How to balance home learning expectations

How to balance home learning expectations
Reading Time: 6 minutes

For the first time in recent history, most parents across the UK have had to step into the role of being home educators during this season of school closures. For the majority, this wasn’t a choice and they perhaps feel overwhelmed with how to balance home learning expectations.

Some face added pressures including being furloughed, possibly being made redundant (or not earning an income as freelancer/self-employed) and others continue to try and juggle teaching their children with working from home.

Many parents feel ill-equipped to suddenly fill this new role. With the lockdown deadline extended and uncertainty as to when UK schools will open again, families have mixed feelings about what they should achieve during this time.

In this guest blog, Becca Tooth, an experienced primary teacher, home educator, parent and blogger at Pears and Chocolate Sauce shares some advice to help you and your family work through this time and keep your head above water.

Home educating in a pandemic
If your child is usually educated in school, then what you’re experiencing now isn’t a typical example of home educating. You’ve been thrown in at the deep end, and for many of you home educating may never have crossed your mind.

In addition, many of the resources those of us who do home educate would usually access – libraries, museums, home school groups, and so on – are currently unavailable. We are all having to find our new normal, considering both our children’s and our own wellbeing.

A mother and her son doing home learning school work during school closures

Image: AleksandarNakic/Getty Images

Have realistic expectations

  • Don’t feel you have to ‘recreate’ school. You don’t have to start at 9am or end at 3pm. You can do it at the weekend. You can do more some days, and less others. You don’t have to record everything (and nor do they). Do what works for you and your children. That might be reading over breakfast. It could be putting on a show. It might be as simple as a conversation or finding out something together. There may also be days when emotions are running high (particularly given the current circumstances) and what might work best is just to spend the day doing whatever brings you and your children some comfort.
  • My experience is that my own children can be far more resistant to what I ask them to do than most children I’ve taught. This is normal. However, it can make things difficult when you’re pulling in opposite directions. Try letting them choose when to do things. Instead of saying, “It’s time for maths now,” give them a list of tasks for the day or the week and let them choose the order. This way, you’re still setting the expectations, but they can exercise some control.
  • Home education can be more ‘intensive’, by which I mean that I can do the same kind of activity with my daughter that I may have with a class, but because she has my full attention (well, almost – she does have two younger brothers!), both the teaching and the activity often take less time. So, don’t feel your children have to be doing ‘schoolwork’ all day. I’d say three or four 15-30-minute bursts, depending on their age, would be plenty for most children.
A mum educating her young son at home using Learning Resources Mathlink Cubes to do maths activities

Image: MartinPrescott/Getty Images

Keeping up with school expectations
Some families are finding it hard to keep up with the sheer volume of work that has come in from the schools. If this is the case, speak to your child’s teacher to clarify what their expectations are. Some families will want to be given more to do than others, and so schools will be trying to cater for those parents who want lots for their child to do, but they probably don’t expect everyone to do everything.

Let them know what you’re struggling with and ask for advice. In these difficult times, the priority is your child’s wellbeing. If it’s causing friction at home trying to get everything done, then take a step back. Do what feels manageable – that might just be some reading and a craft activity some days.

Remember that your children will be learning as they play, and there’s lot to be learned from day-to-day activities such as cooking, gardening, and helping around the house. Alternatively, you may find it works better to choose a topic that your child is particularly interested in and do your own thing.

Managing younger children
If you have younger children, it can be difficult to find time to work with older ones, do your own work, or get jobs done around the house. Firstly, try and find a routine that works for you. No two sets of circumstances are the same, so nor will our routines be.

I am constantly tweaking our routine to try and make it work best for the family at any given time. I shared some pointers a few weeks ago on how to create a routine that works for your family – it can be as strict or as loose as you want; whatever suits you.

Secondly, have some things in mind that your child can do fairly independently – something that really engages them. For example, one of my children loves using scissors. He will sit quite happily cutting up a piece of paper or an empty cereal box for quite a while.

Playdough [Ed’s note: try our Playfoam for non-drying, non-sticky, squishing, sculpting fun] is another one which goes down very well with my kids, or a tub of containers and scoops with some pompoms, beads, oats or lentils. Don’t feel bad about putting the TV on, either, if that’s what works for you.

Mother, father and young child relax on the sofa while staying at home and home learning

Image: gradyreese/Getty Images

What if the schools only reopen in September?
While we’d all love to get back to normal sooner, we have a responsibility to stay at home for as long as necessary. When schools do reopen, there is going to have to be a huge focus on children’s wellbeing and coming to terms with all that has happened over the past however many months.

Teachers will also need to assess where children are at, so I hope the DfE are supportive in enabling schools to make meaningful assessments which prioritise the children’s wellbeing.

Have a healthy perspective on success
Try not to compare yourself to others – easier said than done, I know. I’ve seen a quote going around that says something like, “We’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat”. Everyone’s circumstances are different. The variables include our workloads; number of children; financial situations; physical or mental health; and access to outdoor space amongst other things.

We don’t all have the same input and we cannot all have the same output. I find it helpful to have a rough plan in my mind of what I want to have done by the end of the day – not only what I want to have done with the children, but what else needs to happen for it to be a good day.

There will be some days when you get loads done and some days where it feels like nothing productive has happened. I think the key thing is wellbeing. If we all go to bed happy, the day has been a success.

Becca Tooth blogger, teacher and home educator About the author:
Becca Tooth is a mum of three from London. She has taught across the primary age range over the last twelve years and is currently having a break from teaching while she cares for her children, including home educating her eldest, who is aged six. Becca is a big believer in the power of play as a tool for learning, and writes at Pears and Chocolate Sauce sharing practical ideas and insights to help parents and educators use play to nurture children’s natural curiosity and inspire a love of learning.


Looking for more? Read about ways to stay feeling positive while staying at home. And keep visiting our blog, Facebook and Instagram pages to stay in touch – we’re all in this together.

Main image: gradyreese/Getty Images

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