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A longer read – Teacher Tips: helping your child learn at home

Niki Lavithis, one of our Community & Schools Outreach Coordinators, is also a primary school teacher. She shares her personal advice on helping your child learn at home.

These are strange times. Working from home and helping your children with home learning is a tricky thing to balance! Luckily there are lots of resources, live streaming and videos to help you, but it can feel a bit overwhelming.

As a teacher, I’d like to offer some general advice. These tips are ones we teachers always try and remind ourselves of, when the pressure at school gets on top of us. Believe me – we feel it too! I use maths in my examples, but this approach can be applied to all learning.

Play is how children learn

Start with your children and remember, play is how children learn. What do they enjoy? Get them to make something – for example, if the maths work sent home from school was all about decimal fraction equivalents, could they design a poster about it? Or draw pictures to demonstrate? Could they recreate the work with objects? If they are sporty, could they measure how long a jump is? Then use their measurements and apply the decimal fraction equivalents to what they have done. By doing this, you are also giving them a project that they can take ownership of and enjoy on their own, or with a sibling.

Don’t be afraid to try and work it out together

It’s ok to not understand it all yourself. I often hear: ‘She’s the teacher, she knows everything!’ But I remind them that this is not true, and I enjoy learning new things myself. This is a constant joy to children. We learn together, or they teach me something (even better as it instils great pride!) If you are looking at a maths task sent home and you and your children are clueless, don’t be afraid to try and work it out together – your child will enjoy this journey with you. Have a look at the Maths on Toast activities to see if you can approach the concept in a different way. If you do resort to our modern-day encyclopaedia of Google, be careful as there is a lot of information out there and not all is correct. This is a good chance to teach your children about ‘cross referencing’ – don’t just trust one source of an answer, find several, to be sure it is correct.

Some days things won’t go according to plan

A happy learner is a better learner. A tricky one, as we are all going through so many emotions in one day! At school, I aim to ensure all the children in my class feel safe and happy. But we can’t force happiness. It helps to accept that it’s ok to have days where things won’t go according to plan. When we are struggling to keep happy, how can we help our children to regulate their emotions? Don’t be afraid to talk about how you and/or they are feeling. Have a look at our Toast Model and talk about the learning journey. Setting their own environment – especially for older children who may have longer periods of sitting – gives them a safe work space. Help them to plan their own daily routine/timetable (see below) and offer support by deciding together what needs to be included, making sure downtime is timetabled in.

Find a routine that suits your family

At school I am always surprised how a change in routine can really upset the balance in a class. 4 weeks into lockdown, you may have already established a routine that works for you, but if not, don’t be afraid to put one in place, or importantly, to change one that isn’t quite working for you as a family. Maybe 2 hours of focused learning works best in the morning – at school, we find children more ready and able to learn first thing – but for your family, maybe it’s best to split it over the day. Maybe you need lots of little breaks planned in, or maybe you need to smash it in one go. There is no right or wrong way, do what works for you. This applies to solving a maths problem or to working out a family routine!

Open-ended thinking

Not challenging enough? Yes, this does happen too! The work set is something your child already understands, and they’re done in 5 minutes! What to do now?! At Maths on Toast we encourage ‘open ended’ thinking – what could come next? What links can you find to other parts of life/nature/learning. Our activities can also give a fresh, alternative approach – even if a child understands a concept, there is no harm in consolidating it in a creative, fun way! Another helpful maths website is NRICH. Here you can search by subject matter for an activity that is often open ended. This means that there may be no one right answer and your child can explore the concept in a deeper way.

Don’t forget that everyday tasks are all part of learning

As your child navigates each day, get them to spot where the maths is for example, and help them to make it relevant to them. There is a handy list of things to look out for on our Fun Maths at Home page

Last but not least – these are exceptional times. Be kind to yourselves. This isn’t home schooling as it would normally be (i.e. if you chose to educate your children at home) but supporting learning at home. Remember that children learn in all sorts of ways so keep an open mind and see where they take an activity. Do what you can, be confident to try something new and remember the best thing you can do for your children is keep them safe and happy – everything else is an added bonus!

Niki Lavithis is a primary school teacher, and a Community & Schools Outreach Coordinator with Maths on Toast, the family maths charity.