Why should children learn how to code?

Young boy enjoying coding

The benefits of learning to code are outlined here by Firetech Camp. Firetech Camp provide self-guided coding courses.       

Firetech logo

Guest post 

by Firetech Camp

Coding can be started at a young age and provides many benefits outlined below, including improving resilience and problem solving.

Why should children learn how to code?

One of the many outcomes from 2020 is the extent to which our lives – personal, social, professional – are increasingly shaped by technology. Zoom calls bring us closer together; apps connect us to the goods and services we need; and, amidst economic fallout from the pandemic, jobs in technology are second only to those in healthcare in their growth since the summer.

It has never been more important for young people to develop the tech skills they need to succeed at school and in future careers. Coding is often described as one of the most important skills of the future, and that children should learn from an early age to increase their chance of success. 

Bill Gates once said, “coding is not difficult ”. 

While this is easy for the founder of Microsoft to claim, there has never been a better time to learn – and there are plenty of entry routes for beginners. So, what are the benefits of children learning to code?

boy learning how to code
Learning to code can start at a young age.

Coding teaches you how to think

Coding is part of the discipline of Computer Science which itself is defined by the term ‘Computational Thinking’. In his seminal book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, Seymour Papert – the renowned mathematician, computer scientist and educator – wrote that computational thinking is a ‘mode of thought’. Papert claimed coding can help to transform the way “intelligence is developed” as it is “step-by-step, literal, mechanical” and a very useful analytical skill.

All of us already think ‘computationally’ when we take any problem and formulate it into something that can be solved. Computational thinking can be applied to juggling a family’s schedule, so everyone gets where they need to go and on time! Know that one well?

Before writing any code, computational thinking requires a decomposing of the ‘problem’, recognising the patterns within it and applying abstraction. Young people become better problem solvers by learning to be analytical, to break down complex activity into bite-sized chunks, and to be precise. Coding is an execution of computational thinking.

Coding encourages problem solving

Too often, we give children answers to remember, rather than problems to solve.” – Roger Lewin, Observing the Brain Through a Cat’s Eyes, 1974.

Understanding computers and learning the basics of coding helps children to develop an appreciation of how things work, and a logical approach to problem solving.

When writing code, there is rarely an answer to remember. Instead, learning to code involves developing a thorough understanding of subjects through curiosity, investigation, and experimentation. Much like the way that programmers ‘debug’ code to find errors, humans can learn complex things through breaking them down into simpler, smaller tasks.

Coding promotes creative thinking

Coding offers children a medium to express their creativity and design something that is entirely their own, that is directly relevant to the world they inhabit. Coding languages like Scratch make it easier than ever to learn how coding works; and, as it is easy for children to pick up, confidence comes easily.


While exploring with code, young people have the chance to put their skills into practice by working on their own projects – whether it is designing a video game, creating a world in virtual reality, or designing a computer vision algorithm using AI! Across the world this year, we have seen young people design AI models that try to detect COVID-19 patients, created virtual worlds to discover extinct wildlife, and built their own YouTube cooking channels to inspire others. It is extraordinary what young people can create with code!

Coding is cool!

Coding builds soft skills like resilience

Trial and error is fundamental to coding: a programmer writes code, runs the code, and debugs the errors. As such, this process helps children become used to failure and iterative improvement as a means of learning, which in itself helps them develop resilience.

Papert discusses how traditional educational settings often discourage this skill of ‘debugging’ how something works by focusing on whether an answer is either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. He believes that, when faced with a ‘bug’, the right question for students to ask is ‘How can we fix it?’ – thus promotes the value of discovery and inquisitiveness.

This problem-solving approach helps them learn how to think critically and bounce back from failure.

Coding gives young people a thrill

I am interested in why young people undertake some activities obsessively in some cases, and reluctantly in others. Children may spend hours on their favourite hobbies – mastering a video game, improving their technique at tennis, or learning to play a musical instrument. However, we rarely see this level of obsession with schoolwork.

Young boy enjoying coding
Learning coding provides a thrill and builds resilience.

