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Wise words for lockdown learning

Homeschooling is hard work – and it’s not over yet. Time for a pastoral pep-talk from some of Hampshire’s wisest headteachers.

Girl on computer virtual home learning in lockdown

History headscratchers, Monday meltdowns and endless fridge raiding – just a few challenges of lockdown learning. Not to mention, of course, our own impending work deadlines, mounting housework and screen-time overload for the entire household. Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

With lockdown learning likely to continue longer than expected, should we be tearing our hair out if writing practice goes awry or we can’t explain the finer points of trigonometry? Or will piling on the pressure do more harm than good?

To find out, we enlisted a panel of knowledgeable Headteachers from some of the finest schools in Hampshire for their advice. Pens at the ready – in the first of our 2021 Hampshire Heads specials, we pool their collective wisdom for some much-needed wise words on lockdown learning.

How to survive lockdown learning: Keep calm and communicate

“My first suggestion would be not to panic,” says Jody Wells, Headmaster at Forres Sandle Manor in Fordingbridge. “One thing I learnt from the first lockdown is that it is a marathon rather than a sprint. Learning on screen all day long is not ideal and any extension to this is exhausting. Parents and those teachers at school must be aware of how the pupils are doing and react accordingly. If children are flagging and need a short break – so be it.”

“Try to remind yourself that this is not school but rather remote learning,” suggests Karl Guest, Headmaster at Alton School. “Trying to replicate what would be a normal school routine during a day when parents are also working is not being kind to yourself. Be confident in your own abilities and, above all, find a routine that works for you and your child. Communicate with your child’s teachers – they will be able to share ‘insights’ about how your child learns, what motivates them and how to stretch them if they require additional learning.”

“Trying to support home-schooling whilst working from home can be a monumental struggle,” says Olwen Wright, Headmistress at St. Nicholas’ School near Fleet. “As the mother of a 6-year-old, I fully sympathise. My advice is to stay calm. Teachers are not expecting every piece of work to be done to perfection. Trying not to worry is easier said than done but health, wellbeing and academic achievement are all predicated not on how much gets done, but on happiness and balance.” 

Two girls at Durlston Court School in New Milton take part in virtual lessons at home during lockdown
Pupils at Durlston Court School in New Milton take part in virtual lessons

Try to get into a routine and make time for exercise

“The key to a successful lockdown is for parents to make sure that their children have a structure to the day,” believes Andrew McCleave, Headmaster at Ballard School in New Milton. “Keeping to a routine in terms of getting ready to start the first lesson is vital. During the day, children will regularly need a break from screens; fresh air and exercise are hugely important.”

“My advice for parents is to trust their instincts,” says Peter Thacker, Headmaster at Prince’s Mead School in Winchester. “They will know the right balance for their child – but routine is key. Interaction with other pupils is crucial too. I encourage all of our children to take full advantage of the more informal check-ins on offer too – House meetings, the Headmaster’s weekly quiz or that daily ‘virtual biscuit’ Zoom with Matron.”

“Create a dedicated home learning space for your child, use a timetable and see this time as an opportunity to foster your child’s independence,” recommends Ffion Robinson, Head of Junior School at Churcher’s College in Liphook. “Communicate with your child and their school and ensure everyone gets some down time. Pick your battles and – most of all – be kind to yourself as a parent. There will be good days and bad ones – sometimes we just have to go with the flow.”

“Try to keep to a timetable for learning and make time for exercise, breaks, quiet time and play time,” says Rebecca Parkyn, Headmistress at Mayville High School in Southsea. “Structure helps with stability and in uncertain and testing times, structure is important for the wellbeing of children. Listening is also important; changes in behaviour and mood can indicate that children are not coping well.”

Boy home learning

Find a balance and ask if you need help

“Children need time to get used to new ways of working,” says Jonathan Brough, Headmaster of St. Swithuns Prep School in Winchester. “Give them time – just because they struggle with something once, it doesn’t mean that they will always struggle with it. Take away any potential barriers with technology and get into a good routine. It’s also important to read when a child has had enough. Balance is essential.”

“For many parents, working from home whilst trying to support children is quite a balancing act,” says Mary Maguire, Head of College at St. John’s College, Southsea. “In colder, wetter weather, we should be aware of the amount of screen time pupils and staff are subjected to – finding activities away from the screen are essential.”

“It is important for the children to have time away from the screen,” agrees Richard May, Headmaster at Durlston Court School in New Milton. “Fresh air and exercise help provide a good counter-balance to on-screen learning. Positive non-screen time is vital for the well-being of pupils and, by providing this balance, helps the children come back refreshed and ready to learn.”

“We know how challenging it can be to work from home and home-school young children,” says Rebecca Smith, Headmistress at Stroud School in Romsey. “It’s really important that parents talk to staff about worries and problems they may be experiencing with remote learning. Although children are at home, the same support structures exist and staff will always be available to provide additional help – or a shoulder to cry on!”

“My top tip for surviving these strange days? Be forgiving of yourself,” says Sheri Sellers, Headteacher at The Gregg School in Southampton. “If the work ethic or learning doesn’t go well on one day, adopt the ‘try again tomorrow’ philosophy. Do something fun with your children instead, then build it into your routine.”  

How’s your lockdown learning experience going? Do you agree with our panel of Hampshire Heads? Any tips or words of wisdom? Comment below!

1 comment on “Wise words for lockdown learning”

  • Mill Cottage Heggie January 27, 2021

    We’re working on the do something you have to do interspersed with something you want to do basis. We chose to park school work on Monday in favour of a day playing with the snow before it disappeared. Rainy days are harder, even more so with the family isolating with a +ve case in the house, even the dog’s not allowed to go out for walks!

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