Parental engagement has always mattered, but in the time of Covid-19 it has taken on an altogether more pressing importance.
A year of lockdowns, partial closures and stints of self-isolation has changed the home school relationship, and schools are looking for new ways to work alongside parents to help them support their child’s learning.
The school gates have opened to all pupils once again and children are having to recover positive learning behaviours and rebuild lost skills. Children have always been more likely to thrive if they have the joined-up support of family and school, but following the past year’s extended disruptions to formal education, this support is more vital than ever.
So how can schools work alongside parents and carers to keep children motivated and learning as they readjust to the school routine?
Show parents how they can help
When pupils were learning from home rather than the classroom, parents often found themselves in the impossible position of teaching their child while holding down a job of their own. Even the phrase ‘home schooling’ carried the underlying suggestion that a parent should become their child’s substitute teacher. However, what is important now is for parents to be parents, not teachers.
Parents could be concerned about the prospect of an attainment gap and they may want to help their child catch up now they are back at school, particularly if they were very involved in their child’s learning during lockdown.
There could be an expectation in some families that children should be doing more homework to make up for the face-to-face school time they missed. However, many youngsters may still be adapting to the hustle and bustle of the school day. What they need when they get home is space to relax, or the opportunity to burn off some energy.
Rather than continuing the home learning now a child is back at school, teachers could encourage parents to share in fun activities with their child, such as maths games, craft sessions or reading a favourite book together.
Now is the time for schools and parents to help children rediscover their love of learning, it’s not the time to expect perfection.
Encourage parents to reinforce positive behaviour
In an October 2020 Ofsted briefing schools noted a deterioration in pupils’ concentration and a reduction in their mental and physical stamina when they returned to school after the first lockdown. Some schools also reported that children seemed less willing to follow rules as the autumn term progressed.
These behaviour difficulties could arise once again as children recover from the latest lockdown. By maintaining close links with parents, teachers gain willing partners in the quest to improve behaviour both at home and at school.
Many schools have reward systems in place to encourage positive behaviour and to praise effort in the classroom, and these approaches could be shared with families to recognise the same positive conduct at home. The certificates, star charts and golden time which children are familiar with at school could all be used by parents to boost their child’s behaviour.
This might include anything that makes life run more smoothly at home as well as at school. Rewarding a child for helping a sibling at home will help them remember to lend a hand to a friend in need back in the classroom. This could extend to other positive behaviour such as tidying a bedroom, playing quietly or waiting patiently while others take turns.
Some schools find digital rewards systems, like Sonar Awards, are good at motivating a tech savvy generation of children who have grown up with games, puzzles and apps such as Pokemon Go, which offer rewards or gamification style incentives to complete tasks. Parents can also join in by adding rewards for behaviour at home too.
Having parents on side will help to get children in the right frame of mind for sharing, listening and learning now they are back at school.
Keep up the sense of community
The pandemic makes people feel very alone. Even with all children back in the classroom, things may not feel ‘normal’ so it’s important to make pupils and their families feel they are part of the wider school community.
Some families may have enjoyed keeping in touch with their child’s school during lockdown by sending in photos of their children baking cakes, spotting wildlife or making junk models. There is no reason for this to come to an end, as keeping the lines of communication in a fun and informal way can strengthen the connection between home and school.
Some children have developed new skills while learning from home and schools could encourage pupils to share some of these skills now they are back with their classmates, whether that’s a new dance, keepy-uppies or a favourite story.
At a time when children may be trying to process the tough times they and their families have been through, there is a real need for human connection to boost mental health and wellbeing. Celebrating even the smallest milestone or success can build a child’s self-esteem and remind parents they are doing a great job. These small yet vital exchanges are an easy way for teachers to engage families without adding too much to the workload.
The links that schools build now will help to strengthen understanding between teachers and parents so they can continue to work together for positive outcomes in better times.
How to engage with families
- Check in with families regularly with a word of praise for something their child has done at school, such as helping out in the classroom. These needn’t be lengthy and could be scheduled in advance to save time.
- Help parents reignite their children’s love of learning by suggesting quick bursts of fun activity such as a memory game, treasure hunt or puzzle. Make sure the emphasis is on enjoyment rather than perfection.
- Suggest parents use school reward systems and work towards shared goals, so five gold stars for behaviour equals the chance to choose a movie to watch together or to play in the park with a friend.
- Provide ideas for parents to catch their child being good, such as looking after a pet, playing with a younger sibling or clearing the table. These positive behaviours are likely to find their way into the classroom too.