By Janet Goodall
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.
Finally, 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.