So, what is at play here? The first difference is motivation: with hobbies, motivation is often intrinsic (self-generated) rather than extrinsic (imposed by, for example, your classroom teacher). Intrinsic motivation flourishes through a combination of: conscious choice; reward systems to develop self-esteem, that set goals, share feedback and recognise progress; personalisation, where students focus attention on the subjects they’re most interested in; scaffolded problem-solving, where challenges are broken down into achievable stages; and real-world application, to help contextualise how what they learn is relevant to their lives. Each of these elements help to foster students’ curiosity.

Likewise, each is a characteristic of learning how to code.

Coding gives young people access to the adult world

A chief goal of school-age education is to help prepare a child for adulthood. The need to learn does not end with school; rather, education is an ongoing, lifelong process. Adults learn in a very different way to school. Adult learning typically occurs as and when a challenge presents itself – ‘how do I solve a problem at work?’ ‘How can I fix something at home?’ ‘How can I develop my mindset to deal with daily pressures?’ – and most through self-study, rather than relying on a teacher.

Find the right course for you

Fire Tech’s self-guided courses are available on all your favourite topics, from artificial intelligence and Python, to video game design and augmented and virtual reality.

For a short time only, get £25 off any Fire Tech courses over £100 with the code BH25. Build your own video game, brush up on your Python coding skills, perfect your digital photography skills, and dive deep into artificial intelligence. To find out more about Fire Tech’s self-guided courses, visit their website here or call their team on 020 8038 7862.

Note that Bright Heart Education is not affiliated with Fire Tech, but allowed Fire Tech to guest publish this blog as we agree that coding is a great skill for children to learn.


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‘Tricks and treats’ – a tutor’s perspective on anxiety

scary pumpkin

A Bright Heart tutor looks at we can do to address anxiety with some helpful tricks and treats!                            

Emily

Emily

Bright Heart tutor Emily looks at some coping tools to help when suffering with anxiety

'Tricks and treats' - a tutor's perspective on anxiety

Anxiety. It’s a term we’re all familiar with. In recent years, mental health has (thankfully) become a more ‘approachable’ subject as people try their best to empathise and understand their peers and loved ones.

Now, in the world of Covid-19, many of us experience anxiety on a day-to-day basis – some for the first time, others having their symptoms aggravated by the current climate. As it plays tricks on our minds, it becomes more vital to address this anxiety within ourselves – as well as opening the conversation with children and young people.

anxiety
Conversations about anxiety are much needed

My background

I’ve been working with children and young people for 10 years, engaging with them, encouraging their passions and enjoying their energy. Their energy has always been utterly contagious and incredibly therapeutic.

Over the last few months, I’ve continued working with clients – though mostly online – and I’ve noticed a significant change in their demeanour, engagement and energy. Everyone deals with stresses and anxieties in different way as it manifests differently in each individual. However, I have noticed that one symptom that nearly every single student has is fatigue. Initially I was really concerned, until I realised, that nearly every single person that I have met with and spoken with is experiencing the same. We’re exhausted. This is completely understandable due to the ‘fight or flight’ human instinct that has been ignited in all of us – our bodies are knackered as we try to fight an invisible enemy, fiercely protecting one another and our loved ones.

As someone born and raised in Northern Ireland, my automatic coping mechanism to anxiety is to inject humour into whatever I can. This dry (and often dark) sense of humour relieves my stress but saying that, injecting humour into Covid-19 has been a nearly impossible task – though I often try. I’ve sat here with my thoughts, trying to think of ‘wee’ tricks to treat ourselves to help us cope with our anxiety. I’ll run through a few – and I hope they’re of benefit to you! (accidental rhyme but I ‘dig it’)

scary pumpkin
Some helpful tricks to treat yourself are considered

1. Exercise

The first trick (and I would 100% call it a trick) is exercise. The one we all dread to read on every helpful website or book that we’ve read. Exercise has been scientifically proven to help with anxiety symptoms. It’s funny that I’ve read this a million times, yet I still need at least 30 minutes of ‘psyching myself up’ on the sofa to actually take that step to, get up and start exercising. Thankfully, children don’t tend to need much encouragement to go run amuck! It’s good for them – and you (but I won’t judge if you’d rather sit down with a cuppa!).

