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Back to school! Are you ready?!

Photo credit: Deleece Cook on Unsplash

Sometimes it can feel as though, not only do we have little or no clue how to teach our children in this fast-paced world, but also that we can’t think how we could do something differently.

Let’s take primary school homework, for instance, don’t we always just let the kids get on with the sheet they’ve been sent home with, supporting them if they get stuck (and giving them the answers, right?!). Parents aren’t teachers and the curriculum can be a minefield, can’t it?

To be fair, teachers don’t expect parents to be teachers which is why they usually send homework that the child can try to do alone. Unfortunately, and because it’s an add-on, teachers often take the easy route and photocopy a sheet for the masses – I’ve done it myself!

Children, in my opinion, don’t learn from these methods of homework. If the child is capable in the topic of the homework, they do it in two mins and stuff it back in their bag without any real thought; if they’re not capable or don’t understand it, you could potentially have a fight on your hands! Is it worth it? Well, perhaps that’s for another day…

Today, let’s talk about creativity and looking at things differently. It will take a movement to change the way homework is perceived at Primary level. Secondary level homework is a very different beast and in my parental experience, fits the needs of learning well, despite its lack of creativity (by that, I mean in the National Curriculum, not the teaching, before I get loads of teachers emailing me!). All children can learn differently and enjoy learning creatively, so why not let them explore at home in different ways?

We talked before about different ways to tackle spelling and Maths, and I’ve talked about my Narnia journey which developed the children’s creative writing skills. Let’s talk some more about writing today.

If you have a child who doesn’t really like “writing”, try different ways to show them that it isn’t always sit down and move a pen/pencil. Writing comes from experience and imagination. How many times as a toddler would your child pick up a toy and begin to recreate a story, or even make one up?

It’s part of the natural story-telling abilities that we as humans have. The issue (that comes from being at school) is getting it down on paper, especially with all the technical stuff surrounding the assessment of writing!

I’m sorry to say it, but in my teaching experience, boys tend to like writing less than girls, especially in their younger years. They would rather be acting the story out, drawing cartoons or anything that involves the least amount of holding a pencil! Girls love doing all these things too, but are far happier to then put it down on paper… I'd just like to add this was not my case as a parent, in fact it worked the other way round!

My cousin’s son doesn’t enjoy school and will do anything to avoid any sort of work. Home-schooling became a nightmare! He is a bright, intelligent boy. When asked how to get him to write for his online schoolwork, I suggested thinking differently. Putting writing in context is a great way to show reluctant writers that writing has a purpose, so shopping lists or letters to grandparents are a good start. Keeping a journal is great too or a scrapbook of holidays or things they have collected.

As other options, maybe making a video – either a documentary or a play; maybe a storyboard, where you could show in pictures what was happening; or even a slide show or mini-movie if computers are something you don’t mind them using? Make it a fun task.

There are so many more enjoyable options to sitting with a blank piece of paper in front of you.

Art is a great fit for developing writing. In my previous post I talked about how I used The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in my Year 4 class and used papier mache to create artefacts from the book/film, which in turn became a walk-through gallery for parents to view, complete with creative writing to explain the story. I’m not suggesting that you turn your home into a film set, with props and masks from your favourite stories (although, it would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? Or is that just me??!!).

Creating a ‘film or ‘theatre’ version of a book is a great way for children to learn about the story. Play the characters, direct some toys or puppets… all of these things are helping to develop language skills and confidence with words. As I've already said, many toddlers around the world make up stories with their toys without even a thought for the curriculum, and we give no thought to how they are developing or assessing their creative skills!

In schools across the UK, they use strategies like this developed by writer Pie Corbett. His thinking behind developing writing is that if children use a written model (the original story), they will learn by copying or imitating the style of writing. It supports even the least confident child writer because they are able to use someone else’s writing and write their story the same way and supports the most able writers because they can develop their own writing in a similar style to a published author.

Photo credit: Abin Verghese on Unsplash

Some children enjoy drawing and would enjoy recreating a cartoon strip version or a doodle of the story quite easily and then, I bet they could re-tell what happened in detail without a word being written. Or imagine if children could re-tell this into a dictation app that then types it for them (or train the cat! Lol!) - that would really open up a new world of creative thought for them!

There is so much focus on the written word, and yes, I do think everyone should be able to write, but writing isn’t just about picking up a pen and, let’s face it, these days it’s more about typing into a phone or laptop. Back in Victorian times, when structured schooling began here in the UK (and seems to have kept a similar structure) writing was essential to communicating and getting a job that wasn’t manual work (if you got to go to school, you were destined for this anyway!). The world has moved on and, in my opinion, we need to be more creative about how we assess writing in 21st Century schools. I get a feeling that less confident children wouldn’t struggle as much if we tapped into the way they felt most comfortable learning, even if that involves technology.

Sorry, soap box is out again… lol!

Back to writing and supporting your own child’s learning… the key is to think outside the box. Encourage them to talk, discuss things with them, create pictures and cartoons. Find something they are passionate about and make posters about it, write short postcard-style letters to people that care about the same thing, read about it. All of this will develop language and confidence, then when they do have to write, they won’t worry about how to express themselves because they will have absorbed the ‘models’ from all sorts of other places without realising and feel super confident!

Any questions or thoughts? Hit reply and let me know. I’d love to start a conversation about this topic and find out other’s views.

Next week, we are getting creative so look forward to seeing you then. For now enjoy the weekend and see you soon!

Deb x

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