati will say they were born into it. Other lesser mortals might say they fell into it (like Alice). Some cool gutter-writers might say they broke into it (like a rock and roll cat burglar). I have a job card in Springburn Job Centre in the North of Glasgow in 1999 to thank/ blame for me ending up a playwright. 

I was skint, I had a bad cold brought on by poor lifestyle choices, my band had just broken up and I felt like I’d just been thrown through life’s windscreen. The job card said THEATRE ADMINISTRATOR: THEATRE WORKS, GOVAN. One year contract. So I applied and was interviewed by the Artistic Director Robin Wilson. I lied a lot. I got the job. I was 27. One year later I was interviewed by the otherworldly and wonderful Giles Havergal – Artistic Director of the Citizens Theatre – for a job as their Audience Development Officer. I made sure he saw me reading Dylan Thomas’ Portrait of an Artist as a Young Dog in the foyer as I waited for my interview. Never forget the power of a first impression. At the interview I lied a little less and embellished a little more. I got the job. I was 30 before I plucked up the courage to write my first play. 

I had no inclination then that I would end up sitting here at a desk in Lanark facing west during a Global Pandemic and telling you that you could – AND SHOULD – become a playwright like me. I’m sure some of you are thinking what’s the point. Theatre buildings and theatre companies are closing all over due to Covid 19 restrictions and social distancing. Why would anyone in their right mind want to throw their life away trying to become a playwright right now? During all this?!

Well the thing is – playwrights aren’t in their right minds. EVER. We are all dreamers. I sometimes try to come across as cynical and pessimistic when I’m talking to people. Maybe because I think that’s the cool way to behave – the doomed poet stance and all that. But to be honest I’m not feeling cynical or pessimistic about the future of playwrighting or plays or actors performing to riveted audiences. Two years from now what age will you be? Exactly! Get writing. Two years from now all this virus malarkey will be behind you and you’ll be able to draw on all the terrible stuff that’s been happening to create amazing characters that are living, breathing human beings with real hopes and real fears and real drives to fight against the injustices in their lives.  

I suppose the first thing you got to get clear in your head is why you want to write plays for actors to act and audiences to enjoy and be enthralled by?

If your reason is to show how clever you are – please stop now and go get a job for clever people. In my experience clever writing never ends well. Clever = Complicated Plots. Clever = Endless Unendingly Dull Speeches about the Universe that go in one ear – and if you are lucky – straight out the other. Clever = Boring, Tedious, Distant Nonsense. 

If your reason to become a playwright is to help to tell fiercely honest stories that enchant and engage and feel like a worthwhile use of some of our precious time on this planet – then you are in the right game. I hope you noticed I said “help to tell” there – this is really important. As a playwright you are just a cog in a wheel of a marvellous machine called the production. The most important cog by miles of course – that was a joke…honest…well…maybe…don’t hate me…be humble…I’m trying…try harder…

The one thing you need to keep in the back of your brain when you start writing plays is that your plays are going to get better. Please don’t think your first play is going to be a masterpiece – it isn’t. It is the first brave step on the ladder. Pour your heart and soul into it but know that it is just the first rung. And to climb the ladder you need to get your foot on the second rung as soon as you can. When you get to about rung eight, you’ll start to realise you are getting the hang of it. 

Writing plays is great fun. And it isn’t something you need to make a living from to enjoy. Just always make sure something big happens in each of your plays. Keep drama and conflict at the heart of everything you write. It can be hard and lonely work to begin with but when you hear actors or your friends read your first draft out loud – WOW. That’s really cool. A mixture of pride, fear and adrenaline that is really addictive. 

Why did I write The Kids Are Alt Right?

I was asked to write the play and I liked the premise although it sounded a bit complicated – to write a new play based on interviews with teenagers in Glasgow that explored the effects on-line influencers with divisive ideologies can have on young people’s lives. When I thought about it; I realised it wasn’t complicated at all. I was being asked to write a play about bad ideas and how they can mess up our heads.

When you are writing a play you need to try to know as much as you can – within reason – about the world your characters live in. What motivates them – what they do with their time – who they listen to and who they don’t listen to. You find this out through research. 

