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How to help your child in 2021

Where do we begin when seeking to help our children cope with Lockdown and everything this brings? Headteachers at four top Kent schools give advice that could help us all...

Clockwise, from top left: Mrs Becky Brown, Head of Sixth Form Walthamstow Hall; Mr Duncan Sinclair, Principal Somerhill School; Mr Edward O’Connor, Headmaster St. Edmund’s Senior School and Mr Eddy Newton, Headmaster Marlborough House School

We’re starting to understand that Covid and Lockdown will have some longstanding developmental and mental effects on children. Educational experts (aka head teachers) at Kent’s top schools give their advice – across different age groups – for all parents out there…

PREP AND PRIMARY

Mr Eddy Newton, headmaster at Marlborough House School, Hawkhurst, says:

‘Prioritise wellbeing and get creative’

Online teaching reminds us as a profession how children learn in different ways – some children enjoy the independence, while others start to flounder without the teacher support that they have become very used  to.

 This emotional support is invaluable at the moment and we welcomed children back this term with an online show of school spirit from teachers, reminding them to ‘be kind, to work hard, and not to worry’ – a useful mantra for everyone! 

While the situation is far from ideal, it provides children with the opportunity to learn new skills and characteristics to replace old ones. One size does not fit all, but communication is key, as is resilience and independence from the children. Through online classrooms, we have found that there is a stronger partnership between school and home, even as we see less of each other.

So, from Microsoft Teams to Google Classroom, use the technology and Live link-ups offered by your school to stay connected while cooped up at home; having a seven-year-old take part in a Live form assembly from home, able to see their friends and join in remotely, is more important than worrying about their maths tables or handwriting. 

While we have chosen to offer a full curriculum at MHS, parents are encouraged to give their children time off if things become too tiring or emotional.

Take time to prioritise well-being and support your child to get into a rhythm that works for them; get outside and enjoy your own Forest School wherever you are; get creative with some mindfulness colouring; or build a reading den with their favourite books!

Duncan Sinclair, Principal of Somerhill School, near Tonbridge, says:

‘Beware the F.O.M.O. Syndrome’

In the age of Google and Alexa learning is less about retaining knowledge and facts, and more about building a set of skills for life. One of the greatest skills acquired by prep and primary school aged children in the classroom is the ability to learn independently. Sounds odd, given they are surrounded by peers and teachers, but in class they must learn to concentrate, problem-solve and think laterally without being spoon fed the answers at every turn. But with Lockdown moving the child into a home learning context, the element of parental support and involvement can prove detrimental.

Some parents are inclined to hover over their children at home, correcting them at every turn, feeding them ideas and doing the creative extras out of ‘love’. This ‘learning’ for the child is then followed by a period of not-so-secret parental pride. Worse still, if the result is posted proudly on the Whatsapp chat! This is where F.O.M.O. – the Fear of Missing Out, comes in.

The vast majority of other parents feel an innate sense of pressure from what the alleged gold standard has achieved. They worry their child is missing vital developmental milestones and is falling behind.

Then, in the 3am waking moment, they project forward to their child failing to achieve in life as a direct result of their poor support during Lockdown. The responsibility feels overbearing.

Many of us teachers are parents too. For example, I helped my son with his maths last week by typing the numbers for him to speed up the process a little, not wanting the ‘greater-than-less-than’ exercise to extend into a three hour marathon. Do you know how hard it was to type in an incorrect answer, and not change it for him? Very. But I did, and so should you. Teachers need to know what the children understand, or more importantly, don’t understand, even when we are working remotely.

My simple message – resist the F.O.M.O. You know your child best and keeping home schooling honest and real is the best gift you can give right now. At all schools, the teachers will continue to support children and monitor their progress, and support you too, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them personally.

Use your judgement to get your children to step back from the screen when they have had too much and let them climb a tree or go on a winter birdwatch walk. Then do it yourself – step back from your Whatsapp screen. You’ve got this!

SECONDARY

Edward O’Connor, head of St. Edmund’s Senior School, near Canterbury, says:

‘Collaborate: work in groups is highly beneficial’

Lockdown learning is a strange experience. For some pupils, it can work well.  They enjoy taking charge of their own studies and working at their own pace. For others, it is a real struggle academically and in terms of their well-being. 

Many schools, and definitely independent schools, have been able to deliver flexible and effective online learning packages through the crisis to mitigate the loss of in-class learning. However, we should not forget that children don’t just learn from their teachers in classrooms: they also learn constantly from each other.

This social aspect of learning is harder to replicate virtually. The best ‘remote’ learning approaches implement particular strategies to make it achievable.  

Where possible pupils should be encouraged to do pair work online, work on joint projects, give presentations to their peers, review each other’s ideas and debate concepts in break-out rooms during lessons.

Indeed, as I write this piece, my Deputy Head is running an online English lesson next door. Her pupils are analysing the opening lines of famous novels in break out rooms on Microsoft Teams, determining the techniques and stylistic devices that make them effective.

They will then present their group’s findings in a virtual plenary session to the whole class. These kinds of collaborative approaches are empowering for students and encourage them to connect in the virtual classroom.

Online lessons don’t have to be didactic, lecture-style affairs. Indeed, enabling pupils to learn through interaction with each other not only facilitates social learning, but also restores joy and energy to the virtual classroom.

Ultimately, learning should be fun and virtual education does not need to be an entirely ‘remote’ experience.

SIXTH FORM

Mrs Becky Brown, Head of Sixth Form, Walthamstow Hall, Sevenoaks, says:

‘Get outside in daylight and maybe learn a new skill’

Keeping to a school day routine and getting outside – into the fresh air – plus good sleep is vital for students (and teachers!) of all ages. Other top tips which we have for Sixth Formers include:

Have a break: Put a ‘firewall’ between the end of lesson time and the start of homework time. Use the time you would usually be travelling home for a walk, meditation or a Joe Wicks workout! Apply this to Study periods too, using the time you would usually be grabbing a drink in the common room to move away from your screen to decompress and reboot.

Use Technology to its best advantage: We are seeing the benefits of platform developments like MS Teams’ Breakout Rooms and multimedia sharing but are mindful that students are not overloaded with technology. Our ‘Digital Detox Days’, provide a tech-free oasis. 

Engage socially with other year groups: Sixth Formers are great role models and keeping in touch with younger students has reaped benefits on both sides. Sixth Formers contribute to online assemblies and help run new virtual initiatives, such as ‘Share me’, where students share well-being ideas and ‘The Hub’, daily sessions where students can have fun, relax or practise yoga or dancing.

Channel spare energy: There are holes in Sixth Formers’ lives once filled by co-curricular activities and socialising. Getting inspired and learning a new skill can plug a gap (Wally Sixth Formers are learning sign language) as can helping others, be it unloading the dishwasher for busy parents or getting involved in a bigger initiative (there’s loads of free creative tutorials online – like bite-size art tutorials for example). For Year 12 students this is a great time for attending University Virtual Open Days and researching higher level apprenticeships.

Remember, you’re doing an amazing job: It’s not always easy but try to stay motivated by what lies ahead. It will be okay and you will soon be able to explore life’s next steps.

Find more ideas here

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