Home learning: Parents, we've got this!

Parenting Place Technology Home Learning Tips

Here we are again – putting on our teacher-parent hats and thinking grateful thoughts about our kids' actual teachers who do such a wonderful job in their actual classrooms, in actual non-lockdown life. Oh well, at least we don't have to pack lunches into plastic boxes each morning. Although feel free to do that, if you’re missing that routine…

Home learning is a little daunting, if I’m honest. Like many households across the country, both my husband and I are working from home while simultaneously navigating the care and instruction of our kids. Thank goodness for WiFi, multiple devices and all the prep work our kids’ teachers are putting in to support us.

Phone a friend

I have several friends who are teachers. I’ve always thought they were awesome, particularly so of late! I asked three friends who teach primary, intermediate and secondary respectively for their advice to parents picking up the role of ‘home educator’ (again!). No surprise – their words were encouraging, uplifting and inspiring. They also shared a common theme: lower the expectations and make the most of this time to connect with your child, be it over times tables, a research project or a working bee in the vegetable garden.


Alex Hunter teaches at a Northland primary school and highlighted the value of maintaining a connection between school and child. Kids love getting personal feedback from their teacher so anything you can do to help facilitate and maintain connection will enhance your child’s home-learning experience.

“If your kids are missing school, remind them that teachers are most-likely missing their students, too. You could send teachers pictures of what your whānau have been doing, school work or otherwise, as teachers love to see what their students have been up to. You could also record a message from your child and send that to their teacher.”

And with a voice of calm reassurance much appreciated in this season, Alex – herself a mum of three – reiterated the importance of approaching home learning with reasonable expectations: “Try not to get overloaded by all the free trials and online learning on offer at the moment. Primary school age children should only be spending one to two hours on school work each day, maximum! Their teachers know them personally and will be aiming to meet their needs through small projects and experiential learning, not new learning at this time.”

“Teachers know parents are busy – some of us are parents too! Make the time you are able to spend with your child really count. Share your interests and skills with them. Teach them how to do things they may not do at school, like cook a simple meal, sew a little pillow or service their bike. If you are interested in something, they probably will be too!”


Intermediate teacher Anna Grace also vouches for the incidental learning and development opportunities kids have simply being at home with their families.

“A wealth of learning occurs naturally around the home. Encourage your children to get involved with purposeful tasks and chores that can support the whole family. There is no 'right way' to do this: work with what you've got.”

It’s not only parents who are feeling slightly daunted by the prospect of school at home – some kids are understandably feeling a tad overwhelmed and many will be unmotivated. Miss Grace shared a suggestion to enhance buy-in: “Set up expectations about distance learning with your child; providing them with the opportunity to 'have their say' will increase their ownership and therefore their willingness to participate.”

It’s all about balance and perspective, Miss Grace reminds us. “The number one priority at this time remains the well-being of our people; any learning from home programmes need to factor this in. The majority of parents are not teachers, nor should you be expected to step into that role. Give yourself permission to do the best that you are capable of in these challenging times.”

Set up expectations about distance learning with your child; providing them with the opportunity to 'have their say' will increase their ownership and therefore their willingness to participate.


As a parent of primary and intermediate aged kids, I was certainly encouraged by Miss Hunter and Miss Grace. A relaxed approach to daily tasks with an emphasis on shared interest, connection and natural learning opportunities: tick! But what if you have a secondary student and NCEA is looming large on their mind? Interestingly, Wellington-based secondary teacher Deborah Marshall shared advice in a similar vein – reduce the pressure, we’re all very much in a season of ‘wait and see’. Tackling projects and assessment work one step at time will benefit both student and parent.

“Encourage your son or daughter to set some goals for the day that are reasonable. Remind them that these are unprecedented times and the expectations will be less than in a conventional classroom environment. However, teenagers are still very capable of completing work independently. If they have an assessment due in a few weeks’ time, encourage them to create a study timetable that includes some progress markers and objectives. If they are unsure of the expectations of an assessment, sit down with them and familiarise yourself with the requirements, marking schedule and exemplars. If it is still unclear, help them write an email to their teacher with questions they would like to ask in order to progress. Encourage them to make a start on the parts that they do know how to do. Even if it is just creating a brainstorm – they might like to use the voice typing (dictation) tool in Google Docs to make a start.”

Again, Mrs Marshall has a final word of encouragement that emphasises balance and perspective: “For college students, the key will be establishing a balanced routine that addresses their assessments, some time to connect with others, some time to experience the outdoors and also space to simply relax and enjoy some downtime. Remember, reading a book is educational. Gratitude, helping around the house and taking time out all contribute to the learning experience – it’s just finding the balance.

A good report

Thankfully there’s no exam for us parents, but here’s a summary of my learning thus far. We’ve mapped out a schedule for the day – it’s ‘ballpark’ and flexible, but something everyone in the house can reference to help us know where we’re heading while motivating us along the way.

I’ve identified the need to be on the front foot, which means getting up earlier than my kids and savouring some peaceful me-time first thing in the morning. It also means familiarising myself with the suggested learning tasks set by our teachers, so I can best guide my kids towards setting their own goals for the day.

I’m going to lower my expectations – on myself and my kids. We're actually learning so much about each other and life in general during lockdown. It may not be textbook learning, but so far we've up-skilled in Zoom-schedule coordination, cardboard construction and scone making.

No matter what your days of lockdown learning look like, ultimately we’re all achieving some valuable credits. And an A+ for effort. Kia kaha New Zealand! The school bell will one day ring again.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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