The decision has now been made to close schools in Victoria and no doubt the rest of the country will follow. As this has unfolded over in Europe, the UK and US I have been observing the many comments about how parents are adapting to having children at home and how they are assuming their many roles in supporting learning at home.
There have been many comments and memes posted about how it is an ideal time to spend together, to do things together and learn in other ways other than how children normally learn at school. While this is true in certain terms, there will still come a time when the children will need to have a routine and connect with their school learning as well as other forms of learning that happen every day in our homes.
Many teachers are working to ensure the children will have the opportunity to continue learning at home, and teachers will have to adapt to the situation they find themselves in as they too are forced into quarantine. I have already seen many teachers reaching out to their community to support them in any way they can to understand how to support learning at home.
It's really important for educators to recognise and work with the capacity that parents already have to engage in learning and work alongside each other to support children, particularly their wellbeing and keeping things as normal as possible during this time.
Through my professional learning workshops we have explored the parent role as supporters and guides of learning and the many roles can be described as follows:
• Partners with educators - now more than ever we need to work as partners to support children - communication from the school with parents is critical to help parents understand how they can support their child's learning to reach their learning goals during this time.
• Path builder and co-creator - parents have the capacity to create opportunity conditions for learning, to lay a path and plant seeds for children by providing suggestions and asking questions. Parents know their children well, their strengths and interests and can therefore co-create and contribute ideas towards learning activities and learning opportunities alongside teachers that suit children's interests. This will assist in motivating children to learn when they are outside their normal routine at school. There will be a need for some creative thinking in this current climate as we will all be restricted in where we can go outside of the home but it is also a chance to explore this together and see where it leads.
• Advisor, monitor, coach - each of these three are unique skills and need to be utilised if needed. Coaching is the most effective way to encourage children to talk about their learning, to explore ideas and to prompt critical and creative thinking. Encouraging parents to ask questions about learning is a great way to engage parents in learning rather than having them feel like they need to have all the answers.
• Negotiator and connector - as we spend more time together at home in close proximity, negotiation and connecting skills will be called upon often. Negotiation of when school learning happens and when more informal learning is happening will no doubt need to be one of the first conversations parents will have with their children. Connection and maintaining connection with the school will be important, as will connecting with our children in other ways through playing games, going for walks, planning meals and cooking together and other activities that connect the family and are also learning opportunities.
This is a perfect opportunity to connect learning at home with learning at school as parents can seize teachable moments to connect, for example maths and science with cooking, literacy with interacting and conversation, exercise with science etc. Children will begin to see the connections between home and school learning when parents facilitate these teachable moments.
• Co-learner - parents will be co-learning alongside their children during this time as children are also able to be teachers. The role of parent can be in asking questions of children about their learning to enable them to be the teacher. This is a great way to enhance and understand their own learning as they are able to articulate how they are comprehending their learning, or expressing their need for further assistance - encouraging communication as well as active listening will mean the experience will be more enjoyable and have an impact on learning.
• Networker and Community Builder - Our homes are our first communities so it's important during this time to nurture our mini-communities as patience is tested and our routines are needing to adapt to change. Parents also have a range of networks to draw on through friends, relatives, online communities, their work colleagues and life experiences as well as, of course, the teachers in schools. There is no need for parents to feel they are alone during this time and it's important to reach out to networks for support.
• Volunteer and Leader - Effectively parents are now volunteering to support learning at home, but it is in fact something that many parents already do as they engage in learning as a natural part of parenting. As parents we are all leaders in our homes, guiding and creating a culture of relationship and nurture for our families. Leading by example in how we manage during this time will have a huge impact on our children as they observe how the adults around them become more resilient and adaptable to change.
The many roles that parents have the capacity to take on need to be supported during this time. If you are a school seeking guidance in how to support your teachers and parents as they embark on these many roles, please contact me on 0419 371 876. It is critical that communication and understanding is maintained during this time and that we aim to work together in partnership for the benefit of all children.