"School may be over, but not the work at home"

We first spoke to Sonia in April, right at the beginning of Mexico’s experience of the pandemic, and she shared with us how her family had initially struggled with learning from home, but changing her daily schedule to be more flexible, involving her children in household chores and making homework tasks more creative had all helped. We were very grateful to be able to recently catch up with Sonia again, to see how her and her family were doing a few months down the line.

She wrote…


I was remembering the other day, day 100 of confinement to be precise, my chat with Sir Ken, and realising how much had been accomplished, and also how different things are now. I would like to share some of my thoughts and hopefully others can connect with it too.

Two months have passed since our conversation, and it seems like ages ago! This new normal was not a walk in the park, quite a ride through an unpaved road. Like other parents around the globe, when this ordeal began, I had my own share of high expectations which for my own sake had to be taken out of the picture, the sooner the better. A lot of work had to be done, a lot of planning and doing; but everything was at ease, the moment I got rid of all those ridiculously high standards nesting in my head.

School ended earlier in our district, school authorities and teachers had to regroup and start planning a better strategy for the new school year that will surely kick off online. This year the kids will have a bigger vacation period, it will be a long summer. Now that all the homework assignments are off the table, it has given me time to evaluate the good, the bad and the ugly of this learning from home experience. This assessment was not only unavoidable, it was helpful to point out what went great and what went wrong, to make the right adjustments on the daily routine for my kids’ new normal life. School may be over, but not the work at home: keeping the children busy, entertained, exercised, healthy and stress free. That is still quite a task for any parent. And while we’re at it, do not forget to meet the financial challenges too. Mexican government believes that the Covid-19 pandemic has reached its peak, in terms of new daily cases, although it will persist in certain areas until October. So, it will be a long year…

Of course, worrying too much won’t help at all, so the best I can do is focus on the things I can rely on, the things I can change, and keep up the routine so the kids can have a safe and structured environment. On the bright side, they have really changed their attitude towards the household chores, and their help around the house is remarkable. They are really understanding and appreciating the significance of being part of a community, a self sustained community. This is one of the many gifts Covid-19 has brought to my home. Thanks to this commitment, now we have more time on our hands, I have enrolled the children in online classes (such as dance lessons, painting, video game coding, and a third language). I also have time for myself now, yoga and meditation as well. Even time for gardening, and it’s so therapeutic!

This pandemic has taken a lot from humanity, it also has changed the way we think and feel about life, but in the middle of all the sorrow, ironically, life has sprung, new ideas have emerged and I have learned a great deal.  Another gift I have accepted, is this new self awareness of my own limitations, and how great it is to say “NO,” how great it is to say “I NEED HELP,” and how great it is to say “IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE PERFECT.” Giving myself permission to fail, and start again without the drama, has been a relief. When I freed myself, I was also able to let my children free. It helped me understand and encourage my children’s uniqueness, by respecting their own pace in learning; discovering my children’s talents, loving their sense of humour, imagination and curiosity; noting their likes and dislikes; perceiving their fears, aspirations, anxieties and desires. Getting to know them at a new Covid-19 level. This has been my ride so far; I just hope whatever bumps are in the road we can all get through.

If you would like to contribute your experience of learning from home, you can do so here

"The key is to encourage wellnes"

Sir Ken was delighted to speak with school Superintendent Dr Michael Hynes recently. Dr Hynes works in a very high performing school district in Long Island, USA and is also a father of five. Whilst every school and school district differs between US states and further afield, Dr Hynes has offered some incredibly helpful and universal advice to parents during this time.

Reassuringly, Dr Hynes said that parents everywhere are struggling to keep up; everyone is exhausted and we have all had our routines disrupted. The confusion around school work doesn’t help, but the key is to try and be really clear on what your school’s requirements and expectations are. Understandably, a school providing remote instruction can cause a lot of concern amongst families, but teachers are under a lot of pressure on their end to continue with the curriculum.

Additionally, many teachers were not technologically prepared to move their instruction online, and as a result many schools are supporting teachers with professional development. For privacy reasons, some teachers are not using video conferencing. Many students do not have access to the required technology, which has introduced a multitude of issues surrounding learning from home, particularly around equity and ensuring families feel sufficiently equipped to engage in remote learning, beyond working out how to send and receive assignments.

