Case Study: Remote learning from the view of a parent

Will she still love me when this is over?

Owner - Be More Learning & Development

I write this from my bed, it’s 6am as she lays next to me watching TV. Yes my seven year old likes an early start. My office floor is covered in craft that we have been making, my kitchen table is now a classroom and, if I’m lucky, I will finish my day at 11pm before we start again. Now, repeat that five times!

Some context – I’m a father of one, solo parent and sole trader. I was missed off the list for government grants so I must work between the ‘homeschooling’ of my child to generate the income we need to pay the bills. Thankfully this lockdown allows me to be in a bubble with my mother, so I have some support. However it’s to be used sparingly and wisely, she’s great for a 73 year old but there’s only so much football in the garden even this super-gran can do.

“I’m always ON!”

If I’m not being a parent, homeschooling or working, I’m eating, sleeping or cleaning. What the government is asking of teachers right is not sustainable and we parents can’t keep up. We are storing up mental health issues and challenges that we will all answer for over the next 20 years.

The damage to parent and child relationships will be irreparable and teacher wellbeing will diminish further. We will see sickness levels rise and educators continuing to leave the profession in droves. This can’t keep up. Teachers are doing double the work, teaching those in school as well as preparing material for those at home (and marking it all). When do they sleep or look after their own homes, children and partners?

My daughter’s school uploads the required equivalent four hours of learning every morning before 8am and our learning needs to be submitted by 2pm that day if we wish it to be marked for the following day – why?! Sorry, but for all your efforts I will not be doing the four hours of education you demand of my child DfE! But what I will be doing is ‘naturally occurring learning’, the stuff that appears in our lives and in our home.

Working FROM home vs working AT home

Let’s get this one clear, working from home and working at home are different. Working from home is where you have a lovely office space set up, with good lighting, a nice desk, a printer and all your work filed and accessible.

Working at home, well that’s another thing. The postcode may be the only similarity here. You are working from your lap on the sofa or bedroom (to get privacy), or you may be lucky enough to have a dining table to work from, which is covered with a mix of work files and kids work.

When working from home you could possibly go a full day without being distracted by the outside world, other than Zoom calls or a postal delivery.

Working at home when you are in the company of a young one is quite different. You are likely to be disturbed every 5–10min with: “dad can you help me with…?” or “dad when are you done yet…?” or worse “dad I’m really sorry but I broke this….”

Give yourself a break – working from vs. at home is not the same so don’t expect the same output from yourself. Commit yourself to one thing at a time and use the TV and other technology strategically.

My strategy this time round is to have quality time with my daughter in the morning, un-disturbed by work. We do our own thing around homeschooling (or is it learning?) –  I commit to being fully present with her during this time. Then in the afternoon I commit to work, either calling on my support bubble to help with my daughter or setting up solo activities that mean I can work undisturbed for good blocks of time. The afternoon for my daughter is about learning to play alone with me checking in periodically (we started with ten minutes, then twenty minutes and have expanded this now to one hour).

Home ‘schooling’ vs home ‘learning’

I’m all for educating my child at home, but I like many parents have found myself overwhelmed by the volume of information being provided via Google Classrooms, plus the reading, Mathletics and more. And then there are the parents that quite rightly celebrate their children’s endeavours on these platforms (which I think is great by the way – but can be pressure building).

I am not the perfect educator, I may hold a PGCE in Post 16 Learning, have a Masters in Psychology and 20 years plus of working in learning and development….But teaching your own child is very different to teaching others. They are not comparable and the emotional investment is much higher in your own home.

So on the whole – I’m all about ‘home-learning’. What do I mean by this, well this is me trying to teach my daughter about how the house runs, doing the washing together (sorting the lights from the darks and colours) and cooking tea – letting her use a sharp knife!

Then this leads to natural educational tasks like, creating the week’s menu of food. Seeing if she can write the ingredients we need. Also, we’ve been doing puzzles, then exploring the value of doing puzzles to her (problem-solving, patience, visualisation etc) and writing stuff about this.

My view – look at what you can do around the home naturally as an educational task, talk about it, write about it. But don’t do the spell check until the following day – this was a big lesson to me. Telling someone their spelling is wrong five minutes after celebrating their efforts for writing down their thoughts is not a good way to motivate. You may get the outcome of correct spelling with the unintended consequence of a demotivated little seven year old.

All your time vs quality time

In the first lockdown back in March I was on it. I would rota my day – one hour homeschooling then one hour working (while my daughter played solo) from 9am to 4pm. I was cognitively and emotionally spent (as was she). This was not a good long term strategy. Not least because I was wrongly driven by the idea that a then six year old could concentrate for one hour on a single task. I kind of ignored all my instincts and just set to doing stuff (getting things done, rather than being effective).

Now we do any cognitive work early on in our day, the first 20 minutes of our hour blocks, following this with a break (15–30min) or some physical activity. Which might be maths on the move or perhaps a target game she created – 7 bean bags, the tub is 20 points, the bowl 10 and the board 5 (and she chose to record the results).

As a rule of thumb it may help to think of your child’s attention span in terms of 3–5 minutes per year of life. So my now seven year old is likely to only be able to focus on any one given task for a maximum of 35 minutes (but more likely twenty min).

So why 4hrs?

Where is the science behind this being appropriate for a seven year old, is this based on what we need to teach them before the end of the academic year or is this based on what they are capable of learning? And, when we say capable of learning, is this when they are learning at school, with their friends, with all the resources they need are within easy reach (and not stuffed in kitchen cupboards). Is this when they have a well educated and experienced teacher and not a parent spinning plates of life behind teaching!

The 1:1 time with your child is much different to the 1:25/30+ situation that teachers have. In any one given hour at school your child may only get 5–10 minutes direct attention from their teacher. So one hour of quality time with you as their parent educator is like a day’s worth of full on teacher time – don’t over do it!

To the DfE

There needs to be a better way to measure success or achievement within a country than GDP , academic test scores, or volume of output. Maybe well-being and trust should be our measure which ironically has been shown to improve GDP. Do we really need more growth at the expense of prosperity and wellbeing?

To educators

If you need to measure anything this year, especially when it comes to our children, please measure their happiness, contribution to others and kindness to themselves. I want to know what a good positive contributor my child is to the world around her and to her own growth, not simply what Maths or English grade she has.

To parents

Use TV and other technology strategically, either for solo time/play or for you both to just stop for a moment. Please don’t measure yourself against anyone else other than the person you were yesterday. Sometimes you will be better and sometimes you won’t. But this is the only mark scheme you really need.

I have by no means nailed this lockdown but I now have less self imposed pressure, my daughter and I are happier alone and together and our relationship has grown. We can catch up on any missed learning, however repairing a broken relationship due to unrealistic expectations is much harder to recover.

My office floor now… the Amazon box city has grown, we now have a theatre and a stage! My daughter tells me this is ‘Design Technology’ so that’s another lesson ticked off…

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