The pandemic has forced the government to place England into its third lockdown, and the rules are clear: Stay at home.
That means everyone, which leaves professionals working from home saddled with the daunting job of managing their children’s schooling once again.
Online learning will become the norm over the next two months, with lockdown likely to continue until March at the earliest. The government has promised to provide a million laptops to help with a shortage in devices, though regulator Ofcom says up to 1.8 million children have no access to a laptop or other such device.
While nurseries and early-years care are expected to remain open, primary schools through to universities will close and move to online teaching. However, some will remain open for the children of key workers, and those from vulnerable backgrounds.
Cabinet secretary Michael Gove said on 5 January that GCSE and A-Level exams for this summer will be cancelled, with alternative arrangements to be put in place “in order to make sure that “the hard work that students have put in to acquire knowledge and to develop their skills is appropriately assessed”.
But until then, help is at hand. Clinical psychologist Sharon Saline, who also advises on children with special needs, suggests a few key tips that will help your child to thrive. According to Saline, a daily schedule to provide structure is essential for parents, as it provides comfort and allows them to continue learning and achieving goals during uncertain times.
Carve out time in easy chunks
Let the day be broken up into simplified slots for leaning, chores, play, and even your own work-from-home responsibilities, Saline says. This includes a little “personal space” time so your little one has time on their own, while affording you a bit of “downtime” too.
To get kids to do their best, and the things they like doing less, set incentives and focus on “earned privileges”. For example, if your child is into Lego, let them have a 30-minute break to play with or continue working with a model they’re building, as a reward for getting a learning task done.
“Instead of using punishments or threats to force your kids to cooperate, focus on using earned privileges because incentives motivate kids,” Saline says. This is especially true of kids with special needs.
Keep your eye on big goals – don’t sweat the small stuff
Saline suggests starting each day with a clear sense of what you want to achieve. If you have this goal established in a calm way with your child, they will have certainty too. Knowing what to expect will help them to regulate their behaviour and expectations.
Don’t forget to factor in chores — for them and for you — as this will also assist in building in breaks in between the learning.
“Consider what they have to get done for school and chores, what assists them in working on those tasks and how many breaks they’ll need,” Saline says.
Don’t fudge wake-up and bedtime routines
It’s really key to keep to a firm schedule for rest time and the times to get up to begin the day. At a time of lockdown, the lack of the usual classroom structure and routine will likely affect your child — so keep in place the very important bed and wake-up times to help maintain a structure to guide your child and ensure they get the right amount of sleep.
They may insist otherwise but don’t forget, a well-rested child is better able to manage various tasks during the day, and will thrive on this structure.
Set limits for screen time
This can be a way to agree on a desirable activity with mutual cooperation.
“It’s reasonable to allow your child more time than your usual limits on screens right now, especially if it means they can interact with their friends online. However, make sure to explain to your kids that this is an exception, not the new normal,” Saline advises.
Collaborate – yes, with your child
It’s super important to block out the time to talk to your children about ideas on how to organise their days.
This could take the form of brainstorming or making lists of ideas on how to create a structure that works well for everybody.
Saline notes that “when kids are included in the process of figuring things out, they are far more likely to cooperate”.
Spell out incentives
This is an especially good tip — Saline advises parents juggling work with homeschooling duties to make two lists: one with “like to do” items, such as playing with the dog, hearing a story, practising yoga, etc. The second list should be a big-ticket offer — “would really like to do” — and include favourite activities like art projects, making music or even watching a movie.
“You’ll need to apply these incentives to the ‘have-to-do’ list that includes tasks like studying, doing chores, and helping out with siblings or household work,” Saline advises, in order to make it work.
Put it in writing
Now that you have the basics in place, put it all into writing, with each day designated into blocks of time for school learning, chores, and fun activities.
“Once you’ve got a draft, post it around the house and plan to meet again in four days to check in and make necessary adjustments,” Saline says.
Other useful resources
It’s not just the experts wanting to help out during this difficult period. Here are some of the resources being made available for free to parents, children and teachers during the lockdown.
— The BBC’s children’s television channel CBBC is going to be airing three hours of primary school programming every weekday from 9am. The home learning schedule will include BBC Live Lessons and BBC Bitesize Daily, as well as other educational shows such as Our School and Celebrity Supply Teacher.
— Meanwhile on BBC Two, there will be at least two hours of programming to support the GCSE curriculum.
— Erase All Kittens, an educational coding game for children, is being offered for free to introduce kids to digital skills. The London startup is also offering lesson plans to teachers.
— BrainPop has a collection of animated videos on topics such as maths, science and English, with some free resources on hot-button topics such as supporting anti-racist education.
— Creative Bug offers craft lessons for kids, including knitting, jewellery making, drawing and origami.
— Parentkind has compiled a long list of free resources across all schooling age groups and for different subjects. It also has sections on resources for local areas, such as Wales and Northern Ireland.
To contact the authors of this story with feedback or news, email Penny Sukhraj and Emily Nicolle