When UK schools closed for the Coronavirus lockdown, teachers didn’t have much time to manage their response. In a matter of days, curriculum materials for different year groups had to be made accessible, online or via email, and it was difficult to plan for other interventions.
But staff at Bowling Park knew they had to deliver a broader response. Their school is located in the top 10% of most deprived areas in England, 75% of their children have English as an additional language, 35% receive Pupil Premium and 23% have a SEN or disability. As one teacher at the school points out, these figures “do not reflect our children’s incredible resilience, kindness and care for each other, their thirst for learning or endless talents,” but they do provide evidence of specific needs. Too many families were already dealing with fundamental difficulties and the lockdown was only going to make things worse. As for taking the curriculum online, that posed additional challenges. Vulnerable households are lucky to have one device capable of accessing the internet and many lack basic learning materials, including paper. How would siblings in different year groups access digital learning simultaneously? And how would their carers find the practical and emotional resources to cope?
As Helly explains, the packs set out to offer something fun and educational for the whole family to do together, but “not in the sense that some people think of education – more like turn-taking and telling stories…. things that have really important educational outcomes that aren’t obvious to the people doing them – kids especially! We’re not trying to replicate the learning that would have happened in the classrooms, we’re trying to do something different – which is to bring families together to enjoy learning.”
Inspired by really good book choices with the depth and quality to appeal to a wide range of ages and abilities, Bowling Park's packs include art, writing, science and PE challenges, together with games and discussion starters.
It’s one thing to create and distribute learning packs, but will they be used? Written resources can be daunting for parents who lack the experience or confidence to interpret materials of this kind without support. So the Bowling Park teachers decided to take another step. In a time of isolation, they reasoned, why not bring families together using social media? Why not support parents and carers by sharing activities with them in a video?
The school has its own YouTube channel, and Bowling Park’s Family Learning Playlist now features a growing number of videos made by members of staff for families at home in Lockdown. Some videos offer introductions to individual packs, all are cheerful, chatty and accessible, and many feature staff demonstrating activities in their own homes.
As Helly Rhodes observes, these videos “are wonderfully real – my dog likes to get involved when me and my little boy are busy, and you can see my colleague’s little one napping in the background while she’s doing a craft activity with her three-year-old. We feel more connected with the children in their homes because we’re speaking directly to them in the videos, and we know they’re out there watching because we can see how many views we’ve had. And seeing us in our homes with our families and pets is a connection for the children, too. It’s a new level of connection for all of us.”
To watch Helly Rhodes sharing a PE challenge inspired by Peter H. Reynolds' The Dot (published by Walker Books) click here
“Before the lockdown, there’d been some talk of changing the way we were doing homework,” Helly explains. “The idea was potentially to do more topic-based homework that would involve the whole family, but nothing had been launched. So it was floating around in people’s heads that we could give children a book or poem or picture, together with activities to try at home with their family, but there hadn’t been a big push. Now, the idea is being tested. It’s a great way to have family time together - and if you’ve got three or four kids at the school, it really makes sense for their homework to be inspired by the same material or theme.”
What about the staff involved in creating these packs? What kind of impact has this project had on them? Helly says that for her, it’s been helpful as well as enjoyable. “And the other teachers have said the same thing. We’ve all got young children, so it’s giving us some structure for our own family time at home. I’m not just planning the activities, I’m doing them, and it reminds you that some of the best learning comes when you don’t realise you’re doing it - and that really wanting to do these activities, and them being family-centred, is incredibly valuable.”
As Jenny Anderson observed at quartz.com, “the pandemic is forcing educators, parents, and students to think critically, problem-solve, be creative, communicate, collaborate and be agile. It is also revealing that there is another way.”
Staff at Bowling Park have responded to the crisis by forging a creative and compassionate new path. Cast of Thousands will be reporting back on how they’re getting on - but until then, please do share your stories about the new directions you’re taking through this crisis, particularly if they involve innovative approaches to books and storytelling. We’d love to hear from you!
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Please also use this email if you’d like to ask any questions about Bowling Park Primary School’s Family Learning project.
And if you’d like to know more about Bowling Park’s Family Learning Packs, read on…
So far there have been seven packs inspired by the following books and themes.
Week 1 - Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak, Red Fox
Expressing and understanding emotions, imaginative journeys, monster fun and games
Week 2 - The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton, Tate Publishing
Spring, growing seeds and plants, the power of imagination, sharing joy and hope, passage of time (and waiting…)
Week 3 - The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, Walker Books
Mark-making, creativity and art, confidence, self-expression, dots and spots
Week 4 - The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers, Walker Books
Shadows, rabbits, friendship, managing your fears
Week 5 - Celebrations in May
The UK’s 75th Anniversary of VE Day, Eid al-Fitr and other festivals and celebrations. Friends and family, the history of VE Day, memories and hopes, party games and special food
Week 6 - The Book of Hopes: Words and Pictures to Comfort, Entertain and Inspire Children During Lockdown
Edited by Katherine Rundell with contributions from more than a hundred children's writers and illustrators. Available free to read on The National Literacy Trust's website - see link at the bottom of this blog
Week 7 - Under the Same Sky by Britta Teckentrup, Caterpillar Books
Celebrating community closeness through shared hopes and dreams
Investigating and drawing shadows using toys, cutouts, your family and pets, plus a light source like a torch or phone
PE challenges – follow the trail of dots to complete the fitness challenge
Listening to stories and poems
Observational drawings of daffodils donated by a local garden centre
‘Tie dye’ art activities using felt tips, a plastic bag and wet paper
Guided internet exploration to find out about VE Day
‘Spreading joy from your balcony’ with rainbows, painted pebble art and more
Constructing noisemakers and sharing a family ‘wild rumpus dance’
Translating a picturebook story into home language for your family
Writing an acrostic poem
Investigating paper boats
Creating sound effects
Making a den
And much more....!
To read The Coronavirus Pandemic is Re-shaping Education by Jenny Anderson at quartz.com click here
To discover other global education innovations during the current Covid-19 crisis click here
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