How to engage children in home learning

Professor Paul Howard-Jones of Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Four & Five Year Olds has teamed up with STEM Learning to share his knowhow on the science of how children learn. 

In his latest video, released on 6 May, Paul answers questions from parents and carers, including:

  • Is there a difference between how mothers and fathers teach their children?
  • Does music help children learn?
  • Can offering financial incentives help learning?
  • Are digital devices bad for very young children?

Paul will be answering the next batch of questions on 20 May. If you want to ask a question, you can post it here

In a previous film launched in April, Paul offers advice for the millions of parents and carers supporting children learning from home during lockdown.

Paul’s tips include:

  • Engagement – If you’re struggling to get your child engaged with schoolwork, think about what else usually motivates them and why that might be. The brain’s reward system responds well to praise, winning points, novelty, curiosity and also sharing attention with others (whether face-to-face or online). There are usually ways of incorporating some of these in their schoolwork.
  • Keep emotions in check – Monitor your own emotions and try to keep them positive. You and your child have brains containing mirror neuron systems that help you experience each other’s emotions as if they were your own. So, where possible, include activities you both enjoy doing. This will help your child engage and will be more fun for both of you. Avoid going into battle with your child – apply your energies to help them want to learn rather than make them learn.
  • Don’t panic – There will be times when your child gets stuck and you might not be sure either. How you respond is really important. Get involved, be interested – model the response you want your child to have to a challenge.  Ask them what they already know about the subject – just activating this prior knowledge in the brain can shed light on a problem (and it also helps you better understand the topic – so you’re then more able to provide support).
  • The power of sleep – Sleep helps what we learn during the day become more permanent – and it’s essential for learning. It’s important kids keep to their usual daily structure, with regular waking times, learning sessions and bedtimes. Lost or disrupted sleep impacts learning twice over – causing children to forget what they had learnt and be too tired to learn more. Discourage use of technology known to disrupt sleep, such as late-evening video game sessions.

The new film also forms part of The Science of Learning from Home, a guide created by Paul Howard-Jones and STEM Learning on to support parents during lockdown. It covers topics including what goes on inside children’s brains, how children learn and how parents can help their children build knowledge and remember what they’ve learnt.

Paul will also be leading Q&A sessions, where parents and carers can submit questions that he will answer online on 6 and 20 May at stem.org.uk/home-learning.

Paul Howard-Jones says: “The current lockdown is a really important time for parents to be supporting their child’s learning. Understanding how the brain learns can be incredibly rewarding and fascinating, and will really help parents with children learning from home.”

Paul’s video joins more than 300 activities and materials, carefully selected from a bank of over 14,000 free resources to support parents and carers with home learning, with a particular focus on science, maths and computing. 

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