It is unquestionably a massive time of uncertainty in the world right now. It is not often in Australia that the education system gets a shake-up, but that is exactly what is happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools in New South Wales have been thrust into the world of online learning and the technological challenges that ensue. Staff have had to adapt and learn to use unfamiliar programs and students have, at times, struggled with access and developing the skills necessary to access the curriculum via this platform.
The pandemic has forced schools to re-evaluate the core values of education and review what is being taught. This is evident in the announcement by the NSW Education Standards Authority that school sectors will have the authority to decide which syllabus outcomes and content they teach and assess for Kindergarten to Year 10 in 2020. This means that schools will have free reign to determine which parts of the curriculum are most important in their local contexts and to only teach and report on those outcomes. For a system which is often described as having a crowded curriculum, this could actually be a silver lining within this whole crisis. For years, teachers have been expressing their concerns that the basics of education are becoming lost within a curriculum full of ‘extras’, a problem which has resulted in many students missing out on a solid basic foundation to learning due to rushing through content.
It is understandable that many parents are fearful that their children are missing out on a quality education due to online learning, learning from home and the educational program not addressing all outcomes and content of the syllabuses, but could this be just the shake-up the system needs in our post-modern globalised society? We are about to find out.
As first term draws to an end, many families have settled into a good routine for home and school. It is often at this time over the school holidays, that we can take a breather and reset after a busy couple of months. How do we manage time for rest and enjoyment without losing the solid routine that we have worked so hard to get right? Balance and moderation are crucial.
Children need a break from the expectations of school, particularly those children who struggle to ‘keep it together’ all day at school. Often those children are also the ones who don’t cope well with change so it can be difficult. Keeping some things consistent, like bedtime and meal times, can be a fabulous way of maintaining balance. Giving children some autonomy during the day to pick and choose which activities they do at what time, provides some independence they do not normally get at school. If you choose to have a total break from routine and relax eating habits and bedtimes over the holidays, try to make sure that a few days before school goes back that you bring it back to the school routine so that the transition back to term two is smooth. It’s all about balance.
At school, most children are fairly active and after school sports and activities usually exemplify that during term time. As some sports and activities don’t run during the holidays, encourage your child to keep active but to also have rest. It is okay to spend a day chilling out watching movies – it’s just not healthy if it is every day for two weeks. Going for a walk or bike ride or playing outside on the trampoline are great ways to get moving. Moderation in all areas will help to keep balance in order to settle back into the term after the short break.
When it comes to a positive home-school relationship, regular and constructive communication is the key. At the beginning of every school year it is difficult to navigate the right time and place to discuss your child’s learning and by the time ‘meet the teacher’ or initial parent teacher interviews come around, many parents are overwhelmed and unsure what to ask their child’s teacher. Sometimes this results in the teacher doing all the talking or the parent asking about one thing and forgetting to ask about the ten other things they were not sure about. Detailed questions are great if you have them, but what if you don’t really have any specific concerns? What do you ask when you get the opportunity to talk to your child’s teacher one-to-one?
Here are five important questions to ask your child’s teacher when you meet with them:
1. Is my child experiencing any difficulties (socially, emotionally, academically or physically) in your opinion?
2. How are my child’s individual learning needs being catered for within the classroom setting?
3. Are there any ways that I can provide additional support the school and my child’s learning?
4. What is the best way to contact you should I need to discuss my child?
5. Is my child doing the best they can do?
These direct and simple questions are not meant to be in any way an attack on the teacher or school, so obviously the tone in which they are asked is also important, but they are questions which allow an open flow of information and a relationship built on partnership for a common goal – a happy, thriving child at school.
As featured in: District Gazette - March '20
Reading is a fundamental skill that involves interpreting and comprehending written words. At school, the main focus for children is to learn to read, then as children get older, the focus shifts on reading to learn. Amongst all this learning, sometimes the love of reading gets sidelined, or perhaps the spark of joy fails to ignite. It is difficult to love reading when you struggle to interpret meaning. It is also difficult to love reading when you only see it as a chore or task to be completed. It is proactive to be diligent in encouraging your child to love reading from a young age.
In order to foster a love of reading, it is important to build positive experiences around reading. One way to do this is to simply read books to your child whilst they listen or follow along with their eyes. This can be done in short bursts to build up the ability to sustain attention, and gradually move to longer session, perhaps when the story in quite engaging or the attention span develops. Another way to build a positive experience is to let you child read whatever interests them. They don’t need to be reading a novel, they could read a comic, magazine, newspaper, website, blog or information book. Make reading fun by letting them have control over what they read – the library is a great place for this as there are so many books available and it costs you nothing to join.
