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A peek in teachers’ spell books: How to get through home school without the fight

In current conditions asking your child to work on a subject they don’t like, or complete an assignment they find hard, can be a match to a tinder box. So going forward, how do we support our children to continue learning without escalating the tensions to the point of conflict? This article explores some approaches to support primary school students. The next one will focus on secondary students.

When term two begins, home school may well continue, and possibly even ramp up a notch. We will all need a few extra tricks to ensure we all tackle this in good humour. To accomplish this I have found myself wondering what kind of magic teachers employ, so I decided to get these spells from the source. Three primary school teachers were kind enough to stop planning their online curriculum and answer my questions. Ilana is an early primary teacher, Zoe teaches years 3-4 and Emily is a Literacy Leader and grade 5/6 teacher.

When a child doesn’t want to do the task you’ve set, what are your tricks?

Ilana:

I think I am in the same boat as other parents when it comes to teaching my own children; I don’t have the same pull as I do in a classroom. So for me the first thing I have tried to do is set up a routine and try to keep it the same each day, so my kids know what they are doing.

Try to give them some choice if you can, such as choosing the book they want to read. And it is okay to let them not do it, but do negotiate another time to come back and finish it. Also ask yourself why don’t they want to do it, is it too hard? If it is, doing it with them might help.

Zoe:

I am a big advocate for reward-based behaviour management. Although some people view rewarding children for doing what is expected as ‘bribery’, I think it is a reflection of real life. We all work for reward. Although I love my job, I certainly wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t get paid.

An idea for reward-based behaviour management that can be recreated at home is marbles in a jar; each time your child does something great, they place a marble in a jar. Once the jar is full, they receive a reward. You decide what ‘great’ is – it might be concentrating for an agreed period of time, using their manners, coming up with a creative idea, completing a task they’re not too keen on. The reward might be some free time, something delicious to eat or some screen time.

This activity can be recreated with:

  • Jenga (adding or taking pieces away)
  • A puzzle (a piece for each time they do something ‘great’- big reward when puzzle is complete)
  • Connect four

Emily:

Create a short list of items to be completed followed closely by a reward. Keep it visual, and allow for ticking off jobs. You can work through the first 2-3 minutes of the task together, offer to be a scribe for a portion of the task, and help the child understand why the skill they are building is useful for the future. It can also be helpful to reduce distractions so make sure you have a quiet working space or change the space completely by suggesting they work lying down on their tummy on the floor. After 15 minutes of solid work, offer an active ball game outside before the next block of work.

What are the best ways to calm a frustrated student?

Ilana:

This is a tricky question as everyone is different and knowing the child helps. The one I use the most is distracting or giving them time away from what is frustrating them. Younger children are easy to distract; get them to laugh or jump up and down to get the frustrations out.

With older children sometimes talking through the frustration might help. Not trying to solve it for them but just being there to say I hear you and I can see why you are frustrated. Giving them the option to go for a walk, play, draw, to reset and come back with a clear head. I think it’s also important to reflect at a later time when the child isn’t frustrated on what helped and didn’t help and you can both do next time.

Zoe:

This is all about knowing your students, and knowing what works for them as individuals. Parents will be the absolute experts at this when it comes to their own child! Some go-to techniques I have used in primary classrooms:

  • Mindful colouring. Use mandalas and take 5 mins whenever necessary to focus on the task at hand and nothing else.
  • Meditation for children. There are hundreds of resources on YouTube if you don’t feel confident running this yourself.
  • Sometimes a child just needs to blow of some steam! Set a timer and have them go into the backyard and undertake some exercises: run laps, star jumps, burpees etc.
  • Take a break from whatever it is that is causing frustration. Grab your book and read for 5 – 10 minutes, then return to the task.

Emily:

Keep their hands busy – play with blutak, a soft ball or knit – and remind them to count through their anger. You can agree on a calming down spot to have space when needed (this is not a play space).

Wait until they have calmed down to discuss issues about their behaviour as they are not ready to reason when angry. Giving non-verbal supports, such as pictures of facial expressions, will help children identify their feelings to you. Ask ‘how can I help you feel better?’ And be prepared to listen. Try not to instruct, usually when students are frustrated this is not the teachable moment. It needs to wait until after a student has calmed down.

 

If there’s one thing you want families to be doing, what is it?

Ilana:

In regards to school work – whatever you are able to manage is enough. If some days it’s only 20 minutes, don’t feel guilty. Children learn so much through play so make sure to count those hours of play into your “school work”.

BE KIND TO EACH OTHER! I am finding spending so much time together, in close quarters, we are becoming frustrated with one another. So I am trying to talk to my kids (and myself) about how we speak to each other.

Zoe:

What do you hope they’ll say when their own kids ask them what they remember about the coronavirus outbreak of 2020? Make this time special. Do projects together such as filming a movie about your family or learning to cook a three course meal. Share stories about your childhood and teach them games you enjoyed as a child.

Also, it’s really important for parents to remember that this is all new for schools and teachers too! It is totally unprecedented; no one received training at university for how to maintain the highest standards of education during a global pandemic! Schools are not going to punish students or be disappointed in parents if their children do not complete all of the learning activities set by the teacher. Just do what works for your child in your situation.

Emily:

Read, read, read! Enjoy the time together. Include your children in housework and chores, especially cooking, it teaches responsibility and knowledge. Teach each other new card games, this is great for bonding, problem solving, and often includes mental maths for scoring. Do jigsaw puzzles as they are excellent for building skills in executive functioning. Show your children your favourite movies and talk about them. This is an opportunity for bonding but also builds literacy skills such as critical thinking and vocabulary. Remember to keep active during a stressful time and play games outside.

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