Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Here we are in the midst of an educational experience parents, even elective home schoolers or teachers hadn’t anticipated or prepared for. We know at some point our children will be returning to school, but when and what it will look like is still very much guesswork for us all.
This time raises some massive issues for parents regarding our children’s education, wellbeing and safety in a season when even the experts don’t have all the answers. We will have to make significant decisions based on our best guess.
If this leaves your head spinning and sets your anxiety and exhaustion levels on high you’re not alone.
Parenting and education during a global pandemic is very different to any other time.
The important question is how do we make this work? The initial excitement of home school has well and truly worn off. With many parents feeling stressed about managing the demands this season brings I find myself drawing on my years of teaching - the majority of which I spent with children who needed alternative approaches. Children with special educational needs, emotional difficulties and outside of the mainstream system.
These experiences give me confidence that the system as we know it isn’t the be all and end all and there can be many positives for our children’s education in these challenging times. So let me remind you of your expertise on your child – you probably know them better than anyone else and there’s no doubt their best interests are a top priority for you. I’d encourage you to pause and draw on that now.
The reflection below will help you do just that so you canwork out the best way forward over the next few months of home schooling and navigating re-entry to school for your child and family.
Grab yourself a drink, a notebook and a pencil. Find a quiet(ish) spot and make the most of all you know about your child. There's more information to help you with each question beneath the images.
1. What is my view of learning and the purpose of education?
This question underpins so much of what we do. What do you believe learning looks like? What is the aim of education? Is it purely about qualifications? It’s easy to act upon myths or ideas which, on closer inspection don’t actually reflect your views.
There’s a myriad of ways in which this may present. If you’re uncomfortable with play or fun activities during home learning then perhaps your view on learning is that it must be a more serious or solemn event, yet fun and play can be fantastic for children of all ages (even 6th formers).
How much are academic skills prioritised over social, practical and emotional? Which do you actually think are important for your child? Is learning sitting at a desk and working quietly? Recalling information, producing lots of written work? Being busy or can quiet contemplation be useful learning? How many hours does formal learning have to occur or is casual and embedded in everyday life ok? How many GCSEs do they actually need to get to the next stage of their education?
Our answers to these questions can be a valuable starting point for all your decisions regarding your child’s learning and education (not just during a global pandemic).
2. What do I want my child’s view of education and learning to be?
The messages we give out are powerful. The messages they get from school and society are powerful so we need to be mindful of what we pass onto them and also intentional about what and how we communicate. What do you want them to value? How much do you want them to be a lifelong learner? Should they view learning as a joy or a chore?
In my experience children love to learn – I never had to teach any of my foster children how to play a video game or use a mobile phone! The question is what they love to learn and how learning is offered to them. As key people in their life they messages we communicate are important (even if they don’t let on they’re listening!)
3. What is driving my choices?
Many of the parents I speak to currently are feeling the pressure to perform in a role none of us expected – even elective home schoolers don’t do home school like this. I hear of massive battles at home, concern about what work is being accomplished and worries about what teachers might say, but how much academic work is right for your child in this season? What fears and worries are driving your choices?
Many parents find themselves on social media comparing themselves to others, but how helpful is that comparison and how fair is it? One child may thrive at home school whilst another may not – this is not a test of how quickly we can add marvellous teaching skills to our parental bow – it’s about how we best respond to our child’s needs with the resources we have.
What expectations do you have of yourself and your child and how realistic are they? This is also going to apply to when and how our children return to school.
4. What are the unique opportunities this season presents?
If I was driven by hope what could I do in this season which I wouldn’t be able to do at other times? This is an unusual season and whilst most children benefit massively from routine and a semblance of normality does this have to be an attempt to recreate their school at home? Are there opportunities to trial different styles of working, learn new skills or spend more time outdoors?
What might this season gift to my child that no other season will offer – perhaps the break from education and pressure may be just what they need. Maybe time with you, doing chores at home, facing new challenges or learning to deal with change will be their most valuable learning.
5. What does my child most need right now?
In the Whole Brain Child, Daniel J Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson emphasise the importance for children feeling safe, seen, soothed and secure – the 4 s’. In this season what does this look like for your child? The rhythm and focus of school work? Reducing academic demands? Something completely different?
