The ever-lengthening lockdown: Advice for parents supporting their kids’ learning at home

As greater Sydney faces at least another four weeks in lockdown, we all have to acknowledge that we are not out of these weeds yet.

parent supporting child learning at home
Dr Selina Samuels Education expert BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd Wednesday, 28 July 2021

As greater Sydney faces at least another four weeks in lockdown, we all have to acknowledge that we are not out of these weeds yet. It looks like there may be a return to school on the cards for Year 12, but parents with younger children at home may be wondering how much longer they can balance supporting their children’s learning at home while also trying to work.

I would love to be able to tell everyone to just relax, but there is plenty of evidence to show that disruption to schooling can have an adverse impact on learning.

The Grattan Institute report into the impact of COVID on school-based learning identified that when learning from home, students across the board learnt about 50% of what they normally would learn in class, with the rate of learning decreasing to as low as 25% for students in disadvantaged schools.

When concepts are missed in learning, it can be challenging to develop new skills down the track, so those who fall behind during the school closures will find it difficult to catch up, struggling students can become less motivated, and the problems compound. 

As we know, learning gaps for students in early primary can become learning chasms in high school. So, what can parents do to support their kids while maintaining their jobs and their sanity?

1. You are not your child’s teacher and this is not homeschooling.

Not only does the term “homeschooling” offend teachers (many of whom are trying to support their students and their own children at home), it puts too much pressure on you. It is very important that you make sure you are in contact with your child’s teachers.

Attend as many of the parent/teacher check-ins or meetings offered by the school as you can. If the school offers no formal opportunities to connect, reach out to tell your child’s teacher how they are coping, if they need more or less work. Ask for strategies and, most importantly, ask for feedback.

2. Feedback is key to learning.

From the research that Cluey did last year in the midst of the first lockdown, it was evident that students who had direct contact with a teacher or tutor fared better during school closures.

Research tells us definitively that feedback makes the biggest difference to learning and academic outcomes. From a simple motivation perspective, students are less inclined to complete learning tasks if they will receive no feedback.

If it is difficult for your child’s school to provide personalised feedback, this should be an area of focus for you. Either you will need to fill the void or you should look to professional tutors such as Cluey to provide targeted support and feedback so that your child knows where they are going wrong, where they are going right and what to do next.

3. Start the day right.

Take advantage of the morning. This is one time of the day which many people report has been immeasurably improved by lockdown. That is, no rush to commute to work; no battle to get the kids to school.

If your children are old enough to enjoy sleeping in, take this time for yourself. Do some meditation or yoga. Go for a walk. Even if you are determined to start the learning-from-home day at 8.30 on the dot (and I strongly recommend that you do), you can still let the kids sleep and snatch a bit of time to breathe.

4. Set goals.

I have talked in the past about the value of structure, and this advice hasn’t changed. However, rather than just focusing on what everyone has to do in the day, it is a good idea to spend a bit of time at the beginning of the day for each member of the household to record their intentions and goals.

At Cluey, our tutors start every live learning session working with their students to co-construct tangible learning goals because not only do they give structure and consequence to the session, setting goals encourages students to take ownership of their learning.

These goals could be quite concrete: finish my Maths problems, write my report. But you can also encourage slightly more abstract and learning-focused intentions: take notes during my lessons, go over the questions that I found difficult yesterday and ask my teacher or tutor for help.

Showing your children how to set SMART goals and sensible intentions builds responsibility and establishes accountability, while the pleasure of ticking them off at the end of the day is highly motivating.

5. Don’t let your child’s learning gaps become learning chasms.

Research from around the world has sounded the alarm about the impact of disrupted schooling on learning. As much as I would like to reassure parents that letting your children play will be sufficient learning for them, there are genuine concerns in the educational community about the long-term impact on a large number of students.

That is the reason why the UK government, Victorian and NSW governments have invested heavily in funding tutoring programs to support students who have fallen and are falling behind their peers. They recognise the importance of early intervention in the form of tutoring to fill learning gaps and build learner confidence and resilience.

Cluey is an official provider of tutoring support to the NSW Department of Education, and we also work with individual families across the country to ensure that their children are catching up, keeping up or excelling, and continuing to thrive as learners during this very difficult time.

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