The more research I did online about right wing content the more I realised that this story needed to be told. Right wing poison isn’t something that’s going to just go away. It tries to separate us from anyone that is in any way different to us – at a time when we all should be celebrating how amazing and rich everyone’s culture is. Right wing poison online is sneaky and hides in and under other content. It is like rust. We need to actively protect ourselves against it. It made me angry. That gave me the right sort of energy to write the play.

I wrote The Kids Are Alt Right before the Black Lives Matter movement but I suppose the play should now be read in light of that amazing and powerful force for good. The play was originally going to be called Broken. As “broken” was how one young African girl who was seeking asylum in Glasgow said she felt when she arrived in Scotland. But as FATMA’s character developed I didn’t want her to be a victim of her father’s past. I wanted her to be a strong Scottish female who happened to be born in another country. 

Ultimately, I wrote The Kids Are Alt Right for you and your mates – not for the adults and teachers in your lives. Although of course I hope they enjoy the play too! I suppose the thing that I really want you to do is read it aloud with your mates. Act out the scenes together. It is a Scottish story but I bet you can all relate to it. And doing a Scottish accent is always worth a giggle. 

Celebrate Plays for Young People with Methuen Drama on @MethuenDrama Twitter throughout the whole week from Monday 23rd to Friday 27th November. Sign up to the Bloomsbury English and Drama for Schools newsletter for exclusive play extracts and offers.  

You can purchase your copy of The Kids Are Alt Right here.

Celebrate new plays for young people with Bloomsbury English and Drama for Schools

At a time when practical drama in a covid world is being limited and young performers are left questioning the future of their subject and passion, it’s more important than ever to celebrate new playwriting and explore the themes and issues relevant to young people today through the power of drama. Join us over @Methuen Drama Twitter and sign up to our Bloomsbury English and Drama for Schools newsletters from Monday 23rd to Friday 27th November to celebrate drama and playwriting with us as we explore our Plays for Young People series.

Our Methuen Drama Plays for Young People series offers new plays written specifically for young people aged between 14-18 to discover, explore and perform.

During our celebration week, you’ll hear from our wonderful playwrights talking about their inspiration behind the plays’ stories, read some sneak preview extracts from our new play collection Positive Stories for Negative Times, and we’ll also be giving one lucky reader a new play bundle for their class.

One question remains, which plays will you choose to discover with your students this term?

New plays publishing this term…

Find out more about the Plays for Young People series and explore all plays here.

Explore theatre through time travel

Dr Aleks Sierz FRSA is a theatre critic, teacher and broadcaster, and Lia Ghilardi FRSA is an internationally respected cultural consultant and urbanist. They are the authors of The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre: The First Four Hundred Years.

Here they explain how you can use imaginary characters and the concept of time travel to bring ideas about theatre history to life in the classroom. They also provide questions for further study that you can download and use with students.

What a drama!

Theatre is one of the glories of British culture. From West End musicals to classic Shakespeare plays, it is central to our national story. Enjoying theatre can give young people a way of sharing their own experience in a meaningful way. By doing so, they can see themselves reflected in characters on stage, get involved in their ethical dilemmas, and learn from such interaction. Theatre is great for cultivating empathy.

Bringing history alive

As most teachers know, bringing history alive can be a real challenge. In The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre, we have used the idea of time travel, already popular in our culture (the Tardis!), to bring to life the wonderful story of British theatre. We wanted to give a more vivid sense of stepping into another world, which is what the past is, to convey the experience of being there, feeling, sensing, even smelling, the stage.

We were also keen to make the experience of reading more immersive, by developing the narrative as if it was the storyboard for a film. We hope that the method that we chose to use, setting up scenes and imaginary conversations, will enable young people not only to gain a better understanding of history, but also to acquire a sense of ownership over their learning.

Using fictional characters

In each chapter of the book — which covers four hundred years of history from the Elizabethan age and Shakespeare, to the coronation of the present Queen Elizabeth II — we have created a different fictional character who acts as a narrator or guide to the theatre of their time. These guides give readers a helping hand — they are characters who live in the past and know all about its customs, rituals, food, politics, personalities, and, of course, its theatre.

Our guides have their own idiosyncrasies, personal prejudices and memory lapses. They help us not merely to understand what the historical past is like, but also to experience it as if we were there — right in the middle of the action.