The answer to this will depend on your child, but being clear on your child’s needs in this season and recognising them as needs is key to thriving. Children who don’t have the 4 s’s don’t learn well . Compromise in this area and you are compromising their learning even if your teaching is first class! What does school work add into the mix – is it helpful or unhelpful? How can you provide the four s’s in the weeks ahead - whatever they bring?
6. What messages do they need to be receiving from me?
If you’re finding something hard and your primary carer huffs and sighs what does this say about your needs? We’re all feeling wobbly right now – it’s a difficult time, but our children need our reassurance and encouragement.
If we can be clear about the message we want to communicate and how we may best send that both in our words and actions we’ve got a much better chance of making it happen. This doesn’t mean being perfect – but it may mean apologies or reassurance when we mess up or reducing the amount we expect of them an ourselves.
What do you want your child to hear from your words, actions and interactions?
7. What do I know motivates my child?
If you have a child who likes to fiddle then you know if you leave something on the kitchen table they can’t help but pick it up and explore. If your child is competitive you may have used the opportunity to lay down a challenge to motivate them at times. Maybe your child likes company and is happiest doing something side by side.
When I taught children who were totally disaffected and had little or no interest in education I had to make everything I did compelling to engage with, preferably without them realising they were even engaging! It is possible.... if you can find the right hooks.
Before you rush to offer a new x box game if they do everything they’re supposed to this week I’d encourage you pause and tap into what naturally motivates your child rather than offering extrinsic motivation.
Use your experience to notice what’s worked in the past – what do they love to learn? What can you glean from that? Is it practical? Creative? Competitive? Informal? If your child loves to be right have a go at their school work and get it all wrong – children love to correct adults and they HAVE to think about the answers in order to know you’ve done it wrong.
In the therapeutic parenting model PACE playfulness is key. If we can bring playfulness into learning – either through the activity or our approach it can make a significant difference. If play isn’t an option how else can you engage and hook them in – their specialist interest, competition, or something that helps them get in the best frame of mind to work? Variety, company while they work, music, short bursts of learning then a kick about with you?
If we can harness our expertise and flexibly approach this there are many ways we can make our approaches to learning – be it home school or homework - bespoke to our child and circumstances.
8. What’s the worst case scenario?
Your answer to the first question may have some bearing on your answer to this one.
If they have fallen behind? If home school fails? If they return to school and they feel anxious? What if their confidence has been affected?
The odds are that over the next few months there are going to be many challenges for many children, however much parent have done to support them. On an individual and a global scale this has been significant.
The question we should really be asking is WHEN my child find things difficult (if not now at some point in life) how can I best support them? If you know that they can always experience unconditional acceptance, love, support. If they can feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. If they have someone who will help them through whatever adversity they face then we give our children a great gift.
We can’t wrap them up in cotton wool and keep their world permanently lovely, but we can be a solid, secure, loving presence through whatever they may face so that when they do face adversity they are much better placed to learn and grow rather than be overwhelmed by it.
If they end up having to catch up on work, repeat things, get a few less GCSEs will is REALLY matter? Is it irreversible or are there alternative routes to their destination? What else might they learn and gain from the things that go wrong? How much stretch and challenge is healthy and how much is overwhelming for my child? What is the evidence my fears will be realised? When we are brave enough to explore our fears we may find some real lightbulb moments happening which alleviate so much of our concern.
9. What do you need at the moment to help you through?
Parenthood involves a lot of giving out. Currently there’s a pretty big mental load. There’s a lot of stress for adults in this season too. What do you need? A wellbeing boost? A listening ear? Time to do something fun for you?Being clear about the help you need and what you’re looking for will help you find a way through the myriad of different online opportunities.
10. What’s one thing you could do to take things forward?
What would take you one step forward? One thing you could do to make things work better? The big picture can feel overwhelming so start small. Break it into tiny steps and start with one step forward. We may only move forward very slowly, but keep taking baby steps and you will one day look back and see how far you’ve come. If you can’t see the wood for the trees then reach out for help – family life is too precious to just stay stuck.
This is a challenging season. There’s lots to get our heads around, but when we can pause, access our wisdom and expertise and be clear on what we’re doing and why we’re much better placed to make it through positively.
If you’re struggling to think this through don’t struggle alone – call a friend, talk to a partner, write a journal or get in touch and book a free initial chat to find out how we can work together: https://calendly.com/optimumcoaching/initial-chat