The greatest way to foster a love of reading is to share your love of reading with your child. Let them see you reading a book, or if you are reading an article or post on your phone (even if it is social media) tell your child you are reading. Explain how you enjoy reading and how it makes you feel to be able to learn something new or to use your imagination.
Remember: “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” – Emilie Buchwald.
As featured: Glenmore Gazette - Feb '20 & Oran Park Gazette - Feb '20
The Christmas school holidays can sometimes feel like they go on forever, and it’s not just the parents that feel that way. Many children feel unease as the structure of school life is taken away for anywhere from five to seven weeks starting in December. When you think about it, that’s actually a long time to have an unpredictable routine – it is no wonder parents are frequently pulling their hair out by mid-January. The best way to combat this frustration for everyone is to create a balanced holiday.
Firstly, try to schedule in some physical activity each day. Whether it is an early walk down by the river, a bike ride around the Regatta Centre or even just an afternoon swim in the pool or game of cricket in the backyard. Get the kids moving and burning some energy. These activities are cost effective and fun do to with friends.
Secondly, give your children ‘pyjama days’. Let them laze around doing absolutely nothing or whatever they want one or two days a week. The holidays are as much for rest and rejuvenation as they are a break from school. Hire some books or movies from the Library for free or let them play on their video games uninterrupted. Maybe even do some baking and enjoy eating the end result.
Lastly, and this is an important one, visit family and friends. Set up play dates or go to the park for a picnic. If you are working, see if your child can spend some time with a friend or if you’re home, offer for your child to invite a friend over. It is not as scary as it sounds, in fact often children will be less ‘bored’ if they have someone to hang out with that is not their sibling.
As the school year draws to a close next month, anxiety about the following year can start to kick in for some children and parents. Which teacher? Who’s class? Which friends? The uncertainty and fear of the unknown can be overwhelming and therefore the school holidays over Christmas can be quite uncomfortable for some. Some might say that it is ‘tough luck’; this is just a part of life and kids need to learn to adapt to change. Whilst this is correct in some respects, children (especially those with additional needs such as anxiety disorders and Autism) still need support through this time and guidance in managing their feelings.
From a schooling perspective, children should be given the opportunity to visit the area of the school they will be in, become familiar with the staff on that grade and be kept with at least one friend moving forward. This is obviously in an ideal world and it is noted that whilst these practises are attempted at most schools to some degree, it is not guaranteed and changes may occur. Due to the unpredictable nature of staffing, especially in schools with fluctuation of numbers, last minute change can be unavoidable. It is for this reason that parental support around change is paramount.
As parents, you can have discussions around feelings and different scenarios. Validate your child’s feelings but be mindful that you do not create more anxiety; be guided by your child’s responses and assure them that whatever happens, the school and you care about them being safe and happy at school and you will work together to ensure that they feel that way. If your child exhibits strong feelings of worry it could also be beneficial to chat to the School Counsellor or Stage Coordinator/Assistant Principal about your child’s transition.
Throughout the year schools take a number of opportunities to connect with families and share progress of the student. One such way is through Parent-Teacher Interviews, sometimes also referred to as Parent-Teacher Conferences. Most schools will hold interviews once or twice a year and they are often held around the time half-yearly and yearly reports are sent out.
Parent-Teacher Interviews can be a bit daunting for those parents who feel unsure of what to expect or what questions to ask, but the chance to get feedback, solidify home-school partnerships, and to be able to provide insight that would otherwise not be given is invaluable.
To make the most out of interviews, you should aim to do the following three things:
1. Be positive and confident - teachers and schools genuinely want the best for your child, just as you do. A positive partnership between home and school is proven to increase student achievement and well-being.
2. Prepare any questions you have – no question is too small, big or silly. If you have any concerns it is much better to address them upfront rather than worry or feel like your child’s needs are not being met in some way. Some general questions you may like to ask are: Does my child seem to be struggling in any area? How can I best support my child’s learning? Is my child at the expected level for his/her age? Can you tell me about my child’s behaviour in class and the playground?
3. Listen carefully to the teacher’s observations and keep an open mind – children can behave in a different way in alternate environments so you may get feedback that you do not expect. Share your thoughts from your perspective and keep the lines of communication open beyond the interview.
The question of whether you should get tutoring for your child is not able to be answered with a stock response. Not every child will benefit from tutoring and certainly not from some styles; however, many children thrive with tutoring as it can provide the key to confidence and ‘fill in the gaps’ within their learning. Often the term tutoring is used interchangeably with coaching. Whilst this is widely accepted, coaching generally refers to repetitive or drill learning with the intention of gaining achievement in a particular test or assessment, whereas tutoring is more remedial and focused on bridging a gap in learning.