2. Nature

Nature is one of the best remedies of all time, an inexpensive treat for sure! For most of us, just visualising nature brings us a sense of calm and quiet – it encourages near instant relaxation. Walk in nature when you can, better yet – go and stomp in those puddles, play in the mud and run around until you can’t feel your legs! Especially at this time of year, with the gorgeous autumn leaves decorating the ground – it’s difficult not to want to be surrounded by natural beauty. 

Further to this, it has been proven that visiting ‘a body of water’ – a lake, a river or the sea – is soothing to the soul, that and the smell of and/or contact with soil releases serotonin! It is an ancient belief that water replenishes your energy and cleanses your mind. I don’t know about you – but the moment I sit by the lake in Wimbledon Park, I feel like I can breathe again. It’s a calming activity for you and I guarantee, the children will LOVE feeding the ducks or swans (though please don’t use bread, try oats, sunflower seeds or leftover lettuce!).

nature scene
Nature is one of the best remedies

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ‘trick’ to life. Every session I take some time to engage my students with mindfulness. These activities are often based in grounding techniques that aid with concentration. They will also help someone feel more present, which is proven to alleviate and reduce anxiety symptoms. Try your best to keep your home as your sanctuary – for your sanity and also for the rest of your family! It is challenging, Covid-19 has consumed our conversations alongside our mental and emotional energy. Undoubtedly, it is important to discuss it – it is after all a GLOBAL pandemic – but our whole lives don’t need to be consumed. 

Interestingly, two weeks ago, I set homework for all my students – they needed to find an activity that relaxed them that didn’t involve technology. This led to some interesting conversations and discoveries. Obviously, technology is great, especially now as we use it to connect with people – it means children can stay in touch with their friends, play games and make conversation. However, it’s important to know that we can still live without it! When my students returned, I found it fascinating how most of them felt like music and the arts relaxed them. Colouring became a stand-out in our conversations. Colouring books are easy to find locally and online – and an added bonus is that they now have colouring books for adults, so you will be able to join in!

4. Music

Another major trick (and treat!) is music. Full disclosure – I’m incredibly biased when it comes to music. As a professional musician, music is my life – and quite honestly, my sanity! I frequently use it to engage my students e.g. writing songs to revise topics. 

Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, stated that ‘music is food for the soul’. Music has been proven to reduce stress in children and young people. Encouraging children and young people’s engagement should certainly help with anxiety symptoms – whether it is playing, singing or listening. I always lived by the motto that a home full of music is a home full of love. Of course – whenever I go home to N.I., I’m faced with Taylor Swift blasting from speakers upstairs, Shania Twain in the kitchen and some wonderful Rolling Stones echoing from the study. It’s chaotic – but it’s a nice reminder that there is energy at home. When music plays – the worries of the world melt away.

Relaxing music
'Music is food for the soul'

5. Self care

It is here that I reach my final ‘trick’, arguably the most important, self-care. When discussing self-care, people often look to the analogy of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. This, of course, is all well to remember as you watch the safety instruction on the plane before you jet off – it is an entirely different thing to remember all day, every day.

Children pick up on EVERYTHING – as I’m sure you’re all aware. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, your child will pick up on your energy. This is not said to add any more stress – rather it is a remind to care and look after yourself. Light some candles, run a bath, listen to some smooth jazz – whatever helps you relax and decompress after a long day. If you need reminding, just think of the wonderful quote (adapted) from RuPaul, ‘If you can’t love yourself, how can you love somebody else?’

Keep up the great work!

I hope some of these tricks and treats are beneficial to you. Heck – even just reading this will be a break (hopefully a nice one) from your day. The key thing to remember is that you are trying your best. Even on the days where you don’t feel like you are, you are. You cannot do better than your best! As I say to every student, after every session – Keep up the great work!

