1) Use games after bursts of learning as a break to help them store the knowledge
An essential step we often miss out in the learning process is giving the brain time to store what it has learned.
Sleep (inc. naps) are when most of this crucial work is done, but we can also help retention if we give ourselves wordless breaks, such as having a snack, making a brew, playing with a pet, kicking a ball or playing a mindless video game (just turn off the chat function).
Your child’s tendency to zone out or start bouncing around is actually them subconsciously giving themselves time to store what they have just learned. Remember, your child’s concentration span is their age in minutes, plus two minutes.
2) There are some amazing (low-cost) learning game apps
Given the choice between tidying their room and playing a learning game, it’s amazing how many kids will engage.
Here are some of my favourite apps, which combine educational value and genuine fun (crucially rewarding accuracy rather than speed):
• Hairy Words 1 and 2 for spelling high frequency sight words
• Bubble Pop Number Bonds to practice number bonds to 10, 20
• Mystery Word Town for inputting your own spelling words
• Squeebles to practice times tables and division
• What’s The Time Mr Wolf (by Teachers Pet) for telling the time
• Mr Thorne’s Phonics Flashcards for reading words containing particular phonic patterns.
3) They may remember more from one great TV programme, than from a mountain of textbooks or worksheets
Much has been written rubbishing learning styles, but we know that some of us learn more from seeing, some from hearing and some from doing and almost no one learns best from books.
Documentaries and TV programmes combine seeing amazing visuals and hearing great presenters speaking the words carefully written by skilled writers. Recent research shows that 88% of people who saw Blue Planet II changed their behaviour in relation to single-use plastics.
If your child learns best through doing, just make sure they are able to move whilst watching. I know they seem babyish, but stick on Number Blocks, Do You Know, or the later series (esp. series 4) of Alphablocks and I defy even adults not to make new connections.
4) Webcasting Can Help Them Find Role Models and Try New Things
With everyone in lockdown, it seems like everyone now has a YouTube channel. Joe Wicks is mum’s new, hot P.E. teacher. Brian Cox is doing his bit for Physics. Steve Backshall will be taking a well-earned rest from being eaten to teach us all some Biology. Myleene Klass is teaching Music Klass. There are some truly brilliant (and awful) teachers on YouTube who can make any topic come to life (or suck the life right out of it).
Make sure they know you are interested… If they know you will be asking them about what they learned, they should pay more attention. Watching them with your child or teenager and then playing dumb means they will need to reteach it to you (one of the most powerful learning techniques).
Maybe your child would enjoy starting their own youtube channel, podcast or blog?
5) Give us all a way to communicate with the outside world and feel less isolated
Aside from face-timing family, chatting to their friends during video games, having the occasional virtual tutoring session and watching celebrities, we can now take free virtual field trips to amazing places around the world. Fancy visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China? Like a free day out at the museum or zoo, gallery or aquarium? Or take a dive into the sea or hike Yellowstone National Park? Maybe you’d rather pop to Mars or Space Station?
Wherever your child wants to go or whatever your child is interested in, there’s now a virtual tour for that.
6) Preserves everyone’s sanity!
Probably the most important reason to use screen time is so that everyone doesn’t go mad. You make the weather in your house (whether it’s sunny or stormy, gloomy or icy). Your mood is vital. When we live in each other’s pockets, confined to the house, we really need time apart, down-time, time to cook and time to do self-care activities which makes us feel better.
We know we shouldn’t use the virtual babysitter, but without access to a real babysitter, we just need to make sure this is as stress-free an experience as possible.