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Dos and don’ts for teaching your children at home – without putting too much pressure on yourself

24 Mar 2020 5 minute read
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Terry Mackie

Dear parents-cum-teachers,

It’s early days but how’s it going? For some of you it is your first shift at the chalkface but others are veterans of, oh, at least three days. It was never going to be easy (we are truly living in terrible times) but I am sure you are doing better than the commenter in The Times last week who said:

“Homeschooling is going well in our house. So far two children have been suspended for fighting and one teacher has been fired for drinking on the job.”

Gallows humour is proving a boon to us all in this hour of need. Today I want to give you some guidance, a few dos and don’ts, to steer you and your family in this unprecedented time of school closure. Many of you have been put in a very difficult and stressed position, maybe losing your job or at least your salary or wages overnight and now you are suddenly expected to become a teacher, with perhaps an extraordinary ‘class’ of mixed ages, ranging from 4-18 years of age.



Some good news to start with: you are not expected to become a teacher, to fill the boots of the professionals who staff the schools for your loved ones. Don’t put additional pressure on yourself. Are you listening at the back? Just carry on being what you have always been, the prime educator of your children. That’s not the same as being a teacher.

The Spanish have got this right: ‘educar’ means ‘to bring up {children}’ in the language of Cervantes. You have been doing that job since day one plus nine months. No teacher knows a child better than a parent. Trust your knowledge base and your instincts.

It’s simply the case that if you start overreaching you will soon end up underteaching, then demoralised: a lady was in despair and very vexed in The Guardian the other day about schools putting silly pressure on her family:

“The music teacher of my youngest sent over a musical score this morning. What am I going to do with that information? What, have I got some band in the house? I can’t read music.”

If your child’s school is dumping too much stuff chez vous either in packs or online – resist. You are in charge. You are responsible for regulating how much, when and how it’s done. No Estyn is going to inspect you. They don’t do home-schooling.

My strong advice is: for the next two weeks, that is until the Easter holidays, encourage, cajole and organise for your ‘pupils’ a maximum of one and a half hours per morning and afternoon for all those in primary education. Older learners can do two hours per session. That’s quite enough. Remember, in your child/children’s minds, they are on holiday two weeks early. Just not going anywhere.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The excellent Faith Borkowsky of High Five Literacy gets it dead right: Just step away and think logically. If they struggled to read or write before, packets of work will not do it. If they had poor attention spans, sitting at a computer for hours is unreasonable.

One of our leading Primary Heads, Gareth Rein of Penarth, has underlined that parents are very capable of running a broad curriculum and he offers this practical advice to teachers to pass on to parents:

“This also means that we also need to provide activities for PE and creative/expressive arts. Again, videos are the best way of providing instruction and guidance. There are great videos online for dance, child yoga, and aerobic fitness activities that require no apparatus.”

Joe Wicks on video is a great start to the day. Doing star jumps in the front room is teaching and learning! It’s what they do in school in PE.

I am certain nearly all your children’s schools will have sent you or guided you to materials that are suitable for the new home-school context. Why am I so unusually confident? Because as it happens Welsh teachers have been spending a huge amount of time prior to this crisis in re-examining curriculum and teaching as they prepare for the New Curriculum for Wales. Integral to this reform is also a shift in focus to digital learning. There is no good time for enforced home-schooling but Wales is in a good state of readiness. Follow the lead of your teachers. If you have reservations, get on the email or the phone immediately. Your teachers are there for you.

I want to conclude with a note about technology. Do not chain your child to a screen, large or small. Technology is one tool, not a panacea for home-schooling. It’s a big mistake if you switch from a strict parent about on-screen time to being an apostle for Google. Books and textbooks still are more important and effective.

This is a tricky area. The brilliant Daisy Christodoulou makes a significant cautionary point in her new book on technology that “connected devices are designed to distract us, and distraction is bad for learning”. Do not overdo screen use and manage whatever they are looking at when they are online.

Talking to a learner about what they know, how they are thinking and how they are feeling is ‘proper teaching’. Take your school’s advice about good learning programmes and rich-knowledge links.

Pwb lwc. The next couple of weeks will not be easy but if you get your children into good structures and learning habits before Easter you will deserve top marks as the best teacher your home can get in these trying circumstances.

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Terry Mackie
Terry Mackie
4 years ago

Daisy Christodoulou recommends some key programmes. Anki is really good, for all ages:

But remember, books are great! And have a look at tv. They are putting on some good stuff.

j humphrys
j humphrys
4 years ago

To the little ones; If dad lose his, erm, touch……….again, you can Skype Nain for a more patient process.
But you’ll have to wait for the biscuits.

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