Guiding spirits

In the first chapter, which covers the age of Queen Elizabeth and its star William Shakespeare, our guide is Walter Wickson, a fussy clerk who knows all about the Globe and other open-air theatres of this age. In 1603, when Queen Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors, dies, he hands us over to his son, Wilt, a young law student who prefers to see plays rather than studying, and who knows all the gossip at the time of James I and Charles I, the first two Stuart kings.

In the 1640s, the Puritans — who are enemies of drama — come to power and shut all the theatres for eighteen years so our next stop is 1660, when the monarchy is restored. Here our guide is Moll Farthingale, who, having been a celebrity actress herself, is perfectly well informed about thespian highs and lows. For the next century, with Britain ruled by four kings all called George, our guide is the formidable Henry Holme Lord Edgcott, a real-life lord, complete with country pile and posh town house. He will show us around British theatre in the age of the super-star actor-manager David Garrick.

By the 1790s, with news of the French Revolution crossing the English Channel, followed by war with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France, we need a new guide. Step forward Gabriel Freeman, a young black gentleman, formerly a slave in the West Indies, who campaigns for the abolition of slavery in these heady revolutionary times and, because of the social connections of his patron, is able to show us around the theatres of the age.

In 1837, when Queen Victoria comes to the throne, the fires of revolution have died down and it’s time for another guide, Jack Goodheart, a teenager who is as familiar with the slums as with the salons of Victorian London. He introduces us to music halls and melodramas. Victoria dies in 1901 and then we meet Constance Wright, a New Woman of the Edwardian age who, pedaling her tricycle, takes us around the venues where some of the radical experiments in early twentieth century drama are taking place.

After the end of the First World War in 1918, a new era dawns and with it comes our last guide, the redoubtable Sidney Roberts, a gentleman’s valet with perfect manners and great theatrical knowledge. He will introduce us to the shows of entertainer Noël Coward in the Roaring Twenties, survey the grim wartime years of 1939-45, and end with the postwar plays of modern greats such as playwright Terence Rattigan. By the mid 1950s, the tale that began with the coronation of Elizabeth I finishes with the coronation of Elizabeth II, watched on TV.

 Download Questions for Further Study

 Learn more and order your copy of The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre: The First Four Hundred Years.

I wanted to write what I wish I had seen as a gay kid in school

Chris Thompson is a writer for stage and screen. His play Dungeness was first performed 9781350194779by young people as part of the National Theatre Connections festival in 2018 but was bought back for the 2020 festival this year. Although the 2020 festival did not happen this year, schools and theatre groups rehearsed and bought performances online throughout the country.

Written fifty years on from the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, Dungeness is a unique play for young people about the struggles and joys of being gay and has already had an amazing impact on the young people that have been involved with it.

Methuen Drama are proud to be publishing Dungeness, alongside Stonewall Housing, on Monday 10th August as part of the Plays for Young People series.

We spoke to Chris just before launch day to get his thoughts and inspiration behind the play. Here’s what he had to say:

I wrote the play Dungeness because I wanted to write what I wish I had seen as a gay kid in school.

In the UK we’re lucky that for the most part LGBT+ rights are protected in law. But the day-to-day lives of queer young people can be full of highs and lows.

We only need to look at the statistics to see that LGBT+ young people are more likely to become homeless, more likely to self-harm and suffer depression.

The play addresses these issues but it’s also full of joy and laughter.

There is a clear desire from teachers and students to make LGBT+ people feel safe and valued in schools. And nothing makes me happier than hearing how schools have used the play to both address homophobia but also to celebrate LGBT+ life and give those kids a chance to see people like themselves on stage. And for straight allies it’s a wonderful chance to promote empathy and understanding.

Just having this play on your bookshelves sends a clear message that LGBT+ young people are seen and allowed to be themselves.

One thing I hadn’t expected is how the play has created its own community. There’s an amazing bunch of people who have been involved with the play and they all share and celebrate that common experience.

It’s been wonderful receiving messages from students, teachers and parents about how it’s helped teenagers come out, or started important conversations in classrooms about respect and difference.

With its debates about protests and commemoration, the play is about taking to the streets to be who you are. My desire is that we use the play as a springboard to look at not just LGBT+ rights, but also other protest movements happening around us now and historically.