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If this article rings true for you, then please get in touch and let us know how best we can help.


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Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective​

nasen Connect September 2020

A director discusses tutoring under lockdown in an article published in nasen Connect magazine Sep 20.               

John Salmon director

John Salmon

Director John Salmon, M. Ed,  examines how tutoring evolved during lockdown and how tutees responded.

nasen Connect magazine (Sep 20)

John Salmon, director at Bright Heart Education, reflects on how support for tutees had to be adapted during lockdown and how tutees responded to a new way of working. This article was published in the nasen Connect September 2020 edition.

nasen Connect September 2020
nasen Connect is distributed to schools, SENCos and parents across England

Challenges of remote learning: a tutoring agency’s perspective

Unlike schools, tutoring agencies arguably experience closer contact with the everyday reality of many households as they directly partake in both the academic and emotional vicissitudes of families. Our first-hand knowledge has shown that adapting to online schooling has been an onerous challenge for families (as well as schools), but at the same time it has offered a more personalised learning opportunity for many
students, especially those with SEN.

As a tutoring agency that supports many students with SEN, we have naturally been concerned about the emotional and academic impact of lockdown. Lately, we have received a number of calls for help from concerned parents, which shared a common pattern: their child had lost interest in writing, reading and numeracy and no longer tried to fulfil school expectations. Parents reported unattainable assignments
amidst mounting levels of frustration, anxiety and disengagement. The lack of structure left children fending for themselves, with minimal assistance, save for that provided by their parents – who cannot be expected to play the role of trained teachers. Traditionally, our agency had focused on in-person tuition, so we had to transition to online tutoring to adapt to the lockdown.

For some, the physical presence of a facilitator was necessary, but many tutees with SEN embraced online sessions and realised that, with the right guidance and nurturing support, much could be gained. Far from being emotionally affected by the lack of traditional schooling, many felt perfectly at home (no pun intended) with the new situation, as social interaction at school was often a cause of anxiety.

Case study

One such case was a Year 7 tutee with ADHD, who was not affected by feelings of isolation, but by lack of motivation when faced with the sudden prospect of doing all his work without the solid support system provided by school. Worse still, he was being asked to complete assignments using the very electronic devices that distracted him in the first place. Overstimulation led to distraction, which in turn led to frustration and eventually refusal to work.

Our adaptation to remote learning with him proved to be fruitful. First and foremost, as a student with ADHD he was less prone to distractions at home, as opposed to the myriad of stimuli in a school setting. Restricted internet access was necessary, but technology allowed for better differentiation, by addressing individual learning events; one specific topic could be delivered in multiple ways and be adapted to his unique style. Thus, a multimedia history session could include videos, downloadable materials, audio and interactive games. He was also able to work at his own pace, being free to view lessons and materials at his convenience, allowing for maximum flexibility. Since deadlines were relaxed, he had extra time to complete tasks. Additionally, his workspace was adapted to suit his preferences, creating an environment conducive to learning. 

He liked technology because he found it more impersonal and nonthreatening. There were no peers there to judge him, no teachers there to pressure him with impending deadlines. He dreaded the idea of completing mammoth projects under severe time constraints, but smaller chunks no longer seemed insurmountable. His innate curiosity for technology developed into a learning opportunity, as he experimented with the different features in PowerPoint, Word or Google Drive, mastering the subject matter in the process. He learned to be less dependent on text-based learning when using audio books and videos online and felt at ease with no one watching over his shoulder. 

A way forward

This experience has taught us that the value of direct support from well-qualified teachers is irreplaceable. But we also know that online learning is here to stay, not only for children who are home schooled full time, but also as an integral part of school life.

The technology industry takes giant leaps much faster than most industries, to the point where it permeates all human activity, including education. Lockdown prompted an impromptu trial for teachers, tutors, parents and students and learning from this can surely guide us when moving forward, but not by simply replicating lessons in the shape of online lessons, with ensuing workloads that must be completed by students autonomously. When managed appropriately and combined with optimal support in the hands of capable, well-trained instructors, applying technology in a student-centred learning environment can bring forth a wealth of benefits, including for those with SEN, as it provides the flexibility and sense of ownership that can be lacking in traditional classrooms. However, a balance must be struck between digital and screen-free activities and independent and teacher led activities.

