Staying sane: a mini guide to home learning

Wow. 12 weeks into this strange time we are living in. 12 weeks of children being at home instead of in school. I write this post as the government have this week scrapped their plans to return all primary school pupils in England before September and I know through talking to so many of you on Instagram that it’s tough.

So I thought I would put together a mini guide to hopefully help power you through the next few weeks and answer some of your questions. It’s a long post and for that I make no apologies. It won’t work for everyone and I don’t apologise for that either. I am not an expert with secondary school children, that’s a whole different ball game. I AM working at the same time but appreciate if you are working from home, this may be really hard! This is here just to offer my help from my experiences.

First some background – I have been a primary school teacher for 16 years. I have taught all through the primary age range from Year 6 to leading EYFS, as well as an assistant head. My forte, and what I love about the job most, is linking learning and curriculum design. Planning exciting themes which bring learning to life and give it context. So that’s me. My own children are 9 and (nearly) 7, and make no mistake, teaching them is tougher than my class of 30. Your own kids won’t have the same patience or tolerance for you as for their teacher.

A few things to say to begin with, I have covered these on my Insta highlights the day after schools closed but they are in a nutshell:

  • You aren’t “home schooling”. Home schooling is a choice. It is backed up by trips to museums and libraries and contextualised learning. This isn’t possible with current restrictions.
  • You are not being expected to be a teacher. You are facilitating learning. There to hand hold and guide.
  • Don’t worry that your children are “getting behind”. Teachers will sort that when we get back to school. We will make sure they are where they need to be. There is no “behind” – the most important thing is that they are safe and mentally well.
  • Be guided by the children’s school as much as possible. They will set learning and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel if it’s not necessary. Contact them if you need help first.
  • Learning will not take as long at home. At home, there aren’t 30 children to get round. There aren’t only 2 adults to help 30 children, your child has 1:1 (or 2 or 3 or 4) guidance. One lesson won’t take a whole hour, you don’t need to be formal learning 9-3.
  • Read, read, read. Share books, read books. Websites count as reading!
  • Any learning is good learning.

I said in this post I would talk you through how I plan things for my children at home. This works for us and won’t work for everyone. If what school is sending is working for you you don’t need to do any of this, but there might be some tips below if it’s not working all the time.

Their school set weekly tasks which we do use but there isn’t enough for a whole week and some of it isn’t very inspiring.

A word on that – it’s so hard to set learning that all children can access that IS inspiring. Especially over a long period. Please don’t berate teachers for this, this is not how we are used to working, there is a reason why teacher’s can’t usually work from home!!!!! Not all children have printers or even basic resources so we are having to adapt. Please don’t shame them on social media as I have seen, talk to the school direct if you have an issue, that’s what grown-ups do.

Here is where I start.

Make it as practical as possible. Be wary of “death by worksheet”. Websites like Twinkl are great as a guide and if you need ideas but always think – is there a way I can do this practically? – with real objects or in a real life situation.

For example, your child is learning their times tables – rather than a whole sheet of calculations, try grabbing some dominoes, take one, times one side by the other, or do it with 2 dice. Or make 2 piles of post its with 0-12 on them and draw a card from each pile and multiply them. It’s just a bit more fun! Set up a shop to pay for items and solve money problems (for older children this can bring in advertising and budgets etc too, how can we plan our meals for the week with a budget of £50? Plan a day out to a theme park once they reopen etc)

Do something that is fun and then write about it – we designed our own freakshakes and then made them, evaluated them and wrote instructions so that someone else could make them.

Go with what they are interested in. Don’t be afraid to change what school set to meet your child’s needs. The curriculum is surprisingly quite broad and open to interpretation. I’ll talk you through how I planned our topic this week below, but if your child loves lego, bring this in to their learning (act out a story using lego figures, make a stop motion to explain some instructions, add using lego cubes etc etc).

We made fairy potions and wizard spells outside, then wrote the recipes and described what the effect of them would be.

Take it outside if you can. We invested in clipboards just so that if it’s a nice day we can learn outside. I can’t tell you the difference it makes. I encouraged the children in my class to do the same and some used play houses, outdoor dens and even tents!

If you can go on a field trip to learn, do that too, the beach, the woods, even your street, all are great science and writing opportunities – describe the woods, what could you see, hear, smell and feel use adjectives and as many different types of punctuation as you can! Find an interesting shell, write a story about how it ended up on the beach, what lived in it? Do an observational drawing of it. Research what type of shell it is.

Theme it if you can. OK, this is a big one. Children learn best when their learning is meaningful and they can apply it to their own experiences. Think about it – I bet you remember thinking “When am I going to use algebra in real life? What’s the point?!”. Your children will be no different. I will talk about motivation later on 🙄.

The easiest way is to talk you through how I planned our butterfly theme this week. It does take a bit of prep – usually I am there on a Sunday night on the sofa with my notebook planning a vague timetable for the week and looking for ideas. It doesn’t have to take hours!

Themes can be a day or a whole week, I wouldn’t do longer as your children may lose interest. Keep them broad, for example, rather than “The Gruffalo” could you have a “Woodland” theme. This is more likely to bring in more learning, and you can do some activities about the Gruffalo within it.

We have had some caterpillars from Insect Lore for the last couple of weeks. I ordered them at the start of lockdown and to be honest had forgotten I’d done it. I definitely wasn’t expecting to find them as fascinating as we did. In the run up to releasing the butterflies this week, I thought it was a great opportunity to plan a themed day (I found too many activities so it has been 3 days really, this added to the children’s work from their school, has filled our week). We had already started a caterpillar journal here. So the plan was to finish that. I always try and bring in some writing, and here is where the broadness of the curculum can help when you have different aged children. In year 1 one of the objectives is “write for a purpose” well that covers anything really! My son is year 4 and one of their objectives is “organising paragraphs around a theme“, so I just made sure that their writing fitted these. You can find the currculum in this really useable website

You can click on the year group and see the sort of things they are expected to do – don’t get bogged down in it, but I think if you look at the Science and English especially, it’s clear how much learning you can get in!

