Supporting learning at home
Learning at home can be done in a number of ways depending on your child’s age, interests and the point they are at in their educational journey. But in general you can build your child’s confidence by being optimistic about learning yourself and demonstrating your interest in learning new things.
Studies show that reading for pleasure makes a big difference to children’s educational performance.
Evidence suggests that children who read for enjoyment every day not only perform better in reading tests than those who don’t, but also develop a broader vocabulary, increased general knowledge and a better understanding of other cultures.
As global learning company Pearson says, “Reading for pleasure is more likely to determine whether a child does well at school than their social or economic background”. Read more here.
The UK government’s Education Research Standards Team tells us, “Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment.”
Not all children love reading though — here are our top tips to help you if you have an unwilling reader on your hands.
- Make reading part of daily life. Children copy the adults in their lives so set an example by treating yourself to a quick read when you get a quiet moment. It is worth looking at where the reading material is in your home. Can books be stored – or displayed – in places where your family relaxes? Bedtime is a traditional reading time, but if it doesn’t work for you think about other slots. If you know you will have to wait while a sibling does a class or for an appointment, you could bring something to read.
- It all counts. So let them read what they enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a novel. It doesn’t have to be fiction. Cereal packets, joke books and Top Trumps all count for beginners. For more advanced readers, consider non-fiction, comics and graphic novels. Books that seem too young can be comforting; conversely, books that seem too old are fine, too. The novelty factor of an e‑reader could jump-start an interest in reading, and teenagers might enjoy story-telling apps too.
- Integrate interests. A book about football might entice someone who prefers pitches to pages – or a cartoon universe encyclopaedia could tempt a TV fan. Current affairs might appeal, too: First News bills itself as a weekly newspaper for young people. Or there’s Whizz Pop Bang, a magazine for junior scientists. It’s worth researching favourite authors: some offer freebies like exclusive stories and sneak previews to online fans. The Words for Life author interviews are a good place to begin.
- What a treat. Second-hand book shops are stocked with affordable treats, so bring a new (to your child, anyway) book on holiday. Or buy a magazine on the journey. Subscriptions make easy gifts – and charities with children’s branches often publish a magazine – RNLI, for instance. Other magazines that might be of interest are Phoenix and Aquila.
- Talk about it. Discussing what you are reading will give you some fascinating insights. Questions like “Where did we get to?” and “What do you think happens next?” send a message that you care about your child’s opinions. Older children might be interested in what you are reading yourself – treasure these conversations, and follow up anything they recommend. It’s very satisfying to pass on your childhood favourites: even share your own copies – but be ready for some challenging questions about the values of previous generations.
There are lots of fantastic learning resources available online that will help you support your children with their continued learning at home (or anywhere outside of school). All free of charge to users via Parentkind.
We have categorised them to make it easier to find what you are looking for dependent on your child’s age, interest and even location. Below are the ones that we like Parentkind — free resources to support learning but let us know of any others and we will add them to the list.
Learning doesn’t have to be obvious. There are lots of fun, educational and cheap activities that can be done in the home that also teaches children lots of skills.
Below are some fairly standard activities that your child can learn from if you get them involved. As the exercises are fun, for many they will be so engrossed in it, they will not realise they are learning! Which is often the best way.
An activity that teaches a myriad of skills is cooking. Most children, of all ages, enjoy baking or cooking. Creative skills are used in the planning of the dishes and reading and maths are used to read the recipe and measure out the ingredients.
Patience again is required to wait for things to cook or for cakes to rise and then cool pre icing. Cooking instils a respect for process and inspires self confidence. It’s also a fun and empowering thing for children to do with you or if old enough on their own. The BBC Good Food offers this great guide to cooking cookery skills per age.
Gardening teaches responsibility, patience and kindness, as tending and caring to young plants and even slugs involves kind hands. Children also learn about science and biology, understanding what elements are required to help plants grow. The size of the garden is irrelevant, the growing is the important bit, so this can be done on a windowsill or on a large allotment. Whichever you can do. The benefits are the same.
