I saw a meme on Facebook that said:

Let’s not forget, it’s you and me vs the problem… Not you v me.

and it got me thinking about the situation we find ourselves in. We are starting 2021 back in the throws of online learning! This is riddled with difficulties for every child who has additional support needs, their family and their teachers!

Yet, taking an NVR approach and sorting our issues into baskets, we need to remember that COVID is the biggest issue facing society right now. It’s teachers, parents and the rest of society V COVID.

School staff will be doing their best to meet needs despite last minute government announcements and lack of planning time. Like the rest of society, school staff are likely to be juggling their own stresses and anxieties about health, family members and money.

Families have these same stresses and will be wondering how they manage work and daily chores, whilst also looking after their children, never mind the additional responsibility of teaching children too!

Teachers will be posting lessons and assignments online. Most likely these lessons will be very similar to lessons the teachers would teach in school: there may be different activities for the different abilities BUT even with this level of differentiation, in class the teacher would still provide additional support and encouragement to some children.

The difficulty of online lessons is that they don’t necessarily capture these subtleties. They don’t generally provide the 1 to 1 adult support that is required for learning for many children with ASNs. There is no guarantee that there is an available, supportive adult at home able to provide the necessary instruction. For children with attachment issues, even where there is a supportive adult, the child may be unable to cope with the changing role from parent to teacher.

The issue of online learning is fraught with difficulties for children with ASNs, their families and teachers. Were it not for COVID and the fight to get it under control, we would not be using this method of teaching en masse. So, bearing this in mind, what can we do?

Here are my suggestions on how to survive online learning for parents and teachers:

  1. Remember this is a pandemic.

The aim is survival: we do the best we can with what we have. Parents are not schoolteachers. Learning is not schoolwork. BUT children are always learning from parents. Parents are teachers.

Basically, every conversation, every activity and every chore you do with your child is a learning one!

  1. Focus on Developmental Learning

Time spent on relationships, communication, emotional regulation and games will have a greater impact on your child’s overall happiness and life chances than time spent on book exercises. Consider this an excellent time to devote to toilet training, hygiene, morning/night-time routines, cooking and cleaning.

  1. Basic Literacy and Numeracy

If your family can manage it, maintain the basics. Read every day. If you can get your child to read a few pages, that’s great. You can read to them too. Practice times tables and number bonds. You can sneak this into computer games or board games. If you can manage a bit of writing – a shopping list, diary or a few spelling words – that’s brilliant. Only do what you can do, and they can cope with.

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

Every family situation is a bit different. Don’t think that your child is falling behind, and every other child has completed all the work. I can assure you this is not the case! Children are always learning at their own pace and the aim is to keep moving forward from wherever they are.

Celebrate their achievements and strengths: this is even more important when traditional schoolwork is a challenge for them!

  1. It’s okay to rely on digital babysitters

These are exceptional circumstances. It is okay to use screens to give yourself and your child a break. We all need a break sometimes.

Your child will be learning from whatever they are watching or doing on screen anyway. Consider what they are learning – is it gaming skills, communication with peers, logic / reasoning skills, facts about the environment or processing relationships or social cues from a TV show. Don’t forget to consider age-appropriateness.

  1. Get outdoors

Get outdoors as much as possible: walking, cycling, scooting, climbing, scavenger hunts, hide and seek, play parks etc. Being outside in nature helps us to de-stress and regulate.

  1. Stay connected

For children with ASNs, especially those with trauma backgrounds, staying connected is a priority. Teachers who can engage in an online meeting, phone home, send an email or a postcard will ensure the child learns a valuable lesson: I matter; I have value. This is a very important life lesson and is likely to help the child when they transition back into school too.

  1. Keep online lessons simple

Most parents are not teachers. It is good to keep that in mind when writing lesson instructions. Keep the instructions short and clear. If this can’t be done, then the lesson is probably not suitable for home-learning in the first place. Where possible, make the lesson instruction and support inclusive: provide verbal, written and visual instructions (a simple powerpoint will facilitate this); provide a finished example of the end product and provide the necessary scaffolding to complete the task.

  1. Family Support

Support services and respite opportunities are in short supply during Lockdown even though children with ASNs and their families are in more need of these than ever! Try thinking creatively to offer ‘support’ – set a lesson watching a TV programme and have an online discussion afterwards; school management could consider who is offered a ‘school’ space for respite reasons – perhaps even for part of the week; offer sessions where parents can get together online for peer support; have a phone call to check-in with families.

  1. It’s okay to throw out the school plan, and make your own

If the online lessons don’t work for you and your child, don’t do them. Online learning makes the parent the teacher by default. Therefore, you can change the task, make it more accessible, or abandon it altogether and reduce the stress for everyone. Remember, your child is learning at home with you regardless of any schoolwork (see point 1).

Ultimately, the parent is the headteacher of home-learning.