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How to keep your kids learning in lockdown

With no school for the vast majority of children until September, we’ve enlisted help from some of the top schools in the area for advice on how to keep your kids motivated in lockdown. We hope it helps!

STRIVE FOR BALANCE
Mrs Kathryn Gorman, Head of Abbot’s Hill School

Abbot's Hill School

The benefits of lockdown are many. An escape from the pressures of the daily commute and school run are certainly a clear benefit for me. Time with family – eating all three meals a day together – is another one. Talking to friends with school-age children, many agree. Likewise, not having to dash around to the usual array of after-school clubs and activities has its upsides. However, it can be all too easy to slide from a full timetable of activities to something totally unstructured and days can drift by in a blur.

When we were planning for lockdown at Abbot’s Hill, some key principles guided us. We wanted to enable our pupils (and parents) to maintain structure and have purpose but not at the expense of some element of self-direction, family-time and time away from screens.

Abbot's Hill School Year 3 student

In the Prep, we re-wrote our timetables entirely: the day starts with live tutor-time and an assembly and then all the core learning takes place in the morning while the afternoon is a much-valued time for the arts, sport and ‘circle-time’ – also live on a daily basis. We retained a long lunch break to enable families to stop and eat together, get outside and pursue hobbies.

In the Senior School, we adapted the timetables, creating free periods through the week where pupils can extend their learning independently or get away from their screens altogether, go for a run, read or practice a musical instrument. We also took an early decision to slice a little time off the end of the day so that families have time together before dinner: we know plenty who have been baking and cooking together so the benefit of this is clear to see.

Our extra-curricular provision has continued too: clubs from knitting to rugby are ongoing and with very high pupil uptake. We have also run quiz nights, movie nights and virtual school trips. Our philosophy throughout has been to retain a sense of community and that is at the heart of our decision-making.

Many of our plans at Abbot’s Hill can be related to home life during lockdown. Maintaining a sense of structure – meals at the same time each day, getting outside as much as possible, connecting with friends, maintaining hobbies or clubs remotely – is important but so too is a sense of choice and independence. This lockdown period has reminded us all about what matters in life and has been a welcome reminder of the benefits of not being too timetabled. After all, ‘What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.’

Find out more at abbotshill.herts.sch.uk.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EXTRA-CURRICULAR
Douglas Brown, Headteacher at St Joseph’s in the Park School, Hertford

One of the reasons parents choose independent education is the breadth of extra-curricular activities available at schools like St Joseph’s In The Park. Being in lockdown and away from school presents a challenge in providing this element, but it’s a part of education we didn’t want to ignore. As well as posting daily challenges on the school site and private social media pages, we’ve set-up daily clubs to encourage the children to learn new skills and develop existing ones. This is our timetable. If your own children’s school isn’t providing anything like this, feel free to use our ideas below as your own template.

Monday: The children can challenge themselves at the weekly CrossFit. Mr Ross posts a short video for the children to attempt these new skills.

Tuesday: Weekly Art Club where the children have made pop-up cards and NHS mosaic pictures. Art is not only great fun, but also therapeutic for the children’s mental health. 

Lego Club at St Joseph's in the Park

Wednesday: The weekly Lego Challenge! Over the past few weeks the children have built their pets, houses and Lego transport. A great way to develop imagination and building skills.  

Thursday: Two clubs to choose from. The Junior children have a weekly Scientific Challenge through Mr Ellis’s STEM Club, learning to make lava lamps and rainbows out of household objects The infant children have made their favourite meal and superheroes out of dough at the Playdough Club.

Friday: My personal favourite, the Photography Club! The children have taken some amazing pictures of the local wildlife from their daily walk. This week’s task theme is water.

St Joseph’s in the Park School welcomes private tours once schools have reopened. Find out more at stjosephsinthepark.com.

STAY CONNECTED TO THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
Bronwen Goulding, Headteacher at St Francis College, Letchworth

St Francis' College

It’s the best of worlds and the worst of worlds! Life in lockdown has been a real challenge for schools, but we’ve embraced that challenge. We have felt it was important to ensure continuity of learning, encouragement and personal development during this time, so we’ve introduced a range of  approaches to teaching and learning including face to face teaching that reflects the variety used in the classroom, and a whole range of daily challenges and quizzes to support our enrichment programme and provide stimulation.

St Francis College music lessons

Pastoral support and care has never been more important and we’ve been providing this through form times, assemblies and individual teacher attention, as well as delivering other aspects of the curriculum spiritually, intellectually and morally. It’s not easy to replicate a school day online but we’ve delivered a full timetable including PE regimes, individual needs support, even music lessons (!) as well as addressing issues of screen time and workload in this new strange environment.

