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Principles of home-based learning for parents

This guide has been created for parents of school-aged children looking for strategies, ideas, and resources to support and promote effective home-based learning.  It is structured around six main principles.

Principle 1. Complete learning tasks with purpose

The best way to structure learning is in short, focused bursts with regular breaks in between. Children should complete 2 – 3 meaningful learning tasks before taking a ‘brain break’ – this should equate to about an hour of learning followed by a break for primary school-aged children, and two hours of work followed by a break for secondary school students. In a typical school day, children are engaged in classroom-based learning for about four hours. Where possible, this should be replicated in the home environment.

As a parent, you can support your child’s learning in many different ways.

  • ensure that they clearly understand the task they have been given: ask if they understand what they are expected to do and why?
  • ensure that they have the tools and resources required to complete it
  • check if they have any questions about the learning
  • check with the teacher to see that the work has been completed and shared through the appropriate channel (emailed to their teacher, uploaded or posted on a shared forum)
  • familiarise yourself with the digital programme that your child’s teacher is using (such as Google Classroom, Zoom, Skype, Moodle or Blogger)
  • ask questions about the work to show interest and gauge their understanding of the activity they have completed. This offers children a chance to be the ‘expert’ and has a positive effect on their learning, motivation, confidence and sense of self. You might ask what they enjoyed most about the task, what challenges they faced, and something new that they learned
  • check that they know what to do next

Principle 2. Be clear and consistent

In the home learning environment it is critical that parents set clear guidelines and expectations for children’s behaviour during ‘school time.’ It is not uncommon for children to struggle with the transition from learning at school to learning at home and parents play a critical role in facilitating this transition. Consistency breeds confidence and clarity for children, so it might help to contact your child’s teacher to find out about the classroom routines, expectations and systems in place at the school. If you think it is appropriate, you might choose to mirror these in the home environment for an element of continuity. You can foster a sense of stability by consistently enforcing expectations and enacting routines.

Children might also feel that they have lost a sense of control over their lives during the transition to home learning, which may be confusing and disempowering. It will really help if parents regularly ‘check in’ with their children, listen to their concerns and adjust home learning routines and expectations accordingly. Both parents and children will need to be patient as the new systems, routines and practices are introduced and embedded. Striking a suitable balance between consistency and flexibility is key.

Principle 3. Play to your strengths

Learning from home provides parents with a unique opportunity to spend additional quality time with your children. Where possible, sit down with your children and actively support them in completing the learning tasks. You may be able to provide them with advice, guidance, resources, suggestions, ideas, or creative solutions that facilitate learning. If you have strengths in a particular area, don’t shy away from sharing them with your children. They may need expert support in the absence of regular contact with their classroom teacher. If you don’t personally have the expertise, consider finding someone who does and contacting them. Both you and your children could benefit from learning something new – in fact, you could learn a brand new skill with your children while they are learning at home.

If you are trying to balance your own work requirements with supporting your children’s learning, consider setting up some routines such as regular check-in times during the day, or interspersing learning tasks that require more help and support from you with activities that you child can do relatively independently such as an online maths game or an art activity.

Principle 4. Prioritise social connection

This is, arguably, one of the most important home-based learning principles. Children may be experiencing considerable loneliness, feelings of isolation or anxiety as they grapple with living and learning in social isolation. Many children will be missing the social relationships, contacts and interactions of school. Therefore, it is particularly important that parents provide opportunities for children to engage actively in meaningful social exchanges with others.

There are plenty of digital tools that children can use to connect with others and share their learning. They may choose to share it:

  • verbally by calling a friend or family member to talk about their experience
  • visually by creating a video montage, short vignette or instructional video (Youtube Kids is a good sharing platform)
  • in written form, on something like a blog (they may already have a blog through school, or you can use Blogger or WordPress to start one for them)[i]

Irrespective of the method, it is important that, at times, children have the chance to interact or engage with others in ‘real time’ (perhaps using Whatsapp, Skype or Facetime), as this facilitates deeper social connection. You may also wish to post comments on your child’s blog or posted videos, and encourage family members and friends to do the same.  As a final note, we would caution against the use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat for promoting social connection during periods of home learning. In addition to having an age limit of 13, these sites are difficult to monitor and much of the content may not be appropriate for children.

Principle 5. Embrace the environment

Learning from home provides a unique opportunity for children to learn more about and from their local environment. Where possible, encourage children to spend time out of doors, exploring both the natural and ‘built’ features of the local community. Everyone benefits from regular fresh air and daily opportunities to engage with the natural environment.

Where possible, schedule time each day for outdoor play and exploration. Ideally, this will be in support of a task set by your child’s teacher but, if not, you can always go outside and simply encourage your children to be explorers and keen observers. What do they see? What have they found? There are lots of suggestions for outdoor learning activities on the Department of Conservation website, or you might check out Forest and Bird’s Kiwi Conservation Club for children. You might also like to take a look at The Education Hub’s outdoor learning activities.

Principle 6. Celebrate specific successes

It is important that children receive clear, specific, constructive, and accurate feedback on their home-learning tasks from trusted adults. Feedback should be provided in a way that children can understand and act upon, and they should be recognised for their efforts in acting on feedback and completing a task. It is very important that children know why they are being praised or acknowledged.

Feedback can be given at any stage in the learning process and will serve a number of different functions, although it should be positive and focused on improvement. You can give

  • positive or appreciative feedback to support, encourage or motivate children
  • constructive feedback to identify areas for improvement and provide specific advice or guidance
  • evaluative feedback to provide an assessment of how well they have done on a task

Feedback should be direct and timely, and children should have the chance to ask questions about the feedback they receive. They will benefit most from feedback that is specific and given while they are working on an activity or soon afterwards. If you wait too long to give feedback, children will have forgotten what they were doing and the feedback will lose its impact and effectiveness. Once a task has been completed there is an opportunity to celebrate or acknowledge their work, but be selective and acknowledge important milestones for your child rather than celebrating every completed task. Be specific and clear, telling your children what and why you are celebrating.

The web is full of resources to support all of us in understanding the theory and practice of giving feedback to children. One of most effective methods is called the ‘Sandwich Technique’, which involves giving specific praise, followed by some constructive criticism (feedback to improve), and then another round of specific praise. You can also find useful videos on the Education Hub website.

[i] Examples of student blogs can be found on the  Manaiakalani website and twitter feed.

By Rachel Williamson-Dean


Rachel Williamson-Dean

Rachel Williamson-Dean is an experienced secondary school teacher, who has lived and taught in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. She has a Master of Public and Population Health Degree (MPH – Dist) and a PhD in Health Education. Over the past ten years Rachel has worked with students and school leaders across New Zealand, including leading the digital literacy programme, The Summer Learning Journey, for which she received the NEXT Woman of the Year in Education 2018 award. 

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