Learning at Home, Learning at School, Learning Anywhere …

Back in June 2020, towards the end of the first lockdown, I was asked to comment upon the effects of Covid-19 on children’s education for a Talk Radio programme. Little did I realise that seven months later at the start of 2021 I’d be doing something similar for another radio programme, this time for BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Mornings’.

A researcher had called the day before the programme to talk about how parents could best support their children’s learning at home during this third prolonged period of lockdown in which tired and dispirited parents were being asked to again resume home education. I did what I usually do; took a deep breath, searched my memory and records for what I had said previously and then considered what I, personally, had learnt on this topic in the intervening time.

Much has been made of the idea that through this pandemic, especially the lockdown periods, we have had the time and space to find out and focus upon what is most important in our lives, to engage in personal development and to consider how we can contribute to the wellbeing and happiness of others and our children are likely to feature in three aspects. For this reason I would say the, hopefully, temporary requirement for the majority to home educate can be viewed as an opportunity.

Given the time that had passed since COVID-19 came into all our lives, an important point is that we were now dealing with a chronic rather than an initially acute situation. As anyone knows who either experiences or has cared for someone with a chronic health condition, one of the most challenging aspects is that of staying positive and hopeful. This mindset is therefore probably the most important factor in my view.

Many of the teachers I have spoken to and the numerous articles I have read or listened to have stressed the need for parents who are supporting their children’s learning at home to focus upon personal development, including managing emotions, emotional resilience, recognising and fully using personal strengths and working on personal weaknesses, relationship skills, including communication and managing conflict, physical activity, health and wellbeing and the importance of caring for the environment, skills for life, including using new technology and home skills such as cooking, personal and home care. This isn’t to say that the formal curriculum should be completely put to one side, rather that it can be approached differently in a more personally relevant way and on a smaller scale.

Another thing that is evident now is that schools, local authorities and the department for education have, in the light of experience, trial and error and more time, become better organised in terms of supporting parents and children via virtual, on-line means. The children and families who do not have the technology, relevant skills and/or physical conditions are being made a priority by government and allowed to attend actual school, along with children with complex additional needs and the children of essential workers.

Returning to the issue of lost curriculum though, it is possible that the situation we are in has a silver lining, which is the opportunity for children and adults to return to the roots of their own learning. One of the most important influences upon my own development and learning has been the works of Carl Rogers, an American psychologist and one of the founders of the humanistic movement. In his book “Freedom To Learn FOR THE 80’s’, published in 1969, ten years before I trained as teacher and then as an educational psychologist, Rogers’ message was a strong and radical one, very much summarised in his opening quotation:

“It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.” Albert Einstein

So, there is no question, for me, that the urge to learn is intrinsic to being human and that the great institution of formal education has done much to support this but there are also many people who consider their school experiences to have impacted negatively upon their learning. I know this from my clinical practice but you can try this out for yourself by simply asking the next half dozen people you are able to talk to, first about their school experience and then their best learning experience. The correlation may not be as high as you might expect.

Returning to the question of how parents can support their childrens learning. I have some suggestions:

  1. Treat this unique and unavoidable time as an opportunity for talking and finding out about and supporting your own and your children’s learning, i.e. the things and situations that make you curious and hungry to learn, that are satisfying and enjoyable and that give you and them more to talk about
  2. Use the resources in your own home and surroundings, on-line and those made available by your child’s school, the Local Authority and the Department for Education, friends and family
  3. Aim to be organised and balanced with time, equipment and targets but at the same time don’t try to replicate school. Home is looser, more relaxed and as unique as the individuals who live in it
  4. If there is some way of involving others in the activities you devise, such as through on-line activities, written and mailed materials such as letters, telephone and video calls then so much the better.

We are almost certainly going to be bombarded by dramatic and negative news headlines about lost curriculum, missed examinations, and lower attainment levels as a result of the pandemic. Every other area of human existence, e’g. physical and mental health and economic pursuits, gets this treatment from our press and media because, after all, they are commercial bodies who have a lot vested in disaster and loss as it generally makes the best drama. I’d like to quietly add something more hopeful to this cacophony of doom and suggest that learning is going on all around us, everywhere and will continue to do so and when children return to school their teachers and parents will be even better placed to work together to support their learning and development.

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