Is your child missing the hubbub of the classroom? We asked the experts how to help primary school children feel more connected when they’re learning online.
As lockdown continues, most schools are pulling out all the stops to help children stay on track with their learning. But one thing that isn’t easily replicated is the interaction that takes place naturally in the classroom.
This may mean that it falls to you as a parent to think of ways to make your child’s home learning more interactive.
‘It’s hugely beneficial for children to have learning experiences that include a teacher and their classmates,’ says Rahim Hirji, UK Country Manager of interactive learning platform and app Quizlet.
‘Live lessons are particularly beneficial as the instructional element follows the same pattern of a physical, in-person class, while peer learning involves a social element and helps children grow their learning together.’
So how can we make homeschooling more interactive for our children?
Help them engage with live lessons
Many primary schools are providing pupils with at least some live lessons, where the teacher leads the class in the same way that they’d teach face-to-face lessons in school, using a platform like Zoom or Teams.
Although the teacher is responsible for delivering the lesson, you can support your child so they get the best from it.
‘First, cover the basics,’ advises Leon Hady, headteacher and founder of Guide Education, which provides advice on home learning and parenting. ‘Make sure your child is connected with their mic on, check that they can see others on screen and keep background noise to a minimum.’
Teach your child to understand that this is a proper lesson, despite being remote, and so they must behave as they would in the classroom.
‘Instil in them the mindset that this is the most important part of the “school day,” and consider rewarding them for good behaviour at these critical points of the day,’ suggests Rahim.
Depending on how busy you are, you may want to hover in the background of your child’s live lessons. ‘But don’t feel under pressure to engage during live lessons,’ Leon says. ‘If a lesson is well planned, there will be material to continue their learning afterwards, so trust that your child is with the expert - their teacher.’
Encourage paired learning with friends
Your child may not be sitting in a classroom next to their friends, but they can still enjoy learning together, albeit remotely.
‘Peer learning is so important, especially when homeschooling,’ says Rahim. ‘There are lots of ways to do this, such as using Google Docs or Google Slides to work on projects together, or doing classwork together live on call.
‘Solving a problem together or creating a presentation as a pair can be fun, especially when the children have to produce something to show to their teacher or their class. It also teaches them the invaluable life skill of working as a team.
Use video lessons
Since the first lock down, there’s been a proliferation of educational videos designed to support children’s home learning, and using these videos and tutorials is a great way to make your child’s homeschooling more interactive.
“It’s no secret that a lot of learning happens on Youtube, so I’d encourage parents to turn on safe mode and search for the exact topics their child is covering in their school work,” Rahim says.
(The SchoolRun has a Parent’s guide to educational Youtube Channels, and each of our Homework Gnomes offers a selection of child-appropriate videos to watch in our homework help “player”.)
“You could look at the week’s topics (or ask their teacher if they're not automatically provided), then create a playlist for them so their learning becomes a wide and rich experience. “
Leon suggests watching videos with your child, if you have time to help them get the most from what they are watching.
“ A good technique is “model and pause” where something is shown or demonstrated in the video and there’s a given pause for the child to carry out an activity, giving opportunity for simple interaction,” he explains.
“Videos often incorporate this, but if not, you can pause and suggest your own task or tangent to support your child’s learning, which will make it seem more real and relevant.”
Tune into live streams
Live streams on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram are brilliant for engaging kids. Joe Wicks was the big hit of lockdown one, and there are live streams on everything from dance to science, often led by famous faces. 'If a live stream is happening and the instructor is considering the learner, it's likely that interaction will be provided,' says Leon. 'But if not, you can add some interactivity, which could be as simple as saying, "we should try that later." If, for example, it's a cookery live stream, you could check the cupboards for ingredients while your child is watching.'
Rahim suggests giving your child some tips to engage with live streams. 'To increase interactivity, they could make notes on every segment, or have a question ready every five or 10 minutes to type in the chatbox,' he advises. 'This will keep them attuned to the actual educational material.'
Use apps and edtech
There's a huge range of educational apps and websites that can make home learning more interactive, and these can be especially useful if the tasks provided by your child's school aren't providing much interactivity.
'You might want to pay for an app or learning programme that provides a guided and supportive path based on your child's progress or use free resources like Quizlet which provides thousands of ready-made flashcards, quizzes and games,' Rahim says.
'There are lots of products out there, but try to pick only one or two curriculum-mapped tools to support your child, or they may get confused.' TheSchoolRun.com has hundreds of resources to support your child at every stage of their learning journey, organised by school year, subject and topic.
Try playing games
Lots of popular children's games can be played on Zoom, Teams or FaceTime to supplement what your child is learning through school.
'Interactive learning is very much like playing a board game, with taking turns, explaining, responding to each other's "moves," and using a scoring system,' says Leon.
'Can children log on together and challenge each other to guess concepts using description skills from games like Articulate, or drawing or miming them like in Pictionary? Can they pick a keyword for others to guess through a game of Hangman?'
Check in with your child
As well as interacting with their teacher and friends, your child also needs a chance to talk their learning through with you.
'Make time daily to sit with your child and go over what they covered during the day, and offer support if you can,' says Rahim.
'It may be daunting, especially as methods have changed a lot since we were at school, but just offering a sounding board can be all it takes for your child to feel confident in what they're learning, working out what they need to figure out and learn.