It’s easy for parents to feel out of the loop and worried about their children’s futures, so one of the initiatives that have been particularly successful for us is inviting the parents to our weekly assemblies to help our families feel connected and also making sure they receive daily briefings  and feel supported. Throughout lockdown, St. Francis’ College has stayed true to its motto ‘one heart , one soul’, donating PPE to the community and remaining unified in its commitment to the education and development of the young women in our care.

Find out more at st-francis.herts.sch.uk.

CELEBRATE THE SMALL SUCCESSSES
Miss Jo Mackenzie, Headmistress at Bedford Girls’ School, Bedford

Bedford Girls School

I started writing this piece many times. I thought I would explain the strategies we have put in place to support the girls; the changes we have made to timetables to create balance between effective learning structures and important time away from screens; that I would describe how the House competitions and sporting challenges are keeping our students connected, and the importance one- to-one pastoral care still plays in the online world. However, I realised that whilst these are all vital, the most important pieces of advice I can give is just to remind all students to make time each day to breathe and reflect.

We are being bombarded with a plethora of top tips from home hair styles, exercise routines and how to handle perfect remote learning. Most of the advice is very well intended, some is very helpful, but it can also make us feel a little out of control, and that we are underachieving. We are not getting super fit, taking on a huge new project or gaining full marks on homework.

Bedford Girls School care packages

I believe now is not the time for lofty goals, but the time to focus on the small successes and to celebrate the little achievements in your child’s day. Don’t worry if a glitch in technology means they miss a bit of lesson or that they didn’t complete all of the Maths questions. We are still here to help them with that, we can fix those issues. But please do celebrate the fact they finally understood the chemistry equation that has alluded them (and probably you) for so long, or that they made dinner for your family and walked the dog with you in beautiful sunshine.

Just celebrate that your child is coping with each day and recognise that some will be easier than others. At each step of the way every child is learning new skills and most importantly learning about themselves. When we do come back together, school communities will need to create new normalities; this too will take resilience, creativity and reflection. These are the skills that they are now learning and that are so important, for their long term well- being. So, my advice to all students is just embrace where you are, celebrate a daily success and consider what didn’t go according to plan so that you can build upon it tomorrow.       

Find out more at bedfordgirlsschool.co.uk.     

PUT FITNESS FRONT OF MIND
James Hodgson, Headmaster at Bedford School, Bedford

Bedford School

Sport has always played a big part of school life for the boys at Bedford School, and, now more than ever, the school is committed to ensuring physical exercise is an integral part of their pupils’ daily lives through its remote curriculum. From the outset of lockdown, we knew that our boys would need a full home school curriculum – not just online lessons and time in front of a screen but also their usual quota of physical exercise. The boys have great reserves of energy, and they need an outlet for this, not to mention a desire to stay fit.

Equally importantly, we wanted to help the boys to look after their health and mental wellbeing. We know that exercise is one of the most effective methods to help relieve stress and anxiety, which some may be experiencing as a result of the lockdown. Not to mention that exercise also improves sleep, focus and lifts the mood; things that are important for the boys’ wellbeing now more than ever.

We realised that each home environment would be different and we would therefore need to adapt our PE sessions to make sure whatever we introduced was accessible to all boys.

Bedford Boys enjoying sport from home

So what do the school’s new daily PE sessions look like? Well, boys love competition, so there is plenty of that on offer. Using a series of challenges on the school’s new dedicated sport Instagram account, boys can challenge their classmates to complete the activities set with results shared on a leader board at the end of each task. In the style of Joe Wick’s workouts, all the exercises are demonstrated by the school’s PE staff before the boys join in.

There is also plenty of choice on offer, with everything from interval training, tailored for each age group, to team challenges against other schools such as a 2km virtual race for the school’s cross-country team.

The school is also continuing its successful Powering Performance initiative, launched earlier in the year, aimed at encouraging the boys to consider how different foods help them to achieve different goals – such as improving focus, strength, ability to sustain and recover. Now we are using Powering Performance to educates the boys on how to nourish their bodies and minds with a focus on eating well while they are at home.

With the lockdown easing we are sure that Bedford School’s boys will be enjoying more outdoor exercise, virtual competition and, hopefully, a seriously good night’s sleep – ensuring that they are ready for the challenges of the next day, whatever it may bring.

Watch the Virtual School Tour at bedfordschool.org.uk.

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