Inside: A guide for parents having to homeschool their early years children due to school closures
We are all facing uncertainty over the coming weeks and so I wanted to help by creating a how-to guide to homeschooling your nursery/ reception children that will also help with all homeschooled kids at this time. I am by no means an expert in terms of homeschooling but I am a teacher and so know what needs to be covered on a day to day basis using this framework.
If you have a nursery or reception age child then this is the guide for you. I will break down the various areas that would usually be covered at school and give you ideas for different activities. If your child is older then still pay attention as it will give you ideas of how to encourage a relaxed approach with learning through every day life.
The biggest thing to understand about homeschooling during this crisis is that it is not the same as school (or indeed actual homeschooling!). Hopefully, by the end of this post, you will feel a little less anxious about the whole situation.
REMINDER: You are not obliged to do any form of schooling. If you are unable for any reason at all – whether it be due to having to work or because you have a newborn baby to care for, it is perfectly ok to let them play or sit and watch tv. Their health and happiness is the most important right now.
What is the EYFS framework?
Children in an early years setting follow the EYFS Framework as updated in 2017. You can download a copy here if you would like to read more about it. The framework actually covers birth to 5 but for the purpose of this post I will keep it to nursery and reception settings.
The framework is made up of 7 areas and within a classroom setting, these 7 areas will make up the different areas of play and the different areas of learning that take place. The good news is, with children this age it is very easy to replicate at home as you will have many of the resources to hand already.
The 7 areas of learning
Communication and Language development involves giving children opportunities to experience a rich language environment, to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves and to speak and listen in a range of situations.
Physical Development involves providing opportunities for young children to be active and interactive; and to develop their co-ordination, control, and movement. Children must also be helped to understand the importance of physical activity and to make healthy choices in relation to food.
Personal, Social and Emotional Development involves helping children to develop a positive sense of themselves, and others. To form positive relationships and develop respect for others, to develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings, to understand appropriate behaviour in groups and to have confidence in their own abilities.
Literacy development involves encouraging children to link sounds and letters and to begin to read and write. Children must be given access to a wide range of reading materials (books, poems, and other written materials) to ignite their interest.
Mathematics involves providing children with opportunities to develop and improve their skills in counting, understanding and using numbers, calculating simple addition and subtraction problems and to describe shapes, spaces, and measure.
Understand of the World involves guiding children to make sense of their physical world and their community through opportunities to explore, observe and find out about people, places, technology and the environment.
Expressive Arts and Design involves enabling children to explore and play
with a wide range of media and materials, as well as providing opportunities and encouragement for sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings through a variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, role-play, and design and technology.
Reading all of that through may leave you panicking – especially maths as that seems to be a sticking point for many. I am now going to share real-life examples of activities you can do with your children at home. And remember, you don’t have to have them doing school-based activities all day – play is most important at this stage in their development.
Activities for the 7 areas of learning
Communication and Language
Simply talking to your child is an important learning tool. Which may sound basic and obvious to you but there are many parents who do not have conversations with their children. So, while they are busy playing, take the opportunity to talk to them and ask them what they are making/ doing. When you have dinner, eat together and go around the table asking everyone to share something that has made them smile today. The more your child can hear you modelling good communication skills, the more they will be able to use them in their own speech.
Do your children like to dress up or play mummies, daddies and babies? Roleplay is a great way to get their language skill developing. Playing restaurants has always been a favourite with little ones so turn it into a game and get them using the correct language you’d expect by a waiter and of course this is a great opportunity to show good manners.
Reading is also key within this area. How often do you read with your child? Do they have access to books all day long? The recommended amount of stories to be shared per day is 5-7. Take this opportunity to read as much as you can with them, asking them questions about the story to greater improve their comprehension skills.
With the weather warming up you will be able to make good use of your garden if you have one. Getting them outside so they can have a run-around or a jump on the trampoline is a nice easy tick of the box. But even without a garden you could have roly-poly competitions in the living room or build a soft play out of sofa cushions. There are plenty of ways to get their hearts beating.
Physical development isn’t just about traditional PE type activities though. Fine motor skills are equally as important and help with handwriting and body control. Any activity that requires them to interact with fiddly little bits and pieces will help with this. Hama beads are an excellent example as they require concentration and tiny movements. You also want to do exercises that strengthen those fine muscles so playing with playdough and squidging it into a ball or squeezing tweezers together help them to squeeze and release to improve muscle strength in their fingers.
Personal, Social and Emotional Development
One of the biggest challenges we will face with schools closing and a possible lockdown scenario is the fact that we will be couped up for weeks on end together. This will put a big strain on families but it is something that will need to be worked on and worked through as there is no other option.
Developing respect for others and learning appropriate behaviour within groups is something that will have to be managed from a parent perspective rather than a teacher perspective. Reinforce boundaries, be strict and be firm. You are the adult, they have to do as you say for the good of the people they live with.
From a teaching perspective though, you can focus on helping them to create a positive sense of themselves by helping them achieve success while at home. Reinforce positive behaviour, encourage them to try new things and help them to see the positives in each day with gratitude practice. Even my 3 year-old can tell me 3 things he is grateful for every single morning – it is never too young to start seeing the good.
