Essential skills for all: Developing your child’s (and your own) skills at home

11 October 2022
Tom Varley
Tom Varley is the Lead Associate for Inclusion at the Skills Builder Partnership, working with a range of non-profit organisations to embed essential skills into their programmes supporting underserved groups and parent & carer networks. 
The pandemic and its associated lockdowns taught us many lessons, big and small. As an (aspiring) optimist, I searched for every silver lining’ and strived to learn what I could on a personal and professional level. The quality of the family Zoom quizzes increased – but I’m not sure I can say the same about my intentions to learn a musical instrument or finally write my book (now into its eleventh year of unfinished status!).

At the Skills Builder Partnership, we also learned important lessons about how to continue driving collective impact towards our shared mission: to ensure that one day, everyone builds the essential skills to succeed. More than ever, and thanks to ongoing uncertainty around exams and the future of work, we could see the importance of essential skills like communication, creative problem-solving, self-management and collaboration in every area of our lives. Educators, employers, organisations, young people and their networks of friends and families considered these skills’ present and future relevance. 

Together with the Centre for Education & Youth, a think and action tank’ which believes society should ensure all children and young people make a fulfilling transition to adulthood, we carried out an evidence review looking at how essential skills influence life outcomes. This report painted a promising picture: there’s a clear link between building essential skills and improved academic outcomes, workplace success, and individual wellbeing.

The question to be answered, then, is how do we ensure that everyone has the right opportunities to build and develop their essential skills – even in times of adversity?

The need for at-home support 

Another key learning from our partner schools, colleges and education settings during national lockdowns was that effective home learning is a big challenge. Through our work with educators and young people, and our focus groups with parents and carers, we could better understand where the barriers lay: many parents, carers and young people lacked the confidence to access learning resources. 

Parents and carers who didn’t possess the subject knowledge of specialist teaching staff were looking for further support, while the unprecedented nature of the situation meant many schools were unprepared to make home learning engaging and accessible. 

We did find, however, that people were more confident in discussing shared experiences and developing consistent skills. Essential skills — that everybody needs to do almost any task, anywhere — were more prominent than ever before. 

Even as a parent with a teaching qualification, I’ll admit that I faced my own challenges. Whether supporting my daughter to complete Year 3 French lessons or answering WhatsApp messages from friends with older children (that had me digging deep into the memory banks to recall the cosine rule), it was tough. But using creativity to generate ideas or adapting our ways of communicating with others felt acutely real and relatable for me and my daughter. We shared our experiences, our challenges and our successes, reflecting on how these skills connect to all areas of our lives.

A home learning solution: Skills Builder Homezone

Skills Builder Homezone was created to support conversations just like these, helping parents and carers to build essential skills at home with their children and young people. 

Developed based on stakeholders’ feedback and insights, Homezone is an open-access website that includes simple, practical activities to do together at home, at a time and pace to suit everyone in the family.

Families select which essential skill they would like to focus on, then receive online and offline activities to build it. These can be adapted so that you spend the amount of time to best suit you and your child. For instance, you might choose to complete one section at a time and then carry on later. 

Modules also support older children to use independent tools for their own skill development, including reflection activities and interactive modules. 

Homezone builds essential skills in three steps:

  • Read and learn more about the skill together
  • Talk about the skill with your child using suggested questions and discussion ideas
  • Do a skill-based activity together at home, at your own time and pace

The platform features reading lists, with recommended story books that include the focus skill as a theme. You can also keep practising each skill in the real world with our weekly skill challenges. From crafting a household Positivity Jar to choreographing a dance routine, to working in a team to hold a family Sports Day, these challenges are fun, interactive, and require minimal prep. Each challenge also contains differentiated questions, which ensure discussions and reflections meet different people’s needs.

Interested? Visit Homezone to learn more and find the activities that suit you and your family best. You can also learn more about how Skills Builder supports parents and carers.