Perhaps it was a New Year’s resolution of yours and you’re determined to make an effort with your child’s education this year: getting on top of the admin, knowing where they are with their learning and where they need a little support. You’ve had a long break over Christmas, and perhaps you have felt guilty at times (you absolutely shouldn’t by the way!) for switching off and not ‘making every opportunity a learning one’, like you’ve seen so many others doing (and boasting about) on social media. Despite your best interests, you’re back into a routine, whatever that looks like to you – if you’re a home educating family or supporting your child with their learning back in school – but the barriers remain.
So how do you really reduce the barriers to learning at home and make 2024 a year of peace and progress?
Listen to your child
OK this may seem an obvious thing to say, but by this I mean really listen and listen to the things they’re not saying. It might be their tone, it might be in their excuses, it might be in their body language, but what is it your child is communicating without telling you directly how they feel.
What is your child really trying to tell you?
Perhaps they’re giving you quick, short replies when you ask how they’re getting on in maths, or why they’re avoiding picking up a book. Your child will naturally want to please you and make you happy so they may avoid telling you what they feel they can’t do.
Once you’ve noticed the resistance, before putting them on the spot, consider how they are feeling and let them know they are safe to share any concerns, so they feel really heard. Acknowledge the task they’re struggling with. ‘That looks really challenging.’ ‘It can be difficult to find time for reading when you’d rather be doing something else.’ This shows an understanding, and rather than feeling accused your child will know that you are paying attention, and knowing they’re noticed (and that you care) makes a huge difference.
Offer some alternatives.
If they’re struggling with something you feel confident explaining, offer to talk through the task together. You never know, just having some 1:1 time together maybe the motivation they need to get started. But if not, trying to get your head around a concept you find challenging could cause more frustration for both of you. There are so many better qualified people that offer support online for free, you literally have expert guides at your fingertips. A quick search in YouTube or on Tiktok will likely bring up hundreds of videos, demonstrations and step-by-step guides.
Change the Vibe.
If you’d rather stay off the tech, why not take something they’re avoiding and make it into something they won’t want to miss. Invite a friend over for a ‘learning’ playdate. Provide some snacks and a fun activity to wind down for once they’ve finished, they’ll be sure to get the work done in half the time but feel twice as good.
Next, make it relevant
There is a plethora of evidence to support the idea that children are more likely to remember what they are learning if it is relevant to them or offers a real-life experience. Maths is the perfect example of a topic which you can bring to life and demonstrate how you use maths on a daily basis. Take your child shopping and give them a £5 or £10 budget to feed your family for the day. This promotes problem solving, planning and organisation, number skills, timekeeping and reading to name a few.
If you’re self employed like me, get them involved in your expenses, talk them through tax and why we pay it and explain why you have business insurance. As parents, we often keep our work separate and can even begrudge having to think, talk or do any work around our children. But let’s be realistic, keeping the ‘boring bits’ from them doesn’t help them long-term. How many of you would agree that most of what you learnt at school hasn’t been helpful, and you instead wish you had the opportunity to learn life skills, such as finance, bills and budgeting. Just because it isn’t big on the curriculum, doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Of course, do it in an age-appropriate way. Your child absolutely does not need to know if you are worried about how you’re going to afford the rent or mortgage this month, but you may be surprised by how interested and included they feel when you give them some autonomy with your weekly meal plan.
Finally, plan for no plans
Your child could be acting out and resisting learning simply because they are feeling exhausted. With the constant treadmill of life, have you ever stopped to pause and consider what your calendar looks like for your child? You’ve got this far because you value education, you’re keen to support your child with their learning and want only good things for them. But does that mean that you have unintentionally filled their week with extra-curricular activities, clubs and even ‘structured’ play dates they haven’t chosen for themselves. Now more than ever, we even plan for play… but the real play happens when children have time for their minds to slow down, a time to be bored and get creative! It’s no wonder they’re not willing to engage after a full day of school and after-school or weekend clubs.
You know the feeling.
It’s been a long day at work, and you’ve taken more home. You think you’ll get it done at the first free moment but you put it off; you don’t feel like looking at it again after some time to adjust to being at home. Then the feeling of overwhelm hits as it just becomes another thing on the never-ending to do list. It’s exactly the same for our children.
Give them space to breathe if you really want them to succeed.
There’s no doubt your workplace will have a policy on work life balance, with recommendations about taking breaks and how to promote positive mental health. So, what’s your home-learning policy? Consider your values and expectations and make them clear to your child/ren. Get them involved in coming up with ‘non-negotiables’ and the rest, well is it really that important? If it doesn’t benefit the children, then who are we doing it for. Remember you are modelling to them what you prioritise and if their mental health and happiness is up there with their success, rather than success at the expense of it, you’ll break those barriers in no time.