You can also focus on helping them deal with their emotions. When they cry, ask them why they are crying. Do they feel sad? Do they feel angry? Do they feel embarrassed? Explain that it is ok to feel that way but that they need to find a way to make themselves feel better again. What made you feel angry? How can we stop that happening again? Teach them how to control and deal with their emotions and it will have a knock-on effect to how they interact with others.
Similar to Communication and Language, literacy requires a good daily practice of reading to help them explore how words sound but also how they look on paper.
Nobody is going to have a complete set of Biff and Chip books at home so don’t worry about age-related books, instead focus on reading books that they enjoy and using those books to stimulate further learning.
Learning to read starts with learning the sounds. Phonics has moved on a long way since we were little so do take a look at my phonics tutorial video for how to say each sound correctly. You don’t have to have fancy flash cards, simply make your own with paper and a pen. Every single day, work your way through each sound, helping them with the ones they are unsure of and praising them for the ones they do know. They will improve the more you practice with them.
If they know their sounds well (and this would be for reception age children more than nursery as a general rule) you can move onto blending. And what is blending you ask? Blending is the joining together of sounds to create a word. C…… A……. T becomes C…A….T becomes C..A..T becomes CAT. The quicker they say them, the more the individual sounds sound like the word.
Note: I used capital letters for effect. Please do not use capital letters at this age – only lower case.
Learning to write also starts with learning the individual sounds but instead of looking at them and saying the correct sound, they listen to a sound and write it down.
Again, all you need is a piece of paper and a pencil, or a whiteboard and pen or even an ipad with a drawing app. Simply say a sound and they have to write it down. At this point you can demonstrate how to write each letter correctly but never tell them theirs was wrong – seeing you do it the correct way models it and will eventually sink into their brains.
Once they are happy with most sounds (again, this is reception level) you can move onto segmenting. And what is segmenting? The opposite to blending. So you say a word: CAT and then slowly break that word down into the individual sounds. C….A….T.
Besides your phonics lessons each day, you can introduce literacy into their play. To do this and make it meaningful you can focus around a book or a subject they are interested in. For example, with all of the talk of germs, they may want to talk about hospitals. In this instance, you might get them dressing up as doctors and nurses while you are the patient. And what do doctors and nurses have? Charts that they write on. A simple notebook or a couple of sheets of paper suddenly become Doctor Smith’s notepad where she writes down everything that is wrong with the patient. Making writing meaningful helps them to enjoy it much more than sitting and completing a worksheet.
Many parents panic about having to help their child with maths. But what if I told you that as long as your child can count up to 20 by the end of Reception they are winning at life? Not so bad is it?
So what can you do to help?
One of the biggest things children struggle with is the concept of money. So if they love roleplay then set up a shop and get them sorting out the pennies. I have set up a tuck shop for my kids and that is working brilliantly – each snack has a price and they must use their money to pay for it. You could give your nursery/ reception child 10p at the start of the day in 1p coins and see if they can count them out. As time goes on, give them 2ps and 5ps and talk about how they are the same as the 1ps but in one coin.
In the kitchen, ask them to help count out the right number of plates/ bowls/ carrots etc to help with counting skills.
Pair up socks – great for matching skills but they can also count up the socks at the end.
Card games like snap and pairs are also great for teaching them numbers.
Baking – get them to help you weigh out the ingredients and count in spoonfuls of flour. Learning can be fun!
The possibilities are endless and none have to involve sitting down and writing out sums.
Understanding of the World
Being in a lockdown/ isolation situation makes this a localised ‘world’ but actually reception level learning is completely child-centric. They learn about themselves, their immediate family, their local environment and everything that is important to them.
This area of learning brings together science, RE, geography and history and all focus around the child and what matters to them.
For science, talk about their body. Draw around them and see if they can tell you all the body parts.
Go into the garden and see what bugs they can find that are interesting to them. Do they want to make a bug hotel? Great!
For RE you can talk about the various holidays. Easter is coming up so if you want to you can talk about what that holiday means for Christians.
For geography you can focus right in on their surroundings. Can you find your house on Google Earth? What about their friends’ houses or family members? Can they draw their house?
For history, focus on what will make sense to them. Talk to them about life when you were a child. Show them pictures of old phones or old computers. Talk about what they were like as babies, show them pictures of you as a baby. It doesn’t have to be complex.
We are going through one of the biggest changes to our world right now and they will be confused and possibly worried about it all. Talk to them about it in a way that they can understand and in a way that assures them that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
Expressive Arts and Design
A nice easy one although many of us dread it – arts and crafts and more specifically …. paint!
Time to get past it and embrace the mess. Get out the paints, get out the glitter and the glue, the scrap paper, the millions of toilet rolls and let them get creative.
Does it matter what they create? No. Does it have to be perfect? No. Pinterest has some great ideas for crafts but theirs do not need to look the same. Just allowing them to be creative will be a great outlet for them.
Music and creative movement would also fit into this category so put on the radio and get dancing. They could make their own instruments too!
The thing to remember is that their health and happiness matter most at this time. If all they do is sit and watch tv…. it doesn’t matter. We are all dealing with massive change right now and so mental health is paramount.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am always happy to help.