If you grow vegetables, gardening can also encourage healthy eating, as learning to grow food encourages children to eat it. Plus gardening involves all the senses, and is a great calming activity for the brain, as it induces feelings of mindfulness. In addition the time you spend together in the garden (or on your balcony/other space if you don’t have a garden) will be important for their self worth and self confidence.
Shireen Jayyusi from The Food Assembly, talks about encouraging children to engage with food.
Going shopping and learning how to add up and subtract prices is a great and effective way to support maths skills. Plus there are other skills learned such as communication and prioritisation plus navigation, let your child help you in a meaningful way. Could they be tasked with asking a Shop Assistant ‘where the bananas are?’ for instance, to improve confidence and listening skills. As a bonus for you, you may find the shopping will be less stressful, if your children are actively engaged!
Learning for exams
Exam time can be stressful for every home. But with a few strategies we can help you guide your child through the revision stage, exam day and then through results day and onto their next steps.
When it comes to revising for exams, as would be expected, preparation is key. Before your child starts revising, you could help them create a revision timetable. The timetable should provide achievable goals, dividing their time between each key subject.
Making this visual plan should help your child see how they’re doing and stop them from feeling so overwhelmed by the amount they have to learn. But make sure it suits your child, maybe they need more time proportionally on one subject versus another, create a timetable to suit their strengths and weaknesses.
Encourage them to revise the subject they find the hardest first when energy levels are at the highest, that way they’ll get the hardest bits out of the way first.
Using brightly coloured highlighters, coloured pens and note cards can be really helpful when students are trying to digest large amounts of information – so take a trip to the pound shop together and stock up! If past papers are available, build in practise as part of their revision timetable, so that the actual exam isn’t a shock when they enter it. A planned approach helps reduce their stress, and yours, so it’s well worth the extra effort.
If you are able to provide fresh fruit, berries and bananas are great for concentration, and oily fish is great for brain power — sardine sandwiches anyone? But any type of snack can be used as a reward and incentive.
Talk about all the different ways they could revise, and encourage them to shake things up and find ways that work best for them — providing the materials to create mind maps, flashcards, diagrams and flow charts will help. Find out about mnemonics and rhymes that they could use, as these are great techniques for remembering information and also make revision a little more fun!
If they’re up for it, get the whole family involved in helping with revision. Stick notes and posters around the home with facts on, and then you can quiz each other as a family during meal times or travelling to/from school, clubs etc. You could also test them with a Q&A session, getting them to speak on a particular topic for a set amount of time, say two to three minutes — they’ll probably surprise themselves by how much they know, and it will help highlight the areas they need to focus on.
Download the free BBC Bitesize app
For 14 to 16 year-olds taking exams in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, the free app allows users to select the subjects and exam boards relevant to them — it contains subjects for GCSEs, National 4, National 5, Higher and TGAU. It gives flashcards, video clips to explain some of the trickier elements of each subject and quizzes for testing.
Your child might feel overwhelmed or demotivated at times, trying to balance their school work, revision and social life. Offer lots of reassurance to them that however the exams go, it’s not the end of the world, it will help them to feel less stressed.
Make sure they are allowed some down time too. So if they are revising for two hours, let them choose a TV show they want to watch for an hour afterwards, or dish up their favourite dinner to keep their motivation and energy levels up. Encourage them to still go to their clubs and meet up with friends, it’s important they have fun and down time too.
Be patient. Try not to get cross if they’re stressed and take it out on you – exams will come to an end, and they will return to normal! Be a little lenient when it comes to helping around the home (up to a point!) so you can’t be accused of adding extra pressure.
Being there to listen and provide practical support is important. But try not to get too involved, be there but don’t crowd them.
What do I do if my child won’t revise?