Dr Hynes also stressed that with information changing so quickly, by the time school boards have answers to questions and are able to pass information along to families, it has almost become old news. He is optimistic though, and certain that this will improve with each week that we are learning from home, and that teachers and parents are all doing a fantastic job as we navigate this way of educating.

A big question Dr Hynes has faced is how much communication teachers and students should have with each other. He has tried to take a balanced approach, with teachers checking-in with students a few times a week to review work and cover new material if teachers and students are able. He chose this position as it is a practical and feasible strategy, and can be maintained – teachers cannot sit with students for hours every day, like they can in person, especially as many have their own families. Whilst Dr Hynes has received mixed reviews for this approach, he feels strongly that it is just not possible for students to be formally learning for six hours a day and that there is no need to replicate school at home. This might be particularly comforting for some parents to hear.

"They key is to encourage wellness"

The key, Dr Hynes says, is to encourage wellness, and he believes his checking-in system is really beneficial from a wellbeing and humanistic perspective. He suggests that a small portion of a remote learning plan should be dedicated to instruction and what schools typically do. This frees students up to take advantage of having more time whilst at home, and enables them to try new and different things. Whilst technologies can be incredibly useful for this, Dr Hynes also recommends project and problem-based learning to explore new and playful ways of learning, and to reduce screen time. This is a wonderful opportunity for students to spend longer than 40 minutes diving deep into something they want to find out more about.

A big question Dr Hynes has received surrounds grading, particularly for students planning on attending college or university after the summer. At the time Sir Ken and Dr Hynes spoke, Dr Hynes said school guidance departments were discussing this issue with colleges, and schools were thinking about the best ways to grade students in a way that reflects learning during this time. Dr Hynes also stressed the importance of colleges being more flexible through looking at high school transcripts and activities students have done outside of the classroom, for example, ways in which they may have engaged with their communities and any hobbies or extra-curricular activities. More information is released about this regularly, so keep checking in with your relevant school if this is something which is applicable to you.

In his household, Dr Hynes has had ups and downs, like every family. Both Dr Hynes and his wife work in education and are often on the phone during the day, so they are finding a balance with their work and taking it in turns to support and help their own children. Their children spend a few hours each day on their schoolwork, have time for self-directed play and exploration and have lots of opportunities for creative activities, like art and music. Dr Hynes and his wife are also really trying to take some time each day for themselves, whether that’s a walk or meditation. He says this is integral for parents, to focus on what can be controlled, and to ensure parents are taking care of themselves.

As lockdowns start to ease around the world and schools begin to reopen for some children, Dr Hynes is hopeful that this experience will ignite a systemic change within education. Given high levels of anxiety and depression amongst other mental health difficulties in young people at the moment, he hopes the data to come out of this period will result in an increased focus on wellness. He hopes for more problem and project-based learning in schools, as well as a fuller embrace of the arts and creative subjects, which would do wonders for young people’s wellbeing and the education system.

To watch the full interview between Sir Ken and Dr Hynes, please click here, and to find out more about our project and for some helpful resources, please explore the rest of our Learning from Home Hub, where you can also contribute to the conversation here

Sir Ken Robinson, education and creativity expert, has been speaking with families and education and parenting experts as part of his global call out for stories, questions, concerns and insights around learning from home while schools are closed. This project brings us all together to share what has been working well when supporting and overseeing our children’s learning, and provides a platform for sharing some helpful resources and tips which might make things a little easier. To watch previous episodes, please click here

"This generation of kids is going to mend the world with the learning they do"

Conversations about the inevitability of schools fully reopening are welcome to many. However, families are also naturally concerned – not only about the potential risks of Covid-19 and a second wave, but also about what schools will look like in this ‘new normal’ and how this might impact the health, wellbeing and attainment of our children. Fundamentally, families, educators, and policymakers are questioning the potential impact of Covid-19 on learning, both now and in the future.

To consider this, Nevergrey directors Kate Robinson and Anthony Dunn spoke with Professor Stephen Heppell as part of this Learning from Home series. Professor Heppell is an expert in identifying and improving conditions for learning, and is the designer of the Learnometer – a device that monitors the physical environment of a classroom, including CO2, temperature, ambient noise, and light quality (amongst other aspects). His extensive research into optimum learning environments means he is wonderfully placed to advise on which conditions should be present for children to flourish as we move forward.