Dungeness publishes on Monday 10th August. Find out more here:

You can read more about Stonewall Housing and their work here. A percentage of all sales of Dungeness is going to the Stonewall Housing projects.

Let’s Get Playwrighting

(Why playwrighting and not playwriting? Watch video 2 in the series here)

Picture1 (1)

Methuen Drama are proud to be sponsoring Bitesize Playwrighting, a brand new Picture2 (1)initiative and competition for schools from touring theatre company Tamasha and Bloomsbury author, Fin Kennedy.  

 Launched last month, the competition is intended to support secondary school Drama teachers continue to inspire students with the art of playwrighting whilst studying at home, in school, or as a project to be set in the school holidays.  

 Tamasha’s artistic director, Fin Kennedy and the members of the Tamasha Playwrights group have been busy recording a series of short videos, each no longer than 5 minutes, that walk students through the playwrighting process step-by-step.  

 Each clip introduces a different element of drama, from creating believable Characters, to the Inciting Incident which brings them together, to writing realistic Dialogue, considering the scene’s Location, and structuring a simple Plot. Each video is constructed around a practical exercise for students to complete, all intended to build up everything they need to write their own 5-minute scene for two Characters. 

How to enter

We’re inviting all students to watch the videos and then write a 5-minute scene for two characters. Send it directly to Tamasha at the email address below before the end of September 2020. All submitted plays will get some tailored notes from one of the Tamasha Playwrights group, and our favourites will be offered some one-to-one mentoring and an invitation to complete a final draft for publication. There will be one winner from each year group (7-12) along with a requested staff entry! 

The winning entries will be compiled into a digital book by Bloomsbury celebrating young people’s playwrighting, and it will be made available to all participating schools on the Tamasha and Bloomsbury website.

To take part, please email aitor@tamasha.org.uk to register your school, after that it’s over to you! Read more about the competition on Tamasha’s website here 

Good luck and happy playwrighting! 

Watch the Introduction video from Fin Kennedy and then head over to the Tamasha website to watch the rest.  


Going Up to Secondary School in the Year of the Virus

By Jenny Alexander, author of No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School.

Going up to secondary school is a big change and it’s 9781472974303natural for children to have some anxieties. That’s why schools normally put a lot of work into helping with the transition. But these are not normal times.

This year, the sudden disruption of classes and ongoing uncertainty about the future has made the transition to secondary school even more unsettling for a lot of children and the long period out of school is giving anxieties a chance to build.

Recognising this is why the government has prioritised children in transition years going back to school first, but even for those who can there won’t be any of the usual leavers’ parties and assemblies or induction days.

Fortunately, as with curriculum work, parents and carers can do a lot at home to help children prepare and feel confident about going up.


Information artwork-page-001Knowledge is power, and even in these difficult times, transition years teachers will make sure children have all the general information they need, such as the different ways classes are organised and delivered in secondary schools. But talking to children about their individual concerns can uncover specific worries that might seem surprising.

For example, a high-achieving child might feel anxious that they won’t be able to do the work at secondary school, although that would probably be the last thing the adults around them would expect them to be worried about, but the problems for high-achievers is that they have more to lose than a child who normally struggles. A sociable child might worry about making new friends, not because they actually will struggle but because friends are particularly important to them.

Opening up the conversation and listening to what children say is the key. Brushing off a child’s worries because we don’t think they’ve got anything to worry about means we are not helping to address them.


In every society, major life transitions are marked by some kind of ritual and all schools mark the transition to secondary school with events such as leavers’ assemblies, prize givings and parties. In these times of virus, social celebrations are not possible, but children can still get a sense of closure through practical activities such as writing letters or making cards for the teachers and other staff members who have been an important part of their primary school experience. They can have an online party with their friends or a special family meal to celebrate and give a sense of completion.

Looking forward, while they might not be able to physically visit their new school, they could ‘walk the trail’ with a parent or carer, making the journey they will make at the beginning of the new term; they could create a ‘wishes collage’ to focus on what they are looking forward to among the new opportunities going to secondary school will open up to them.

Here’s a helpful guide to making a wishes collage from No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School.

