With COVID-19 continuing to lock down countries, parents all over the world have suddenly found themselves thrown into the position of being “co-teachers” for their children. Over and over again, we hear:
- “I don’t know how to teach my child to read.”
- “How can I help with math or chemistry that I don’t understand?”
- “I’m worried because my child doesn’t understand the lesson and is falling behind.”
Honestly, all of these worries can be put to rest. When supporting your child at home, you don’t have to explain the lessons… Instead, ask your children to do their best and help them come up with questions to ask their teacher when they need help.
Don’t worry about this “falling behind” business. Children learn at different rates and teachers know how to differentiate to meet their differing levels, scaffolding their learning when they need it. Children don’t learn in a straight line like this:
They learn more like this:
At times they learn quickly. At other times, they may plateau — and may even go backwards (for instance, during the famous “summer slide”). At one point, they may be excited about learning to read and make quick advances; at another, they may lose interest and stop reading all together for a while. All of this is normal. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” learning curve. So relax and trust the process. Your calm attitude will help your child believe in themselves and continue learning.
So what can you do to help?
Provide a strong learning environment:
- Help your child create a designated workspace. Make sure your child has a quiet place to work, free from distractions. This can be as simple as a kitchen table. Provide pencils, paper, post-it notes, and any other tools they need for working. Make sure to put away any video games or other distractions during school hours. Let your children be part of the creation process so that the space feels like it “belongs” to them.
- Stick to a routine. When you’re stuck at home all day, it’s tempting to let children go to bed later, get up later, wear pajamas all day, watch more TV, and play more video games. But a routine is essential to mental health and productivity. During the week, stick to a bedtime routine. In the morning, eat breakfast together and change into “work” clothes. Limit time spent watching Netflix or playing video games during downtime.
- Allow your child to develop independence. Learning is not meant to be easy. Struggling with problems and making mistakes is an important part of the learning process. When your child doesn’t understand how to do something, don’t give them an answer, just ask them to keep trying. Once they begin to get frustrated, have them write down a question for their teacher and put the work away. They can tackle it again tomorrow.
- Make time for reading. All studies show that children who read regularly have wider vocabularies, stronger writing skills, and deeper critical thinking skills. When your children are young, cuddle up and read aloud to them. As they get older, have a family reading time. Reading alongside them models the importance of reading (plus, it’s good for you too!). Read here about the many benefits of a regular reading habit.
- Incorporate physical activity. If at all possible, go outdoors. Walk the dog, take a bike ride together, or go to the park to run around. Not only will your child benefit from the sunshine and fresh air, but a change of scenery is especially important during this time. Sharing activities is also a great way to bond with your child. If the outdoors isn’t possible, try to make time for your child to exercise indoors: follow a YouTube video, jump rope, make an exercise circuit, play games… anything to get moving. Physical exercise increases serotonin and helps improve sleep, therefore it has been found to have a positive effect on mood. It also increases brain development and improves kids’ focus, meaning exercise helps them learn better.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Ask your children open-ended questions about how they’re feeling. If they can’t express their feelings, have them draw a picture or try showing them emojis and asking which one describes their mood. Some children who don’t want to talk about their feelings will benefit from writing in a journal. A book I constantly recommend for supporting communication with your child, is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Accept both positive and negative emotions and don’t try to “fix” negative emotions. Instead say things like, “It’s hard to feel like that. Can you tell me more?” Allowing children to own their emotions and explore them will help them that all emotions are normal and they can move through them. Feeling free to talk about their emotions will help them feel safe.
Below is an Infographic that may help keep these ideas in mind. Next week we’ll explore a number of different ways to help your child tackle their schoolwork and feel successful.