Tutoring is also great for students who enjoy learning and want to extend their thinking laterally, especially in Mathematics. If your child is struggling with confidence in a particular area then tutoring is definitely something you should consider. If your child seems to really be struggling academically at school then tutoring can make a positive impact; however, it is important to look at other factors first before taking the tutoring route. Speak to your child’s teacher about specific difficulties and whether the school can address them adequately. Some specific difficulties are best treated by an occupational therapist (OT), a psychologist, speech therapist or doctor. If these needs are not addressed tutoring can often be appear ineffective.
Depending on where you access your tutoring, you can expect different approaches. Large franchises can have set programs they implement and smaller businesses or individuals may offer personalised services based on the individual needs of the student. Some tutoring companies only offer group programs whilst others provide a one-to-one service. Most students flourish with personalised instruction in a one-to-one setting with a tutor who is knowledgeable and experienced but this will generally incur a higher cost than tutoring in a small group led by a university student. When choosing a tutor, think about which approach suits your child best and be sure to ask questions. Tutoring should be a collaboration towards meeting your child’s individual needs.
Most people have heard of parents disliking the school holidays but it isn’t as common to hear of children hating them too. It may seem to be a weird concept for some, but there are actually children who dislike the school holidays and even possess some anxiety about spending the time away from school. Parents and caregivers are often left to calm stressed out children and come up with ways to manage the anxiety whilst providing practical activities and solutions to holiday care. It is important to acknowledge that these feelings are very real and need to be handled in a delicate manner. Just because it is not a common response to school holidays, it does not mean it is not valid. This response is particularly prevalent in children with additional needs, although it has the potential to affect any child.
First and foremost, parents and caregivers need to understand why the child hates the holidays. This could be for a variety of reasons. They may be uncertain or anxious about holiday care arrangements, concerned about boredom due to the lack of stimulation or peer interaction in the home environment, genuinely feel lost due to the lack of structure that the school day provides, or have another reason which is personal to their own circumstance. Once the reason for the feeling is established, solutions and support can be put in place to ease or eliminate concerns. Alternative arrangements could be made in a different environment or perhaps a few sessions with a qualified professional, like a psychologist, will need to be employed. The reasoning behind the feelings will guide the best course of action to take. Remember, throughout this process your child needs to feel loved, supported and acknowledged so that they are willing to openly partake in suggestions made to practically address concerns in a way that suits your family’s needs.
School shopping is becoming increasingly common amongst parents looking to find the ‘best’ educational setting for their children. It seems gone are the days when parents would simply send their child to their closest local public school. We are in a new age where parents are spoiled for choice and schools are in a bid to attract more students using whatever marketing means available. Have we taken it too far or are we just better equipped now to make important decisions? The answer to that question is up to your own interpretation but one thing is for sure, not all schools suit all children. This begs the question – how do I choose the right school for my child?
Choosing the right school for your child comes down to a few core ideas. Firstly, it is important to acknowledge what aspects of education you and your child hold as most important. This will differ greatly from family to family but rest assured, whatever you hold most important, there is an educational setting to match that need. An example of aspects you might consider are: academic opportunities, existing friendships, location, personal beliefs, learning support, accessibility, class sizes, parental involvement and sense of community. Make a list of these aspects and order them from most important to least important. Once you have this list you can set about your journey finding schools that match your needs on paper.
We are all aware that sometimes a school can appear to hold certain ideals but in reality things are quite different. This is where the second core step comes into play – visiting the school. School tours are great for seeing the school environment and getting to know a few key personnel, however a truer reflection would come from visiting an event the school is holding or popping in to the school on a regular day to see students and every day processes in action. Most schools are more than happy for this to occur as long as the correct processes are followed.
The third core step is speaking to teachers and members of the school community such as other parents and children. Listen to what they say but understand that not everyone experiences things the same way. Take the good and the bad and acknowledge that no school is absolutely without fault. Lastly, you need to compare this experience knowledge and your own interpretation gained from visiting the school with your list of aspects you find most important. Is the school still ticking all your boxes? Are there things that would absolutely rule out your child attending or with which you feel uncomfortable? Once you are able to narrow this down, an answer should become apparent. Whatever you do, remember that the decision you make is not set in stone for all eternity. If it does not seem to be working out and all avenues to improve the situation have failed, you can always re-evaluate and change as there are plenty of options.
Sara Drebber is an educational consultant, teacher, writer and mother of three.