‘Let your kids get bored’: emergency advice from teachers on schooling at home

School may have closed for the foreseeable future, and all exams cancelled, but children still need to be educated and entertained – as well as reassured. Many schools plan to send work home and there are lots of free resources…

School may have closed for the foreseeable future, and all exams cancelled, but children still need to be educated and entertained – as well as reassured. Many schools plan to send work home and there are lots of free resources available via online platforms such as BBC Teach. But meanwhile, how do you even start home learning when this is all so new? We asked teachers for their emergency advice.

Parents of primary children:

Prioritise your child’s wellbeing “Great learning only happens when children feel happy, safe and secure. Provide your children with reassurance and love.” Jules White, headteacher at Tanbridge House school, Horsham Jules White, headteacher of Tanbridge House school in Horsham: ‘Avoid an unhealthy overreliance on screen time’. Photograph: Teri Pengilley/The Guardian Keep to a routine “Children need normality, familiarity and structure. So keep to a routine. It makes home schooling easier and helps children to realise this is not a holiday, and that teachers are expecting learning to take place to some degree.” Lillie Rosenblatt, teacher at Brookfield primary school in Camden, London Give your child some autonomy “Let your child create their own structure or timetable for the day, combining their ideas and home learning. If they try and schedule double PlayStation every morning, then it’s probably time for parents to step in, but give them the option first. I think a lot of parents will be impressed with the outcome.” Joanna Conway, headteacher, Whitegate End primary school and nursery, Oldham Let your child get bored “In communities like mine, there are not a lot of PCs, laptops and other tech in the home that allow pupils to access learning platforms. My advice is let your kids have a holiday and enjoy themselves until they get bored. Then they will want to get on to learning they have been set. The homework is there not to improve standards but to ease boredom.” Chris Dyson, headteacher, Parklands primary school, Leeds Chris Dyson, headteacher at Parklands primary in Seacroft, Leeds: ‘Let your kids have a holiday and enjoy themselves until they get bored’. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian Limit tablets, phones and TV “It will be important for friends to stay in virtual contact with each other as long as interactions are friendly and supportive – but avoid an unhealthy overreliance on screen time in all of its guises. Too much screen time has very negative effects on physical and mental health and it disrupts sleep patterns as well. Variety is key: exercise, reading a great book and learning a new skill are all suitable ways of avoiding the sheer monotony of a TV and computer screen.” Jules White Emphasise literacy and numeracy… “Continue to practise essential English and maths. Review fundamental maths skills such as number bonds, times tables, division facts and addition/subtraction strategies. Encourage your child to write for pleasure about what they’ve done that day, or make a comic.” Jordan Bickel, Grand Avenue primary and nursery school, Surbiton Emily Proffitt, headteacher, Tittensor first school in Stoke-on-Trent: ‘Baking, painting and getting out in the garden are essential to reduce boredom’. …but remember that learning should be fun “Children need to have a plan or timetable right from the start, and to stick to it using a timer. But activities should not just be solely English and maths-based. Making learning fun is vital – so baking, painting and getting out and about in the garden are essential to reduce boredom.” Emily Proffitt, headteacher, Tittensor first school, Stoke-on-Trent Be attentive “Listen to your child. Enjoy hearing your child explain what they are being asked to do, and the challenges they face.” Jules White Consider the impact of social isolation and constant supervision “It’s vital that children get downtime to be independent and relax. We are encouraging our pupils to write to each other, giving them a purpose but also helping them feel less isolated.” Emily Proffitt Encourage reading every day “Whether it’s reading to themselves, a parent, a sibling or even a special animal friend, it’s essential children continue to read. Reading anything counts.” Jordan Bickel Don’t expect children to work non-stop “The younger the child, the less time they can sit and learn for, so frequent breaks are important for productivity.” Lillie Rosenblatt Don’t overdo it “I’d recommend around two hours’ learning in total a day for children in key stage 1, which covers reception to year 2. That should include arts and crafts, and hands-on activities. Children in key stage 2, which covers year 3 through to year 6, would be able to do more: about three to four hours. But again, that should include PE activities and more creative tasks as well.” Jordan Bickel Support child-led learning “Encourage your child to research something that is of interest to them and show their learning with a creative project. This could be making something with play-dough, junk modelling, papier-mache or a presentation. Let your children experiment.” Jordan Bickel Endorse regular movement breaks Movement breaks – such as dancing to music, performing animal walks or playing Simon Says – provide children with sensory feedback and offer them a chance to “reset”. “If fast movement breaks aren’t working, slow it down by doing wall or chair push-ups or squeezing hands, shoulders or legs. Find what works for your child. It will really help with learning and focus.” Lillie Rosenblatt Make the most of any outdoor space “There are so many benefits to outdoor learning: children develop an appreciation of the world around them, enhance their solving skills and increase their sensory skills, not forgetting the benefits for physical and mental health. Maybe you could learn about all the plants and trees near your house, or create your own outdoor circuit and do a daily workout together. Doing something physical keeps our mind healthy too.” Joanna Conway Praise children’s efforts and behaviour, not their achievements “Positive constructive praise that targets effort, behaviour and specific aspects of a child’s work is much more powerful than just saying ‘well done for completing your English’. Lillie Rosenblatt Bond with your child “Enjoy the extra time together. Create some artwork, a board game, make a meal together, do a jigsaw, write a song or put on a production, a dance or make a video. Maybe you could send it to relatives to cheer them up. I would also recommend sharing a ‘family gratitude’ each day.” Joanna Conway Secondary students Stick to your existing schedule “Try to keep to your timetable as much as you can. It will really help you to vary what you study at home and your teachers are more likely to be online at those points in the day to help you specifically.” Niamh Sweeney, teacher, Long Road sixth-form college, Cambridge Make the most of freebies “Search the web for free resources for your subject. There are numerous websites now offering premium content for free during the crisis.” Alex Goldsmith, maths teacher, the Alleyne’s academy, Stevenage Stay positive “Keep a journal. Each day, spend six minutes writing about the following: three things you are grateful for, how you plan to make today great, a good deed you will do that day, how you plan to improve yourself and, at the end of it, some great things you experienced that day.” Chris Hirst, Stretford high school, Manchester Look after yourself “Try not to worry about the situation. As soon as schools and colleges know what is happening about college and university applications, we will let you know. Take a break from social media – and don’t forget to wash your hands.” Niamh Sweeney Challenge yourself “Read a book you haven’t read before. Take a photography challenge: document your time in isolation in photographs (your mood, what you did, how you felt). Calculate the value of Pi to as many decimal points as you can. Learn a dance step or a magic trick from the internet. Make a meal from whatever you have in the cupboards – extra marks for putting together a totally original, mad or weird recipe. Go online to kids.guinnessworldrecords.com and find a World Record that you can try to break at home. Pick a household chore, like ironing, and learn how to do it.” Chris Hirst