Wishes collage


Unhelpful thoughts are where anxieties take root and grow strong: how we frame a situation is important to our mental health. This is a basic tenet of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Children who feel very anxious about going up to secondary school may be focusing on all the things that could go wrong, and their self-talk could get stuck, like a hamster in a wheel, along the lines of ‘No-one will like me, I won’t be able to do the work, what if I’ve got the wrong stuff…’

Noticing, challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts is a simple practice that’s incredibly effective and easy for children to grasp, and I cover the basics in, How to be Happy (Bloomsbury). I would recommend children’s self-help books like that one as a quick, easy introduction for adults who may be unfamiliar with the Cognitive Behavioural approach too. Children pick up attitudes from the adults around them.

For general anxieties, my 70 Ways to Boost Your Self-Esteem (Five Lanes Press) offers lots of quick practical and creative tasks; for a specific worry that many children have about going up, there’s 70 Ways to Bullyproof Yourself and Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends (Hodder).

Information, practical activities and positive habits of thinking – these are the basic tools we can all use to manage anxiety. It’s a real bonus that helping children use them to feel confident about going up to secondary school is also giving them skills to cope with anything else they might be worried about in what is, for most of us, a worrying time.

Jenny Alexander is a well-established author of over one Jenny Alexander - Online-47hundred fiction and non-fiction children’s titles, including Finding Fizz and the Peony Pinker series. Jenny always wanted to be an author and learnt the craft of writing in the couple of years that she worked for educational publishers. She has written prolifically on the theme of bullying and her books have been translated into many languages: German, Danish, Welsh, Portuguese, Greek, Indonesian, Chinese, Korean and Turkish.

No Worries: Your Guide to Starting Secondary School is full of information about going up from primary to secondary school and covers all of the big worries and anxieties, and is available to order from Bloomsbury.com

How to Help Children with their Emotional Response to the Lockdown

Whoa! Where did that come from? When the lockdown first started, I certainly didn’t see the full impact of what was coming, and what it would actually mean in teams of changes to our daily lives. The situation certainly startled me at first, alongside a dollop of disbelief. And then, as I settled into it, I could not deny a background feeling of unsettledness. When I could distract myself by engaging in something absorbing, I’d suddenly be re-startled as I recalled the full oddness of what was going on. Then came the feelings of acceptance, which still had some undertones of bewilderment. I could stay content as long as I didn’t allow myself to become agitated by thoughts of what I would have been doing in the other life. I also noticed that little things became bigger and big things became huge; everything felt more intense than usual.

Many of my books are about emotions and9781472949806 and I am a fan of the idea that emotions need expressing. I think the slight ‘war spirit’ essence of the current situation has made us all a bit stoical. We have metaphorically ‘held our emotional breath’. And yet there is no doubt that this situation will have had an emotional impact. Some of us will have felt this emotional impact at the time, some might have a delayed reaction, and some will have suppressed it, which may cause it to re-emerge in the future. The latter is more likely for those of us who are less familiar with emotional expression.

So, given my interest in emotional expression, I had was just starting to think about how my books could do with a supplement addressing the emotions of lockdown when a seven-year-old named Etta emailed me and shared the pages she thought needed to be added to my book What’s Worrying You? Etta is an emotional genius. I particularly liked her advice to ‘enjoy time off school; it won’t happen again.’ A soothing reminder for many children, I would think.


Brilliant drawings by Etta

Lockdown has many different emotional components. There are the feelings evoked by the actual lockdown and all that it entails, the anxiety about the actual virus, and the uncomfortableness caused by the uncertainty of the future, as we cannot know how this will ultimately unfold and how we will feel about our eventual return to ‘normal’.

Children are bound to be having some kind of emotional response to these circumstances. I believe it is important to help them find ways of expressing these emotions so they can find resourceful ways of dealing with them. It can be simply about asking your child what they are thinking and feeling. It could also involve:

  • Inviting your child to draw life in lockdown, like Etta did. They could give survival tips or show the pros and cons.
  • Chatting while out exercising, considering how life is different and what we like and don’t like about it.
  • Saying how you are feeling, or making a list of emotions which your child could choose from to express how they feel. They might be able to say what has triggered that emotion.
  • Having a conversation about any worries your child might have about their eventual return to school.

I guess this is just another prompt to remember that emotions have a significant impact on us and in a situation like this, we might need a little more help to focus on them and understand them. Ultimately, by acknowledging and processing the emotions of lockdown and its easing, you and your child are more likely to arrive at a place of gentle acceptance and some calm. Emotions that we acknowledge and process are always more manageable. This links to further consoling advice from Etta: ‘When you are in lockdown, just remember it won’t last forever.’

