Homeschooling during a pandemic has presented unique challenges for parents like juggling a full-time job with becoming an impromptu teacher.
As uncertainty around school reopenings continues, parents might find themselves feeling slightly overwhelmed or simply struggling to keep kids interested in their work.
Dr Lorna Bourke, principal lecturer in psychology at Liverpool Hope University, is reassuring families there are still fun ways to keep children on track with their learning – without parents losing grip of their own schedules.
From setting realistic goals to finding out what works best for you, Dr Bourke reveals some homeschooling hacks that might help:
1. Combine everyday activities with learning
For some children, sitting down and reading from a text book or work sheet is not always the best – or most engaging – way to learn.
Many prefer to learn through more proactive methods and, according to Dr Bourke, there are plenty of ways to combine the curriculum with everyday tasks and exercises, such as family walks.
Dr Bourke, who has been a lecturer at Hope for more than 20 years and specialises in literacy development in children, said: “One thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is just how much we value our children’s connection with the outdoors.
“We’re perhaps spending more time outdoors as a family than we were before. And while not everyone has a garden, we’re fortunate to have an amazing array of parks – they actually make the perfect learning environment.
“Something as simple as a walk in the park, or even along the street, can spark curiosity and makes us observe the things around us, trying to learn about the plants, animals and small creatures you can see.
“Observing sparks questions, and ultimately learning. You may not know the answer to your child’s questions, but you can start to look those up together or draw some of the things you’ve seen.
“Being outdoors can also help with social skills as, although we can’t mix with other families, there are people you can say hello to on your route. It’s about simply connecting with people, which a lot of us – children included – are missing.”
2. Get creative
Children aren’t distracted by toys and TV shows in a school environment, but at home it’s a different story and it can be tough to keep concentration levels high. Dr Bourke suggests tapping into that energy by turning learning into a game.
She said: “We’ve all enjoyed a good quiz during lockdown without maybe realising that it’s a form of learning, so one idea is for children to devise their own quizzes so they can test the parents.
“Again, away from tech, why not try and make some homemade board games, like Snakes and Ladders. It doesn’t matter if it’s wonky, it will still work!
“Or for music you could try and make your own instruments, like some nicely painted tin can drums. Find whatever works with your family personality.”
3. Be imaginative
If a child loves being creative then it should be encouraged and celebrated, and there are lots of ways to bring creativity into learning.
Dr Bourke said: “We all go through times where we don’t want to do something but then when we’re engaged and it triggers an interest, we become absorbed.
“Fun, thought provoking activities can help with learning, such as making things out of paper or building blocks.
“Try building something like a bridge by asking your child to think about what they might need to use, and what you can find around your home.
“To have a small project like that, presented as a game and not just a formal learning activity, helps bring the fun back into learning.
“Not everything has to be a game, of course, but it can help with difficult or mundane tasks.”
4. Set targets
What works for one child may not necessarily work for another which is why setting realistic targets should be a parent’s real priority.
Dr Bourke explained: “For example, you could ask a child tasked with a writing piece to pen 500 words and ask them to make sure the language is interesting. It means they have a target and they also know when the task is over, which is crucial in terms of motivation.
“With things like maths try setting a timer, challenging them to complete the tasks within a set period.
“It’s also important to try and translate their homework into real life. Why does your child actually need to learn this?
“For example, look at a shopping list or receipt and get them to understand that you need to be able to add up to ensure you can still pay for all of the items. It can help to make abstract tasks feel very real, helping them to focus.”
5. Have a plan
According to Dr Bourke, having a rough itinerary for each day is a simple way to relieve some of the pressure.
She said: “It’s good for parents to have a plan. You can try to include the child in that plan by talking together as a family and finding out what the child really enjoys about certain tasks.
“By factoring your own work in, you can try to negotiate the stress of feeling like you’ve spent too much time away from your laptop.”
Parents should find what methods work best for the whole family.
6. Break down the school day
Every parent has a different style of homeschooling, whether that’s following the school timetable down to each hour or taking a more flexible approach.
Dr Bourke believes it may cause less anxiety to go with the flow and do what works best for your family and schedule.
She said: “Remember a school day isn’t perhaps as jam-packed as you think it might be. By the time you’ve factored in the assembly, lunch and breaks, there’s only a few hours of actual teaching.
“When parents think of the school day in that way it hopefully means they’re able to put less pressure on themselves.
“Overall I’d say it’s about looking at what’s available from the school, what parents think they can supplement it with, and keeping to some kind of routine and plan as best they can.”
7. Take breaks
Whether making a cup of tea or going for a walk, it’s vital for parents to moments away from work and screens.
Dr Bourke said: “It’s so important for parents to take a break as much as their children.
“You should also take time to come together as a family, take a deep breath, and congratulate yourselves on getting through another week. It might just be a chat together while tucking in to comfort food on a Friday evening, but it’s important for that sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.
“If you’re a parent who is struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to wider networks – even if it’s just calling a friend for a chat, or asking someone if they wouldn’t mind doing your food shop. It’s one less thing to worry about, and the small things can really help take the weight off.”
For more information about Liverpool Hope University, click here.