Firstly, know that you are not alone. Motivating teenagers to study can be a minefield. In this article, Natasha Devon MBE, Mental Health campaigner and author discusses what you can do to help your child get studying. Interesting the reasons why are often not what you think.
Five tips from students on how to survive exams!
- Plan don’t cram. Schedule your revision time with breaks. If you can take a break and do something else, you’ll learn the information better when you get back to it. See a film, hang out with your friends, watch Netflix. Do not sit for hours in the library day after day. You will burn out.
- Take breaks but not too many. Too many breaks and not enough study will achieve nothing. This is your time for self responsibility and self management. Show them you have got the balance down!
- Start earlier than you think you should. After Christmas is too late, after Easter is definitely so, begin in September/October to give yourself time to absorb it all.
- Work in a group. Studying can be lonely, mix it up and create a study group.
- Plan rewards for when it’s all done and imagine how it will feel to do well. Visualise yourself celebrating.
So the exam period has arrived. Prepare for mood swings, anxiety, late night cramming and sensitivity. It’s ok. Try to not react and let your child process their emotions without too much criticism. Tell the rest of the family to try their best to give them space and tolerance. Reassurance and love is the key right now. Reminding them that they are wonderful and have great traits regardless of their exam results.
“You’re nervous? How do you think I feel?” Parents across the country hear this or similar from their teens, as emotions run high.
Of course your kids are right, it is more about them than it is about you. But you’ve been so invested in your child’s education and you want the best outcomes for them in life, so naturally the results really matter to you too. Remember though, the last thing young people want is added pressure from parents, so keep the focus on their dreams and aspirations.
There can be so much riding on the results and you have to think about the practicalities of what happens next too. If it’s A‑Levels, the next step may be securing their preferred university place, higher apprenticeship or job. If it’s GCSEs, the grades could determine where and what they will study over the next two years.
Here are our tips to help survive the stress of exam results day:
Be their friend
You’re both on the same side, perhaps worried about the same thing, and desperate for good results. Your child needs to feel supported, and sometimes that means taking a step back and listening. Once you know the results, offer reassurance and let them know you’re proud of their hard work regardless.
You need to be a ‘rock’ to your teenager throughout the day, and over the days and weeks that follow. If they’re showing signs of stress (recurrent headache or stomach ache, trouble eating or sleeping), encourage them to spend time with friends or do something sporty – anything that distracts them.
The ‘what ifs’
Be prepared. Allow for a plan B. And a plan C. Know what the options are. Do your own research on alternative subjects or courses your child may happily study, or sixth forms and colleges they might consider applying for. But keep in mind it’s their future, so don’t push them unless you’re sure it’s towards something they want to do.
It’s good to talk
Have a conversation with them to find out what their expectations are and tell them that whatever their results, you will support them.
Don’t be afraid to confide in other parents. Whatever the outcome, you’re not the only parent going through it. Share your joy and pride if they have done well. If they haven’t, opening up can help and may even give you solutions that you hadn’t thought of.
If their grades aren’t as good as they’d hoped, try and help them put things into perspective. Failing an exam isn’t the end of the world and everyone loses out at some time or other. Don’t brush the disappointment off with ‘oh well, you can always re-sit’ though. For a teenager, failing an exam isn’t just about the result; they may feel embarrassed or that they’ve let you down if they don’t achieve what was expected.
Consider all options
Encourage them to talk it through, and be clear that they don’t need to rush into any decisions. Accept that they may wish to speak to others they feel can offer better explanations, such as their teachers or head of year.
Crucially, don’t pigeonhole everything in terms of success and failure. Ultimately, the results will determine what your child does next, but they aren’t the last word in what your child can achieve. They are at the start of their lives, with so many doors still open to them.
Finally, help is at hand
Make sure you know who to call at the school for advice or support. If your child had a place at college conditional on results, have a contact number to hand — you can often negotiate on a lower grade.