We know that parents and the home learning environment (HLE) have a major influence on a child’s learning trajectory, from the early years through to the end of primary school (Erdener et al 2018). The HLE has been brought into sharper focus in the last two years with the pandemic demonstrating the fundamental role that parent involvement in their child’s learning has to play (Institute for Public Policy Research 2020).
Discussion during and since this time has focussed on an understanding of learning that equates with curriculum content, with the emphasis on lost learning and catch up. This demonstrates the perception that the teaching/learning process is transmission of knowledge - knowledge that will now need to be covered for children more intensively, in shorter periods of time. This kind of discourse, focusing as it does on a specific area of learning, has the potential to create more anxiety and fear for both parents and young people themselves.
It would be interesting to consider other aspects of learning in more depth - those areas, perhaps, that are more difficult to measure, such as exploration of local areas, familiar conversations and working through conflict and challenge in relationships. The general focus on the content covered and academic progress (or lack of) through lockdown has ensured that we have omitted to ask these broader questions about children’s learning experiences at home. We know that parent beliefs and attitudes play a fundamental role in their children’s learning trajectory (Siraj Blackford 2010) – how might a broader understanding of learning enable parents to have a greater sense of agency (ie. the sense that we all have of our ability to affect change in our own lives) to support their children?
It is also important to stress that the experiences of lockdown learning for families with children with special educational needs and disability (SEND) were often positive, highlighting the strain that school can place on some children and suggesting that a more flexible, responsive approach to learning felt more appropriate for some children and families (Shepherd et al 2021, BERA 2020). This may suggest that for some parents of children with special educational needs, the lockdown periods gave them opportunities to increase their confidence in supporting their children’s learning, with greater flexibility and less reliance on curriculum-based activities. How might this flexibility and partnership work between home and school be considered in the future?
The recognition by many parents that lockdown did help wider learning beyond the traditional curriculum is reflected in the suggestion in a research study carried out by the University of Sussex that that there should be a focus on what they have gained as well as lost (Shepherd et al 2021). So, what have children learnt? About themselves, their families, their response to the challenges of the pandemic?
This idea of focussing on what was gained (as well as what was lost) from learning at home during 2020-2022 is key. What can we better understand from this time about family learning and the home environment? Do we all agree about what we mean by a rich home learning environment, or even what we mean by learning? Whilst schools do the important work of supporting their children to regain lost ground in the curriculum, could we also have a conversation about the opportunities for parents to support learning in broader ways? After all, as meaning-making human beings, learning is social, and culturally situated - we learn about and interact with the world through our relationships with others.
British Educational Research Association (BERA 2020) Lessons for adapting home learning from parents with special educational needs, available at Lessons for adapting home learning from parents with children with special educational needs | BERA
Erdener, M.A., & Knoeppel, R.C. (2018). Parents’ perceptions of their involvement in schooling, International Journal of Research in Education and Science (IJRES), 4(1), 1-13.
Institute for Public Policy Research (2020) Children of the Pandemic: policies need to support children during the Covid 19 crisis Available at 1585586431_children-of-the-pandemic.pdf (ippr.org)
Shepherd, J, Durrant, C and Hancock, C (2020) ‘Happier in his own clothes Post-pandemic Possibilities for Education for Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Perspectives from parent carers. Available at: file.php (sussex.ac.uk)
Siraj Blackford, I (2010) Learning in the home and at school: how working-class children ‘succeed against the odds’ in British Educational Research Journal Vol 36. No 3: 463-482
Bea Stevenson - Head of Education, Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health