How to help your child learn at home by Lucy Pollard
In 2020, parents and carers have faced the extraordinary challenge of having to teach their children at home while schools were closed because of COVID-19. This has been a massive learning experience for all of us. Many parents and carers of children with speech, language and communication needs may have found this challenge to be even greater. So here are some top tips on how to support your child’s engagement in learning activities.
Find out what motivates your child
Some children are naturally motivated by wanting to complete a learning activity, or by getting verbal praise from an adult. Some are not. This is okay.
For those children who really are not motivated by school work, find out what motivates them and use it. We wouldn’t do our jobs for free, right? Try to think of school work as a job for our children – we have to find the right way to ‘pay’ them.
To do this, collaborate with your child and agree a reward. Something small and quick is great – such as a biscuit or 10 minutes of screen time. This way you can implement quick rewards throughout the day, and then quickly get back to work.
Make sure your reward is timely. If your child is good at delayed gratification, first of all, lucky you! You can increase the length of time your child has to wait before they get the reward.
If your child struggles with delayed gratification, don’t expect them to wait until the end of the day for their reward – ‘the end of the day’ is the same as ‘never’ for some children. You could try steps towards a bigger reward, such as marbles in a jar. If this doesn’t work, keep your rewards super quick.
Which leads me on to…
Use visual support
My favourite visual support tool is a ‘working towards’ board.
A ‘working towards’ board provides much-needed structure to a learning activity. It also enables parents and carers to reduce the verbal load on children. Most children with speech, language and communication needs will process visual information more readily than verbal information, so using visual support can mean less nagging for parents. Amazing!
Have the work that the child has to do set up on one side of their area. Have a box, file or organiser on the other side of the area. Allow the child to physically file the completed work when it is done. This is great for encouraging task satisfaction and really helps children who have difficulties with attention and listening or organisation.
I know this is easier said than done and we all experience homework-related rage! Children are often reluctant to do work when they find it hard. Encourage your child to ask questions and identify when they find things tricky. Try to work together to find your way through problems. Model positive behaviour – for example, “Hmmm, I don’t know the answer to that question. Let’s e-mail the teacher and ask for help.”
Allow movement breaks
This is true for all children, but particularly those who have difficulties with attention and listening. The more opportunities your child has to be active, the more they will be able to sit when it’s learning time.
Think about sensory supports
Does your child struggle to sit on a chair? Make sure it’s the right height and his or her feet are firmly on the ground. Do they fidget a lot? Give them a piece of blu tack to hold to give their fingers something to fiddle with. (Check that it’s not too distracting. If it is, you might need to try something else.)
Weighted blankets are great if you have any. Hot-water bottles and beanbags are worth a try – sitting on these provides children with more sensory feedback than a regular chair.
Have you minimised background noise? I have yet to figure out how to manage background noise levels while teaching different children at the same time. I will keep you posted if I figure this one out!