9781472942425My latest book, It’s OK to Cry, seems timely. It is not a book that explores the emotions of lockdown specifically but a book that helps children find the words to express how they feel. It was written with boys in mind as their conditioning can mean that they are less likely to express how they feel verbally. But it is actually helpful for everyone. It certainly could be used to help a child express the emotions associated with lockdown.

Coming soon is a free online booklet I have written for parents, carers and teachers with some creative activities to tackle boredom during lockdown, as well as activities to help children reflect upon recent events. It invites children to explore what has been enjoyable, what has been less so, and how all this has made them feel. It also includes a couple of activities to help you support your child with the emotions surrounding returning to school. This will be available from Bloomsbury.com. Please email bloomsburyeducation@bloomsbury.com if you are interested in receiving a copy to download.
For further ideas for helping your child with their emotions please visit: https://www.mollypotter.com/blog

3) Tips for Parents in a Pandemic: Supporting Teenagers During Lockdown

Check out the first post in the series here and the second post here.

By Janet Goodall9781472976611

Supporting the learning of teenagers is often difficult for parents and families, and some may find it even more of a challenge when all of the learning has to take place at home!

We know that many parents back away from engaging with their children’s learning as their daughters or sons get into secondary school. Parents often tell us, ‘I can’t help anymore – I didn’t do that at school’ or ‘It’s all changed so much and I don’t know how to help!’

In this blog, I’d like to give some ideas about how you can support your child to keep learning during lockdown, but first I’d like to reiterate something I’ve said in other blogs. These are not normal times. There’s no point in trying to recreate a ‘normal’ school day at home. Schools are set up for groups of students who are all the same age, studying the same subjects; that’s unlikely to be the situation in your home. What’s important – now more than ever – is not so much helping with the content of what young people are learning, but supporting their desire to learn. Everyone else in their class – in the country – is ‘missing out’ on schooling at the moment. Think of how many times your child asked you, ‘Why?’ when they were five years old. It’s that curiosity, that desire to learn, that will carry them through.

How to help with work from school

It’s likely that your child will have work set for them by their school, and it’s also likely that at some point, they will come across something that they can’t do or find difficult. In these cases:

  • Ask your child to explain what the problem is. Sometimes, that leads to its own solution.
  • If your child is stuck and you don’t know the answer, the first thing to say is that it’s OK not to know! Try to put a positive spin on it – not ‘Oh, wow, that’s too hard. Let’s do something else’ but rather ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know either!’ Ask your child to suggest where you (together) might look for an answer. Is there a website? Could someone else in the family help? A friend on Zoom or by phone?
  • Admitting to your child that you don’t know the answer isn’t a failure – it’s showing that you are still learning as well and that you value learning.

The importance of praise

Particularly during a time when most of us are much more anxious than usual, and all our routines have been disrupted, it’s important to find joy where we can. Praise your child for work well done, and in particular, praise your child for continuing to work on something that is hard for them. What you’re trying to do with this is to support their desire to learn, as well as their actual learning of content. Let your child see that learning is important to you.

Supporting learning in different subjects

If you want to support the skills your child is using for different areas, you might try some of the following:

  • For literature and English, suggest your child creates two diaries of the pandemic – the first, a ‘real’ diary, capturing what they are thinking and feeling. The second, an ‘imaginative’ diary. What might be happening? What might be going on in an alternative world?
  • Your child could collect and collate family histories. This would cover English, literature, history and some mathematical skills. They could collect, write down and illustrate childhood stories from different members of the family. They might create an elaborate family tree, again by talking to people and working out dates and timelines. If you have old family photo albums around, this might be a good time to get them out and share stories.
  • Many libraries and museums have made their collections open to the public and online. Why not suggest a ‘day out’ to the British Museum, for example? Make a day of it and involve your child in all aspects. Plan a picnic (think about what needs to be bought and what can be made from what’s on hand). Plan how you would get there if you were actually going (looking up train timetables is good maths practice!). Plan a route to get there (this is geography and map reading). Go to the museum website and decide what rooms you want to look at together. Discuss what you see there and the history behind it. Suggest your child takes notes of anything they find interesting to research ‘when you get home’. Don’t forget the picnic!
  • Keep in contact with your child’s school when and as you can. Use the resources they provide but remember that everyone – including teachers and students – is going through a very difficult time, so be patient – including with yourself!

