Especially for you* *if you are a parent who suddenly finds yourself having to be a teacher as well

Hello people,

This week I am writing mostly for the people who are home-educating.  We're, what? three?  four weeks in now?  I've lost count.


Relax.  You're doing fine.

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I think it is important to remember that the majority of you are not education professionals.  And even if you are, you're not used to 24/7 children.  Even on Year 6 Residential trips, we manage to get a break every now and again!  

Let me tell you a story about the time I went with my wife and my niece to Disneyland, Paris (there is a point to this and it's not just to let me wander in my mind!).  I love Disneyland and I love my niece.  I've also been a teacher for more than a decade, so I was more than happy to plan the day over breakfast.  We were going to do everything... twice.  It was going to be awesome.  

Cut to one hour in.  Everyone's having a wonderful time.  Then my wife asks me where my niece is.  An innocent question.  The place is fairly crowded and she's concerned.  I flippantly say that she's around somewhere and that we'll look for her in a few minutes.  I honestly thought nothing of it.  We were in Fantasyland, for goodness sake!  However, my very patient wife pointed out that we should probably look for her a little sooner than that.  I am sorry to say that this very good advice was met with an eye-roll and an audible sigh.

That was when my wife pointed out an awkward truth:

In my head, it was break time.  I had been with my niece for an hour, now I got to have 15 minutes away from her.  

My point is, make sure you build in break times for yourself.  It's okay to let your children entertain themselves for a quarter of an hour!  If that means they play video games or watch TV, fine.  What else are they going to do?  

It's also okay to set them off with something then let them carry on independently.  They should be used to that!  If your school has set work, take a few minutes to make sure they understand what to do then leave them to it.  You have your own stuff to do; they'll be fine.  If they get stuck, they can ask for help.  It's what would happen in school anyway.

While we're at it, there is no shame in any of the following:

Letting Google do it (well, YouTube anyway)
There are so many educational videos out there, one of them will work.  I recommend MathAntics for maths.  English is a little tougher although the BBC Bitesize websites are pretty good.

Not knowing the answer
You don't have to know everything.  If it is a question that is essential to the intended learning, then refer to my YouTube suggestion, or drop me a line (@Mr_M_Musings, tragiclantern@gmail.com, bit.ly/mrmscovidschool) and I'll record something for you.
If it's not essential to the current learning, let them go and explore.  One of the best answers you can give your child is: That's a really good question.  How are you going to find the answer?  Then let them find it! 

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Taking the day off
Not every day, obviously, but the occasional day off to let the kids (and you) unwind will be fine.  No, it's not normal practise, but nothing is normal practise at the moment.  One day off won't kill them.

Education is tough.  Good teachers know that it takes a long time to get it right.  REALLY good teachers know that you will never get it 'right'.  Simon Cooper-Hind once said that answering 'yes' to the following questions is enough for anyone:
  • Am I acting in the best interests of the children?
  • Am I being professional?
  • Am I doing my best?
For 'professional', I think we can read 'fair' for home-learning.  If you can say yes to these three questions, then you're doing fine.

Having said that...
Studies have shown that reading is very important and that skills in reading translate to skills in other areas as well.  So please, please, read to your children, or have books available for your children to read.  You can download an Amazon Kindle app for free on any device and there are plenty of free books out there.  Heck, have your children read to you.  Anything at all.  It doesn't matter for the moment.  Just please make sure they are reading.

If you would like to go a little deeper, you can use the Rule of 5 to check they're reading at the appropriate level:

Get a paragraph (ideally around 100 words) and sit so that both you and your child can see the writing.  Close your fist and have them start reading.  For every fumbled, missed or incorrect word that they don't self-correct, extend a finger (you can hide this if you want to).  When the paragraph is over, apply the table below:

0-2 fingers
Text is probably too easy.  
If they're happy, fine, but suggest something a little more challenging.

3 fingers
Roughly the right level of challenge.  
Keep checking every now and again to make sure they are not getting frustrated.

4-5 fingers
Text is too hard.  
Suggest reading something less challenging until they are more confident.

Obviously, take this with a pinch of salt, but it is a pretty useful rule of thumb.

The other thing you should try to do, no matter what, is have your children learn their times tables.  And not just parroting sequences of numbers.  They need to be able to recall them (ideally within 5 seconds) in any order; state the corresponding division facts (if 5 x 3 = 15, then 15 ÷ 3 = 5 and 15 ÷ 5 = 3); and be able to apply basic times tables knowledge to larger numbers (if 2 x 3 = 6, then 20 x 3 = 60 etc).

I have a selection of card matching games on my COVID-19 website for you to use.  They're completely free of charge.  Also, on my other website (bit.ly/carlslearningplace), there are self-marking times tables quizzes.  These are aimed more at Year 5 and 6 children, but there is no harm in letting younger children have a go.  It won't kill them!

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What do they need to know?
I've had a few parents ask me this over the last few weeks so I'll add THIS LINK here.  It takes you to a Google Sheet I made that breaks down the year groups into English, Maths and Science learning goals.  There are two sets: emerging is what they should know by around now-ish; expected is where they should be by the end of the year.  But remember, these are best-fit criteria and every child is different.  If you have any concerns or questions, bit.ly/mrmcovidschool has a sign-up sheet for 20-minute consultations (free) with me.

Lastly, I'll leave THIS OTHER LINK to a really useful guide to writing expectations through Primary school.  Get them to write something, then have them check it against the criteria.  

Again, don't panic.  In all likelihood, children up and down the UK (if not the world) are going to regress a little bit this year.  It'll be okay.  They will catch up.  Keep them alive.  Tell them you love them (you can dislike their behaviour, but make sure they know they are loved).  Hug them.  It's a weird time for everyone.

I hope this has helped.  Thanks for reading this far if you have.  I will be back next Tuesday with, hopefully, something... else.  If you have any requests/ideas, let me know!

Carl Headley-Morris

tragiclantern@gmail.com     @Mr_M_Musings     bit.ly/carlslearningplace     bit.ly/mrmcovidschool     www.svreducation.co.uk

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