Virtual School for Families: How much should I help my child with their learning?

With so many parents now supporting their children to learn at home, it can be hard to judge when to let your child work through something challenging and when to step in to help. Here we explore a few ways to decide how much to help, and what kind of help to give.

Understand the goal

The first thing to really think about here is the goal of whatever activity your child is doing. Most teachers and schools are moving to a stronger focus on process and learning by doing than the end product. As a parent, this might mean that success doesn’t quite look the way you’d expect.

A common example here is writing. Is the learning goal that your child writes neatly and spells everything correctly? Or, could the writing goal be to get some ideas on paper in a draft to edit later? Perhaps your child is working on adding details to their writing, or using a specific technique? If you aren’t clear on what the learning goal is, support your child to ask their teacher – that way, you can be confident you are helping your child to develop the skills the teacher is looking for.

Ask Questions

Before stepping in to help a child who feels stuck – try asking them a couple of questions. Often, the process of explaining what they are finding hard and what their current thinking is can really help your child to problem solve on their own. It also allows you to be clear on what help your child needs, rather than having to guess. Here are a few questions to try:

  • What are you finding challenging at the moment?
  • Can you show me a strategy you’ve tried?
  • Explain to me what you did so far
  • What information do you think you are missing?
  • Would you like me to show you a strategy I like to use?

It can also help to ask your child to switch their approach a little – can they draw a picture to show their thinking, for example.

Help your child identify their emotions

Identifying when we are frustrated, anxious, tired, etc. can be difficult. If your child is feeling an emotion like these it may limit how well they can problem solve not to mention making them feel bad.

Encourage your child to describe how they are feeling, remind them that what they feel is valid, offer a hug or a short break if you think they need it, and then stay with them as they get back to their learning. This will of course take much longer than giving them the answer – but you can model understanding our emotions to your child and help them build strategies to use in the future.

While we’re talking emotions – try to keep your own emotions calm too. If your child picks up on your frustration, worries, disappointment etc. they are going to have a much harder time asking you for support. Take a break if you need it rather than letting things become negative. Yes, school work often comes with deadlines, but modeling positive responses to challenges will have benefits for you and your child.

Show them how

This is particularly helpful for maths! Rather than solve the problem your child is working on, recreate a similar problem and take them through it step by step. This helps you make sure your child is learning and not just completing work.

Aren’t sure how to solve it? Model researching the answer – grab a device and search for it. Resources such as Khan Academy are great for learning how to do something – show your child what being a life long learner looks like!

Mantra: This is learning, not work

Even as a teacher this can be tough to live into some days. Try to remember that you want your child to learn, not to complete things – if its too hard and they aren’t ready go back a few steps and teach them. Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher for help and advice if something is too hard – in a classroom setting they would be doing exactly the same thing!

This also applies to letting your child make (and submit) mistakes – your teacher will be there to guide with feedback, and make sure it continues to be a learning experience.

The number one reason teachers don’t want parents to over help is that it makes it harder for them to set appropriate work in the future or to reteach things that haven’t quite clicked yet. When we keep our children’s learning as the goal the information generated by their struggles is what will help us support them.

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