As we come to the end of the second week of the Easter holidays; I’ve spent some time reflecting on our unusual Easter break. Throughout the holidays, we have continued to stick to a routine which is working for us as a family; a focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing with extra challenges this week in staying active and keep learning.
We have completed Joe Wicks’ PE lesson daily and we’ve found many different walks and cycle routes to keep us busy in our daily exercise outside. We have been cycling further every time and yesterday managed our biggest challenge yet, cycling to Heckington and back. My son was able to cycle past his best friend’s house; he yelled his friend’s name and rang his bicycle bell frantically as we cycled into the estate. It was lovely to see him so excited! They enjoyed a quick physically distanced chat across the road before we made our way home again.
To keep learning my son has independently made chocolate brownies from scratch following the recipe (counteracting all of our exercise!) He has been practicing showering independently and brushing his teeth (huge things for him!) and we have spent a short amount of time on academic learning; imaginative writing. Looking through the home learning pack from school, there was a weekly story writing task to complete using a picture as a stimulus for writing. Immediately, just showing my son the sheet caused him to worry and panic; we talked about what was causing this and then we put the sheet away and I told him I would come up with a new plan to help him with imaginative writing for tomorrow. He then listened to a David Walliam's audiobook as this is something he loves doing and it stopped him from continuing to focus on and worry about the writing. This allowed my son to express his feelings but not spend an excessive amount of time worrying. We didn’t get into a battle over doing the task; he understood that we had put it to one side and there would be a new plan tomorrow.
So what caused these worries? My son struggles with creative writing and thinks he has to write the story that’s in his teacher’s mind (and he has no idea what this might be). If there are lots of lines on the page or a big, blank empty space, he thinks he has to fill all of the space/lines and it seems an impossible task before he starts; he also struggles to start a piece of writing. My son is also absolutely convinced that this writing is a test, with a time-limit and he isn’t going to do very well. Giving him the space and time to tell us specifically what was worrying him was really helpful for both him and us. I think sometimes we can make assumptions about the problem or the reasons behind the problem and we need to take the time to ask children what is worrying them and really listen to the answers.
Two days later and my son has now created a story map and a story opening. Lots of reassurance, no pressure, cuddles and humour have helped and instead of a single picture, we used a film clip as a stimulus to re-tell a story (so we have simplified the task). * We have broken the learning and expectations down into clear smaller steps and activities. I’ve explained to my son that authors don’t come up with entirely original ideas; they use their own experiences and other stories they have read/films they have watched to help them to write their stories. This was a real revelation for my son and he is relieved that he now has permission to gather and use ideas from different places to help him with his writing. We’ve talked about how practising re-telling stories and writing our own using inspiration from different places will make tasks like writing a story from a picture easier to do over time. He seems reassured and we have enjoyed the learning we have done so far together. We won’t be writing a story every week but it’s something we can revisit over time.
I’ve been grateful this week to have quality time together as a family and to have the time to spend with my son to explore his life learning and a little bit of academic learning. The gift of time really is such a positive things for us as a family. I’m a teacher and I know that I am lucky to have the training and resources to hand to adapt the home learning sent home from school for my son, however I hope there are some take-aways for other families about to engage in home learning again over the next few weeks, as we move into the second phase of lockdown.
- Maintain a whole-family focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing.
- Don’t get into battles/arguments over doing home learning tasks.
- Keep a good balance of family time, play, life learning and home (academic) learning and don’t try to replicate the school day (it’s just not possible!)
- Don’t be afraid to adapt home learning tasks to meet the needs of your child.
- Spend time talking with your child about any worries they have about their learning. Consider how to address these worries or just leave the learning for now and communicate with the teacher at an appropriate time in the future.
For specific advice about 'managing worries and anxious feelings in children', Healthy Minds Lincolnshire has just produced an online workshop to support children and young people to learn new strategies to manage their worries. A support pack is available for parents/carers as well as workbooks for primary and secondary age children: https://www.lpft.nhs.uk/young-people/lincolnshire/young-people/helping-you-help-yourself#managing-worries-workshop
*The Literacy Shed has made some of their resources freely available – including lesson plans, activities and short films: https://www.literacyshedplus.com/en-gb/browse/free-resources