Learning and Liberty

Online lessons for parents: an open letter from a headmistress 

Member ratings
  • Well argued: 77%
  • Interesting points: 83%
  • Agree with arguments: 78%
20 ratings - view all
Online lessons for parents: an open letter from a headmistress 

Dear parents

The purpose of this article is to help you make the most of the time you now have at home with your children. Whatever the media and the politicians say, there are certain truths that I want you to remember:

  1. Your child may be staring at a screen with a teacher talking on it, but this does not mean that your child is learning.
  2. Your child may be writing lots when doing their work, but this does not mean they are learning.


  1. Your child could easily be looking at the teacher without listening. Your child may even wholeheartedly believe they are listening to the teacher when they are not. Normally, in a lesson at school, your child’s teacher would be able to check for listening and for understanding. Lessons online make this very difficult, if not impossible.
  2. Your child may be copying out work lent to them by a friend, or your child might be writing out work that just isn’t very good. Normally, in a lesson at school, your child’s teacher would be able to watch your child working and so this makes it impossible to cheat or go off course. Teachers cannot supervise work in the same way online, at a distance.

So how can you help your child to make the most of their online learning? The list below has things to do. I realise that this may not always be possible, because you have other children, work commitments and all sorts of demands on your time. But the more you do these things, the more your child will get out of their online learning.

  1. Make sure your child is in their school uniform at the start of every day and that they are ready with their tech, paper and pens at a time you have agreed with them in advance.
  2. Check in on your child’s written work as often as you can: aim for every 20 mins, but every 30 or even 60 mins is fine. Sign your initials and the time at the end of their work (what they have written so far). That way, when you come back to check again, you can see how much work they have completed since your last check.
  3. If your child’s school is providing live online lessons, listen out for what the teacher is saying for a few minutes and then, if the teacher asks a question (and doesn’t ask your child to answer), you can prompt your child to give you the answer instead. The microphone is on mute so no one in the class will hear them. You can then compare your child’s answer to what is being said either by another child or by the teacher. You can even make up your own questions, according to what the teacher is saying.
  4. If your child’s school is providing videos, then you can pause the video with your child and ask questions as it is played. Do not assume your child is taking in everything that is being said.
  5. Make sure you are watching out for them minimising and maximising the screen, moving between social media and their work.

This type of constant interference by you will help your child stay alert and on task. Children are very good at daydreaming and forgetting to stay focused. You need to help them keep on track. All the better if you have a way of praising them for answering correctly or for doing some excellent written work. Give them an M&M or two, or draw them a smiley face on their work. A simple, “Well done, John! I’m so impressed with you today,” is often enough.

Children crave the attention of their parents. The more you are engaged with the work set, the more they are going to want to do it to impress you.

What more can you do?

  1. Ask if there is extension work. If they say no, remember that there often is extension work.
  2. But they will want time off from work, and that is understandable. Having said that, keep an eye on their screen time for silly things. Time spent on Snapchat, Instagram, or WhatsApp is all a dangerous waste of your child’s time. It allows them to meet undesirables who can lead them astray, especially during a pandemic when children can get very bored. Netflix is perhaps less dangerous (depending on what they are watching), but it is still a waste of time.
  3. My suggestion is that if you allow your child on these social media platforms, you should watch and read all of their conversations on there. As for Netflix, you might want to have a look at what they are watching.

Ok, you are doing all of this. Is that it?

No. You can do additional things.

  1. Chesskid.com is an excellent site to learn how to play chess which is free and then a small fee if your child wants to use it for long periods of time.
  2. Duolingo is an excellent site which, again, is free, where your child can practise their French or can learn a brand new language.
  3. Take your child out for bike ride or go to the park and kick around a football.
  4. Encourage siblings to teach their younger brothers and sisters.
  5. Read with your child for at least 15 mins a day, depending on age. If your child is a big reader, then encourage them to read for up to 2 hours a day independently, depending on age. If your child is a reluctant reader, then read out loud with them, taking turns: you read a few lines out loud, then they read a line. Build up how much they read out loud until they are reading whole paragraphs. Then talk about the characters. “What do you think will happen next?” “Who do you prefer and why?”
  6. Websites like Smartick or IXL or Hegarty are great for maths, depending on your child’s age. You can never do enough maths.
  7. The BBC have a whole series to help parents this lockdown. It looks excellent.
  8. Joe Wicks does some great PE sessions online.
  9. Oak National has many video lessons made by real teachers and being used by real schools. Just Google them!

I know it is hard, so I am crossing my fingers for you. Take turns: mums and dads should try sharing out the workload. Don’t feel stupid. I promise you that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know much French or history. Your child will love the fact that you are showing an interest. And if you have a bad day and your child doesn’t do much, just start again the next day. All you can do, is do your best. Tomorrow is always another day.

Best of luck to all of you who managed to get to the end of this article without swearing. Your child will love you for it. Take a deep breath and dive in.

Best wishes,

Katharine Birbalsingh,

Headmistress, Michaela Community School 

A Message from TheArticle

We are the only publication that’s committed to covering every angle. We have an important contribution to make, one that’s needed now more than ever, and we need your help to continue publishing throughout the pandemic. So please, make a donation.

Member ratings
  • Well argued: 77%
  • Interesting points: 83%
  • Agree with arguments: 78%
20 ratings - view all

You may also like