I decided we could make fact sheets about the type of butterfly we had (they were Painted Ladies) by doing some online research and using books, then coming up with sub-headings etc. To bring in science we looked at the life cycle and also their habitats. We made a simple butterfly feeder (my oldest has been learning about capacity so we bought this in too) and then to bring in art, my youngest made a butterfly suncatcher thinking about symmetry, which was her topic in maths – this was a complete fluke!

My first starting points are always:

  • Pinterest (more for art etc but can be good for typing in “practical fractions ideas” etc for specific things)
  • Instagram – I use hashtags e.g. #butterflycraft #butterflyactivities
  • Google – always google the key stage e.g. “Butterfly writing ideas KS2” , it will stop a lot of inappropriate activities coming up.

I hope that gives an idea of where to start and how to plan.

Good topics I have also done are: Weather, Our capital cities (London is a great city to study but you could do one local to you and make comparisons with your home town), Minibeasts (be specific if you like but broadness is your friend), The Beach, Aliens and Space, The Great Outdoors (We linked this to back garden camping and the children had a budget to buy and plan our meals, we also wrote instructions for how to make smores and made tin can lanterns), Minecraft (write instructions on how to play it, design new characters, design a house on paper, link to area and perimeter, write a letter saying thank you to the game designers etc etc), seasons are always good – Spring theme, Summer etc, Knights, Castles and Princesses, Chocolate, Italy (or any country) – make pizza, learn some of the language, write a postcard to someone pretending you are there!

Finally, if it all seems very tough and it’s not working, please don’t give up. You can do this, I always teach my children to use their growth mindset. Our brains are muscles and we exercise them by challenging ourselves and that includes us as adults. We learn from mistakes. We don’t give up when things are tough, we keep trying. If something is tricky we practise – we always say “I can’t do it…. Yet!” there are some great videos to watch together here:

Here are my tips for tough days:

TV programmes and tablets are all good forms of learning in moderation.

  • Don’t call it work. It sounds silly, but in school I always call it learning. It has differnt connotations. Work = hard, sitting at a table. learning = expanding our minds, can take all sorts of forms, could even be outside.
  • Consider a 4 day week – yes really Have one day mid week or on a Friday where the children just play. Allow them to be bored, you will be surprised what they come up with. Make clear it’s their day to do what they choose. We ALWAYS have a tablet and screen time limit every day – 2 hours tops.
  • Dangle a carrot. These work better than sticks. Give your children motivation to learn – my children earn tablet time for the larning they do. They can earn extra for amazing effort – and up to a maxiumum of 2 hours. Follow through and be consistent. A reward chart could work too.
  • If it’s tough, leave it for a while. Don’t get to tantrum stage. Take a break, share a book or get outside, try something else, then come back to it. Always have the expectation that the activity will be done though, don’t let them off the hook.
  • Let them feel in control. “Today we have these tasks to do before we can earn our free play and tablet time. which would you like to do first?” this is powerful in making your children feel like they have some control.
  • Mix it up. Don’t sit at a table for hours. Youtube videos, TV programmes, games on the computer are all learning. Do spellings with magnetic letters or paint, in mud with a stick, in chalks on the ground, using play dough. Remember, make it practical if you can. A day out is also learning – look at the science curriculum on the website above if you like before you go and try and choose an activity that will fit that on your trip.
  • A bit of prep is key. We have reading time after lunch, both children read and I set up the afternoon activity. In the morning after breakfast, they play Times Tables Rockstars or Spelling Shed (these are apps the school have signed them up to) while I get ready for their morning learning. I know this is harder with younger children but this is where educational tablet games can be your friend.
  • Tomorrow is a new day. Don’t let one bad day or week mean you give up.

Here we collected items from the woods in egg boxes – leaves, pine cones, flowers etc, then identified them using books and the internet and made a key for inside the egg box.

I really hope this helps some of you. I am always there on Instagram if you have a question or need some support. Try and enjoy this time, I know that when we get back to any kind of normal I will miss these days, no matter their challenges, so try to have fun!

I will leave you with some other great websites that may help…

Wildlife Watch– Wildlife and outdor activities

Topmarks – Maths game galore

Phonics Play – currently free, great for KS1 phonics

Primary Curriculum – an easy year by year guide to what kids are supposed to know. remember your child may be learning out of year group especially if they have special educational needs.

Keep going, you’re doing great,

T&B x

4 thoughts on “Staying sane: a mini guide to home learning

  1. This is a brilliant post! I’m a supply teacher, nearing retirement age, so haven’t been working and have grown up children, but I think this is going to be of such practical use , especially now that everyone knows there will be no ‘escape ‘ this term. Thank you for all the work you have put into it!


  2. The two hour screen limit – how do you keep to this?
    When your child has become addicted to the screen, how do you disengage them?
    How do you get them to keep their word that they will use the education app that they’re supposed to be using (Mathswatch, ttRockstars etc).


    1. Hiya
      My children have a 2 hour screen limit from the moment they got their tablets. They earn this time over the day and if they go over or play the wrong games there is a clear consequence the next day – they lose time on their tablet or can be banned if they repeatedly do it . When they are on their tablets for eSafety reasons they are always near me (they are 6 and 9, I would never let them in their own rooms etc where I couldn’t see what they were doing).
      They aren’t allowed on tablets apart from those school apps (15 minutes on each, first thing at 9am) until 3.30pm in the afternoon and earn that day’s time by doing their learning. I hope that makes sense.


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