Going back to school

When the time comes to go back to school, start to ease back into a routine as soon as you can. Getting up early in the morning seems to be particularly difficult for teenagers, so moving back toward a ‘usual’ getting-up time in a series of steps might be useful.

9781472955180Finally, the most important thing you can do for your child during the COVID-19 lockdown doesn’t change, regardless of the age of the child. Let them know that they are loved, and keep them and the family safe, so they can return to school (including the early mornings!) in good time.

Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.

2) Tips for Parents in a Pandemic: Supporting Mathematics Learning

Check out the first post in the series here.

By Janet Goodall9781472976611

In the second blog post of this series, I’d like to talk about how families can support their children’s learning in and around mathematics.

Many parents shy away from helping young people with anything more than simple addition and subtraction, often because of their own experiences around maths when they were at school. This feeling even has a label, ‘maths anxiety’; if the thought of helping with maths bothers you, you’re not alone! In this blog post, I want to give you some ideas that might help overcome that, so you can support your child’s learning during the lockdown. This post is about maths, but a lot of it will apply to other subjects.

First, to reiterate something from the previous blog post, your children are not ‘missing out’, in the sense that they will ‘be behind’ others when they go back to school, because no one is able to follow the ‘usual’ curriculum at the moment, and no one has ‘school as normal’. Being safe and secure is more important than anything else.

Secondly, you probably already do a lot more maths around the house than you realise. Researchers Dr Tim Jay and Dr Jo Rose found that parents engaged in a wide range of activities that related to maths, without using that label. There are the obvious things – counting, working out a budget, and measuring and weighing ingredients when cooking. But there are a lot of other things that relate to maths as well. Matching socks when doing the laundry, working out football rankings, deciding how much paint will be needed to redecorate a room, filling holes in a card or stamp collection, discussing shapes… these all relate to mathematical concepts.

Here are some ideas which can help support maths learning:


  • Count the stairs on the way up to bed and, for slightly older children, count in twos or threes.
  • You can also count the number of steps between different rooms.
  • If you have access to outside places for exercise, count steps there as well! Who can run faster or further?
  • For older children, use those step counts to create a map of the house and perhaps populate it with interesting imaginary creatures. If you have access to outside spaces, they can be mapped as well.


  • Many families are finding they are doing more cooking now. Your children can help not only weigh and measure but plan meals – how many onions will be needed for which meals in the week? This could lead to work with fractions as well – half an onion is needed on Monday and we can use half of the remaining half on Tuesday.
  • This could also lead to other ideas, such as working out if it’s cheaper to buy a large bag of something and whether it will all get eaten by the use-by date.


  • Ideas about space are important for a lot of subjects, including maths. Look up places on maps (online or paper) and work out how long it might take to get from one place to another.
  • You could also create maps from places in favourite books and do the same calculations. How long would it take to walk from one place to another? To ride a horse? To drive a car?

Confidence and self-esteem 

  • Try to avoid being very negative about any subject. Don’t let your children hear you say, ‘Oh, it’s too hard. I hated it in school.’ Even if you found maths hard in school, try not to pass that on to your children.
  • Older children will probably have work sent to them from school. It doesn’t matter if you can’t do the work. In fact, you could ask your child to explain it to you, as you were taught differently (which will almost certainly be the case). Explaining what they are doing is a very good way to cement learning and it can increase your child’s self-esteem and belief in themselves as a learner.
  • If you and your child find that there’s something you can’t do or can’t work out, the important thing is to talk about problem-solving. How might you find the answer? How else might you work it out?

9781472955180In maths, as in other subjects, what’s really important at the moment is the learning journey, not its end: keep the conversations about learning going. Share what you’re learning, as well as what your children are doing. Let your children know that you are proud of the work they are doing and what they are learning.

Janet Goodall is Associate Professor in Education at Swansea University and is a leading expert in parental engagement. She is the author of 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Engaging Parents and 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Engaging Parents (forthcoming). Follow Janet on Twitter @janetifimust.