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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Barrett

Home-schooling Primary aged children

Suzy is a Primary School teacher who has worked in schools across Derbyshire, Worcestershire and Vietnam.

With so many of us thrust into home-schooling, it can feel like we are facing an impossible task. How can you get your child engaged in learning in the home environment? These simple tricks might help you to tackle this new role while retaining some sanity at the end of it.

One thing that you might not know is that teachers use a variety of resources to teach, not just the ‘sit down and listen to this’ method. Most children do not respond as well to the formal style of learning if they are not around peers and in a school system (lets face it, there is always the hierarchy of teaching staff to force children to comply with school rules).

My suggestion is that you try a different approach. There are many good videos on YouTube made by teachers. If you are struggling to teach phonics for example (and why wouldn’t you struggle? Most teachers had to go through years of training to understand the complexities of phonemes, graphemes and so on) then there are videos made by qualified, experienced teachers, teaching the very subjects that you might be struggling with. Also, this is the perfect opportunity to cash in on the fact that most children enjoy watching television, and it takes the pressure off you.


Mr Thorne with his trusty sidekick, Geraldine the giraffe, makes some engaging phonics lessons.

Some great songs for phonics and a variety of other subjects can be found on YouTube at kidstv123

Once your child understands the sound they are learning, head over to this site to play some really fun games. There is an extremely high chance that your child will already know these games, as they are played widely in schools across the country. Some games are free and are lots of fun. Find the sound that you are learning in each game and let your child practice using it.

All subjects

If you need any word mats for key vocabulary, any resources for topic work, colouring sheets, pencil control worksheets, using scissors worksheets, and many more, including phonics activities, head over to these fantastic websites, which almost every teacher uses across the country. You will need a printer for most of the resources but some are interactive. (requires payment)

The BBC have your back during the pandemic and have a vast range of educational games and videos according to key stage and subject.

Maths and literacy

Maths is not a strong subject for some of us (myself included!) so why not let these fun games help your child practice their numeracy and literacy skills and have some fun in the process?

How to teach a lesson

Below is an example of how to teach a lesson, concept, or idea to a child. I would recommend doing whatever works best for you, for your child and the circumstances that you are in. If you find that your child loses interest very easily, then take a break and try again later.

Do not expect them to sit and learn for hours on end like they do in school. Firstly, this is not a great model anyway and teachers use discipline to get all children to sit and ‘behave’. This is not something you are realistically going to be able to do at home, and it will just create a negative atmosphere. When I was training as a teacher someone said to me ‘if you fight them on the first day then you will fight them every day’. It's exhausting and horrible for everyone.

Children are by nature very inquisitive learners so if you find their learning style it shouldn't be too difficult to get them interested in something. There will always be areas that they gravitate to and subjects they despise. Try getting them into something they enjoy first to get them warmed up. Using a preferred activity as a reward for doing something boring is a bit like doing warm up exercises after the workout. Make life easy for everyone and start on a positive note.

Lesson structure

Recap – ask your child if they have learned this before? What can they remember about it? What can they already do?

Teach – introduce the idea, this is what we are learning (you might be unfamiliar with it yourself so approach together).

Have a go – try and solve a problem, answer the questions set

What do we need to do? There’s a good chance your child won’t be able to answer the questions straight away, that’s totally fine. It could take several attempts to understand a new concept. It could be over a series of weeks or months. Teachers usually teach the same lessons a few times in the year to secure the learning. Talk to them about HOW you would tackle the problem. How could we find the answer?

Seek help if needed, from books, online or ask the class teacher via email or however you have been told to contact them.

After you have completed the work set, have a play around and USE the knowledge you have just acquired. Find an interactive game from the list at the start of the article and play around. Do this even if your child was not able to complete the work. So, for example, if you taught a lesson on maths and adding, then find a fun adding interactive game to play around with. Your child might suddenly ‘get it’ when the pressure is off, and they are having fun. Games also give instant feedback and the opportunity to try again immediately.

If you get stuck

If you are stuck, read it a few times then put it down and do something else. You’ll be amazed at what the brain figures out while you are doing other things.

If the work doesn’t make sense, then contact the class teacher for clarification.

Try not to get stressed. If you are learning something that isn't clear or doesn't make sense to you or your child, try to stay calm. It is tempting to throw a difficult worksheet in the bin (we've all wanted to do that at some point) but think what this is saying to your child. A good approach is to look at everything as a problem to be solved. If something is difficult, your child will look to you to show them how to cope with that. If you say something like 'hmmm I'm not sure about this, what can we do to find out? Where can we look? Who can we ask?' you will teach your child not to simply give up when something is hard.

The Importance of Play

Play is a great de-stressor and allows children to practise new skills as well. I would argue that play is important for all ages, especially during this time as it will comfort and relax you and your child (if you join in, or just let them get on with it while you do something else). If you are struggling to teach a lesson or a concept then I would put some maths or literacy games, activities, and resources out for them and let them have free choice. For example, if they won’t sit and do a number ordering worksheet but love colouring get out a dot-to-dot or colour by number activity. If they don’t want to learn about animals, then get out the children’s encyclopaedia or look up information on the BBC bitesize website.

If it all goes wrong

The approach your child has towards learning will be mostly determined by their age, temperament, previous knowledge and past experiences of learning. Do not forget that things are very strange at the moment and your child might 'act out' more than usual. If you are getting stressed out and pressuring your child to do work then they will start to resent it, and so will you. There are many ways to learn something, not just from sitting at a table. If they are really resistant to sitting at a table and starting 'learning' then do the work in the living room. Don't announce that you are now doing a literacy lesson or numeracy, just start doing it casually. Whatever approach works best - play around with it.

Get creative and if it really goes all wrong then scrap off the day and try again the next day. There are days in mainstream school where children may not learn as much as others, or they have a school trip out and don’t do ‘academic work’. Go easy on yourself and your child. Instilling a love of learning is important for your child in the future (no pressure) so try to see the fun in it. There are so many opportunities for learning, baking, a short walk outside to look at nature, counting cars, looking at a globe or google earth, peeling vegetables (safely and with supervision). If academic work just isn't going to happen today then do another activity.

Swap roles

Playing the child, while your child teaches you, might be a good way to shift the balance. You could ask your child to explain something to you. Play schools and set up a classroom. Pretend to be confused and ask them to explain it to you. All these things will turn learning into a fun activity. We do this in schools as well, sometimes asking children to teach a concept. It boosts their self-esteem, and you can even pretend that your child is much better at it than you.

I hope that these tips help. They are not going to work for everyone, but these ideas work for me, most of the time. Try to create a calm, fun environment for your child and support their learning. If you aren’t sure of the work set yourself, then learn along with them. Tell your child that you are doing this together and that you are ‘learning buddies’. You might even learn something new yourself. Good luck and feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

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