One safer option for when schools reopen is to introduce more opportunities for outdoor learning, the benefits of which are becoming widely recognised across the education community. Heppell is curious to explore this further – being outside has excellent lighting from the natural daylight and lower levels of CO2. It also creates opportunities to position learning activities in different ways, for self-directed learning, to learn from nature and explore subjects in an organic manner. While not all schools have access to safe outdoor spaces, the concept of outdoor learning raises the bigger point that in this Covid-19 era we need to begin looking for learning spaces that break away from traditional classroom set ups, and that many of these alternatives have their own pedagogical benefits that been discussed in progressive education communities for years. To see some more suggestions from Professor Heppell, read this manual he put together with the brilliant team at Learniture.

Professor Heppell has been impressed with the resilience of students and teachers alike, and how quickly children have not only grasped this ‘new normal,’ but have been able to elevate it in innovative ways. He gives examples of the educational gains we have made when learning from home, such as the opportunities for children to sink their teeth into topics in deep and meaningful ways, to explore their interests and identify their unique sparks and passions. He has also been impressed by students and teachers using video conferencing in creative and playful ways, making the most of the virtual nature of learning as they become more used to it. Another benefit has been the amount of mixed-stage learning that has taken place, such as siblings teaching and encouraging each other, which is incredibly powerful.

As well as the positives, Professor Heppell acknowledges that learning from home during school closures has raised significant equity concerns, and that it has not been beneficial for everyone. “Crisis schooling” during a pandemic is a very different scenario to choosing to home-school, which historically has been associated with higher-income families. Learning from home is particularly challenging when children are unable to make their home life fit in with their school’s requirements – if a child cannot use the computer at a particular time because their parents or siblings need it, or if there is no access to these technologies at home at all. Professor Heppell proposes an alternative approach, where learning fits in to the variety of lives that children are living at home, for example – providing the work and activities children should aim to complete each week along with a curated list of resources tailored to each individual group based on their unique circumstances, and then coming together once a week to celebrate the children’s accomplishments.

Building on this, Professor Heppell suggests there would be great advantages to bringing virtual learning back into physical schools as children return. The agility of the physical space partnered with the flexibility of online learning could be incredibly beneficial. Professor Heppell points out that many children are already using technology to connect globally and collaborate virtually, and that bringing this connectedness into a schools would have positive impacts on children’s learning.

"Bridge the gap between the world we live in

and the world we learn in"

Professor Heppell feels that part of modernising education systems would be to bridge the gap between the world we live in and the world we learn in. This broken relationship has been so damaging to children all over the world, and we have a real in opportunity this Covid-19 reality to rebuild it. A further benefit would be to bridge home and learning spaces, so schools might increase the value they place on things that are happening at home by considering each child in a more holistic way.

Heppell warns that there will be a growing divide between schools who try to re-open and recreate learning as it was pre-pandemic, compared to schools who try to change their systems to be more flexible and modern. We owe it to our young people to embrace the individual in each of them, and as we begin to head back into the world we have a unique opportunity to question every aspect of it, especially how we educate, keeping in mind the legacy we are creating for generations to come.

In the wise words of Professor Heppell: ‘this generation of kids is going to mend the world with the learning they do – just you wait.’

Sir Ken Robinson, education and creativity expert, and the Nevergrey team have been speaking with families and education and parenting experts as part of Sir Ken’s global call out for stories, questions, concerns and insights around learning from home while schools are closed. This project brings us all together to share what has been working well when supporting and overseeing our children’s learning, and provides a platform for sharing some helpful resources and tips which might make things a little easier. To explore the Learning from Home hub, please click here

Tiny Happy People

An initiative powered by the BBC, The Royal Foundation and lots of universities and specialist organisations to encourage the development of language and communication skills in children under the age of 5. There are lots of ideas for games and activities, as well as resources and advice for parents and carers.

Children's Parliament Wellbeing Survey

A report on the findings from the Scottish Children's Parliament national survey from April and May 2020, giving an insight into the experiences of young people's (aged 8-14) learning from home and their wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.