Right now, most parents are more involved in their children’s education than they’ve ever been. We’re all getting used to hearing a teacher’s voice through Zoom, and discovering to our surprise (pleasant or otherwise) just how different our children can be in a classroom setting. 

This poses a challenge: how can parents help their children to learn, especially if the parents are trying to work at the same time? How much should they help?

A lot of this depends on the age of your child. If they’re soon to go to university, then all that might be required is the occasional cup of tea and a reminder to look away from the screen every so often. For younger children, a lot more monitoring and support may be required. 

Educators use a rule of thumb that average attention spans are 2-3 minutes per year of age; so a ten-year-old, for instance, can’t be expected to concentrate on one task for more than 20-30 minutes. This doesn’t mean that they need a complete break after each 20-30 minute session, only a change of activity. You can bear this in mind when supporting your child’s learning: if a piece of work is taking ages, encourage your child to keep going up to the limit of their attention span. Then, they can take a break or swap for something different. 

Amid this, it’s worth remembering that self-motivation is a learned skill as well. It may frustrate you to watch your child sitting and fidgeting before starting a task, but practising the process of thinking about a task and then cracking on with it is valuable too. You can support your child by helping them manage their time, but also – when it’s age-appropriate to do – by stepping back and letting them learn to manage their time for themselves. 

If your child is really struggling, it can be best to step in, look at what the task is trying to achieve, and suggest a different approach. For instance, learning grammar and parts of speech is tough for many students. If “identify the verb in ‘Peter catches a ball’” is a struggle, changing it to ‘Peter fights a dragon’, or whatever your child finds more engaging, can overcome that block and help them access the knowledge the lesson is supposed to impart. 

You might simplify the task, reframe it, talk it through or otherwise give your child the means to work out the answer on their own. The important thing is that they still get that sense of achievement when the task is complete.

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