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From brain breaks and homework tips to setting a schedule for kids, teachers share their top teaching strategies to help out parents.
This year has been a roller-coaster for school kids, parents and teachers, with many schools experiencing remote and digital learning for the first time. Not only did having our kids at home for 6-8 weeks amplify our respect and admiration for our nation’s educators, it has also changed the way we think about learning at home. According to respondents in recent research by Cluey Learning, 65% of parents admitted that homeschooling has given them a better understanding of how their child learns. It’s no surprise though that 46% admitted they are “excited/happy” about schools re-opening.
Even though kids are back in the classroom, supporting them at home is still key. We spoke to three teachers about their experiences during COVID-19 (coronavirus), and asked them to share advice on effective teaching strategies and tips and tricks that will come in handy for homework, daily routine, assignments and more.
Kids work better in a familiar environment, says Clair Simpson, a Year 4 teacher from NSW. Encourage them to use the same quiet, organised spot at a desk or the dining room table every day: this will help kids stay focused and feel more inspired to tackle their homework. Clair’s other tip? Try to replicate their classroom with a few small touches and school supplies. “You could have a name tag as well as a pencil jar or a pencil case. A clock or a watch is also handy to help them stay on track.”
Daily routine is really important for children and you’ll find kids are happier and more settled when they know what’s coming next. Scheduling was a hot topic during the homeschooling period earlier this year.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Victorian primary school teacher and mother of four Melissa Belanji spent five minutes each morning working on a schedule for her own family. This meant her girls could physically tick off tasks; they knew what was expected of them, explains Melissa. “Most children thrive on routine and love to know what is happening,” she says.
It’s a tactic that can be used to help with homework and assignments too: if the same hours every day are dedicated to homework, then it becomes an accepted part of the routine. Clair agrees: “Routine is really important for lots of children. In my classroom it’s visual: at the start of each day so they can see exactly what’s planned for the day.” At home, she suggests a whiteboard or similar where tasks are clearly outlined, including breaks.
Homework and assignments should also be packed up, or at least made tidy and ordered, at the end of the homework period. This helps kids take ownership of their own work and makes them mentally tick off what they need to accomplish next on the list.
We probably don’t need to tell you this but most school kids struggle to sit still and concentrate for long periods of time. “A lower primary-aged child can sit for up to 40 minutes and for upper primary, it’s more like an hour,” Melissa says. “But some children need to move more than others.”
When it comes to homework, aim for 20-minute intensive work sessions and then shake things up with a five minute brain break. NSW Year 2 teacher Aliana Lowe, who posts on Instagram as The Young Educator, says, “these can be incidental like getting a drink of water, tidying their workspace or packing away toys. Or they can be more intentional like dancing to music, kicking a ball outside or jumping on the trampoline.” These mini-brain breaks will keep them fresh and their concentration up.
Motivating kids to do their homework isn’t easy, which is why it is important to be disciplined in your approach. Sticking to a routine, including study sessions and reward breaks, establishes good patterns, as does praising your child for their efforts and reinforcing that everyone needs to try their best and do what they can. And if your kids are particularly lacking in motivation? “Tune into what your child likes and work with them to reward them for their efforts,” Melissa suggests. “My girls love gymnastics so after some study sessions we go onto YouTube and they participate in gymnastics drills.” Other rewards for both the completion of homework and remote learning may include stickers, playdough, free time, LEGO play, a movie night, iPad time or choosing takeaway for dinner.
“Don’t feel that you have to focus on purely academic learning... there’s lots of incidental learning [too],” says Clair. She suggests a spot of cooking, for the benefits of reading the recipe and practising fractions, or completing a jigsaw puzzle together. “Try counting as you’re jumping on the trampoline or make an arrangement with leaves and look at sequences and patterns.” Start by asking the kids what they would like to learn this week. The more invested they are in setting the task, the more invested they will be in completing it.
Melissa also recommends play-based learning “as a meaningful way to incorporate literacy, numeracy and science. It allows kids to explore, discover, take risks and make connections through hands-on learning. It could be as simple as researching their favourite animal, finding out their prey, predators, diet, habitat and creating a small world from various materials using the information gained.”
Incidental learning in the home also supports the formal learning kids have in class. As Melissa says, “learning can happen anywhere! And sometimes teaching concepts in a more playful and engaging way, by using hands-on items or physical movements, can really help, especially if your child is struggling.”
If your child runs into trouble with homework, say with technology or solving a tricky maths problem, this is actually a learning opportunity in itself. The temptation for parents can be to rush over and attempt to find solutions for your kids but giving them some space to persevere helps build resilience and patience – and will bolster their problem-solving skills. “Remind your child to try to problem solve for themselves. If they are still unsure, move on until you both have time to review together. If something isn’t working, adjust and try again,” Aliana says.
If you’re overwhelmed by the volume of homework the kids have, don’t beat yourself up. Every parent needs to adopt strategies that work for them and their child and if you can’t do it all, go for quality over quantity; and if you can, make reading and maths the priority.
If we learnt anything from the homeschooling experiences earlier in the year, it’s that family time is also key: “Provide opportunities for your family to do things together, especially between siblings,” says Melissa. “Play games, laugh and listen to music to calm your household. Unstructured play with siblings is really important as it’s a great way for children to enhance their creativity, imagination, problem solving and social skills.”