A Liverpool Hope University academic has been lending her expertise to a new national campaign which aimed to put the ‘fun’ into homeschooling.
Dr Lorna Bourke is a Principal Lecturer in Psychology at Hope and has a particular interest in child development.
And as parents prepare to enter the homeschooling final stretch - with schools poised to reopen March 8th - Dr Bourke was asked to comment on new research, commissioned by Curry's PC World, which suggested almost a quarter of parents struggle to think of inventive ways to keep their children occupied.
Dr Bourke, a specialist in cognitive and developmental psychology, said: “Lockdown has been tough on everyone, but without school interaction, parents might find that kids are suffering the most and their long-term learning, and social and creative development will be at risk.
“To combat this, it’s strongly encouraged that children continue to take part in as many creative activities as possible, helping to keep their motivation high and their brain active with new ideas and experiments.”
Dr Bourke’s thoughts were shared extensively in the media, which included numerous interviews on local radio (fast forward to 1 hour 7 mins) as well as online newspaper features across the UK - such as here, and here.
And here we take a look at some of the key tips Dr Bourke revealed - for any parents who might need inspiration to get through the final few days before classrooms fully re-open:
Combine everyday activities with learning
“One thing we've learned during the pandemic is just how much we value our children’s connection with the outdoors. We’re perhaps spending more time outdoors as a family than we were before. And while not everyone has a garden, we’re fortunate to have an amazing array of parks - they actually make the perfect learning environment. Something as simple as a walk in the park, or even along the street, can spark curiosity and makes us observe the things around us, trying to learn about the plants, animals and small creatures you can see. Observing sparks questions, and ultimately learning. You may not know the answer to your child’s questions, but you can start to look those up together or draw some of the things you’ve seen. Being outdoors can also help with social skills as, although we can’t mix with other families, there are people you can say hello to on your route. It’s about simply connecting with people, which a lot of us - children included - are missing."
Work to 10 minute time slots with young children
“Remember that any task you give your child is an 'exercise'. And similar to physical exercise, you can only do so much before you need a break. If you build-in specific breaks to your homeschooling timetable, you actually minimise distraction in your child. In terms of specific times, I'd begin with 10 minutes for younger children and work up to 20 minutes for older children. If we look at higher education, for example, it's believed university students can't sit for more than 50 minutes during lectures without becoming distracted. If you use that as an example, you can work out what's appropriate for your own child.”
Try getting them to talk out loud while they think
“One of the key challenges for anyone homeschooling is maintaining the attention of the child while reducing their distractibility. And a useful form of self-regulation involves the child talking out loud, as it can help them to really process their thoughts. As an adult, voicing thoughts might come naturally, but in children we need to train them to find this inner voice to help them stay on track in a task.”
Separate writing and drawing tasks
“We should always be encouraging our children to engage with a variety of topics wherever possible. But if you're struggling to keep them engaged, take the approach of many famous authors - and get them to write about something they know. Being at home provides the perfect opportunity. Try to get them to really explore their own environment, and the people in it, in order to increase their vocabulary and word power. You could increase that power through things like word searches or crosswords, again themed around some of their favourite things, and books they are familiar with. Meanwhile you should always plan a break between writing and drawing tasks for younger children. It might be tempted to ask your child to draw a picture and to then write a few lines underneath it. But I'd argue that approach is counterproductive. Their concentration is likely to have dipped after a drawing task. So come back to it a few hours, or a day later, to finish the writing element of the task. It's about giving them the motivation and the tools to persevere.
Actually, it’s fine to let them game
“Spending hours and hours a day glued to the Playstation clearly isn't helpful, but video gaming isn't necessarily as harmful as a lot of parents might suspect. A lot of gaming actually exercises the child's personal sustainability skills when it comes to attention span, as well as learning how to manage frustration. Little ones in particular can learn valuable lessons in control. The process will be individualistic according to the child, but I don't believe gaming is such a bad thing. Gaming can also have a calming effect which could protect a child's mental wellbeing. It's about the rhythm of the mechanics of play. And this rhythm could also actually aid in the retention of information, too. I'd suggest that in the current climate, it's fine to experiment. And if that involves video games, it's highly unlikely to harm the child, if age appropriate.”
Let your child have their own opinion
“When we look at children, a lot of fear and frustration comes from them having no control over a given situation. And you can actually help to improve that sense of control through the things you do at home. The classroom is clearly a very controlled environment. But you're not at school now - you're in your home, and the rules are different. And you can give your child some degree of control by simply giving them different options - make them feel as if they have choices. This could be as simple as suggesting a choice of different homeschooling tasks they might want to engage with, not simply demanding they complete the one put in front of them. And remember that stability and a strict routine is good for managing change. But we always have a degree of flexibility within that routine as an adult. We should offer the same support to our children.”
Self-regulation and mindfulness
“Mindfulness skills aren't just useful when it comes to easing anxiety in children, they can also be used to improve their attention skills, self-regulation and executive functioning. And mindfulness is useful for children of all ages, from young to old. Some examples might be blowing bubbles, asking them to explore all of their different senses, going on a mini garden 'safari', or simply controlled breathing exercises. I'd urge schools to adopt mindfulness techniques, too. They're cost-effective and may help children who are returning to the classroom to feel less fearful, when combined with talking about their anxiety.”
“What works for one child may not necessarily work for another which is why setting realistic targets should be a parent’s real priority. For example, you could ask a child tasked with a writing piece to pen 500 words and ask them to make sure the language is interesting. It means they have a target and they also know when the task is over, which is crucial in terms of motivation. With things like maths try setting a timer, challenging them to complete the tasks within a set period. It’s also important to try and translate their homework into real life. Why does your child actually need to learn this? For example, look at a shopping list or receipt and get them to understand that you need to be able to add up to ensure you can still pay for all of the items. It can help to make abstract tasks feel very real, helping them to focus.”
Go with the flow
“Remember a school day isn’t perhaps as jam-packed as you think it might be. By the time you’ve factored in the assembly, lunch and breaks, there’s only a few hours of actual teaching. When parents think of the school day in that way it hopefully means they’re able to put less pressure on themselves. Overall I’d say it’s about looking at what’s available from the school, what parents think they can supplement it with, and keeping to some kind of routine and plan as best they can."