With the right support, combining pedagogical and technological expertise, students with SEN can meet learning targets in nonthreatening, customised environments.

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If this article rings true for you, then please get in touch and let us know how best we can help.


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Facebook Live Q & A about homeschooling during lockdown

FB Live with John Salmon, Bright Heart director

Bright Heart director John Salmon, M.Ed., answers pertinent questions live on Facebook about homeschooling during lockdown.        

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

In a live Q & A, John Salmon, M.Ed, addressed parent’s typical homeschooling concerns due to lockdown.

Facebook Live Q & A about homeschooling during lockdown

We recently held a Facebook Live Q & A to address parent’s questions about homeschooling during lockdown.  This was hosted by Jacqui Mackway-Wilson, our social media manager, with questions answered by Bright Heart director and former headteacher John Salmon, M.Ed.

Facebook Live streaming

Key questions covered

Facebook Live Q & A about homeschooling during lockdown
Click on the picture to watch the Q & A about homeschooling.

What has been your experience of education during lockdown?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly with any questions. You can read about the experiences of a Bright Heart student, parent and tutor in a recent blog here.

We have written a series of blogs about education during lockdown which you may find useful: Homeschooling tips for parents during Coronavirus lockdownQuestions (FAQs) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown and Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor

Bright Heart will continue to offer guidance and support during this challenging period.


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Personal stories of homeschooling and online tutoring during lockdown

Online teaching during lockdown

Unique educational perspectives are shared from a student, parent and tutor during the current lockdown.            

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

In this next instalment we look at some of the personal experiences of homeschooling from those affected by lockdown.

Personal stories about homeschooling and online tutoring during lockdown

In light of these challenging circumstances, we reached out to the Bright Heart community for their perspectives on homeschooling and online tutoring during lockdown. Thank you for all your insightful comments and questions.

Special thanks to Tom (student), Steven (parent) and Angela (tutor) for sharing their experiences with us and agreeing to have them published.

Tom (student, aged 10)

Let’s start with one of our most enthusiastic and brilliant young minds, Tom. He has fully embraced online tutoring during the last month and a half.  It has been such a pleasure to see how much Tom has progressed during the last year. It has been especially rewarding to know that he has been able to keep the good work up during lockdown, despite all the added challenges.

I have been having lessons with John for about a year now.  I have a lot of ideas, but sometimes I have trouble organising them. John really helps me with planning my writing and putting it down on paper. I was a bit nervous about having a tutor at the beginning, but I have not regretted it since, as it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience! 

The transition from face to face sessions to online has been very smooth and I feel like I am learning just as much as before. I still look forward to every session and it is one of the highlights of my week. I would definitely recommend Bright Heart Tutors.

Online teaching during lockdown
Online learning has been an enjoyable experience for some students during lockdown

Steven (parent of a Y7 boy)

One of our Bright Heart parents, Steven, wrote to us to share some of his family’s experiences with homeschooling. In his detailed account, he talks about the inadequate use of technology by the school and the anxiety that the mounting workloads and lack of in-person instruction has caused his son during lockdown. It is worth noting that teachers also feel overwhelmed and unprepared these days, despite having technological tools at their disposal, as no one could foresee the scale and complexities of the current situation. Steven decided to use our online tutoring service to help his son overcome his anxiety and guide him with his work on a daily basis.

My son’s school has decided to use Microsoft Teams as its remote learning platform. There were a few technical issues, which are understandable, but I’m not impressed with the way the school has organised these lessons, as the school has decided to host lessons to all or nearly all students at once per subject.

My child is in year 7, so we’re talking multiple classes in the same year group, or basically 100+ children per subject. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue in older year groups such as GCSE or A Levels since the myriad subject choices students could choose at this level means that each subject naturally would contain less children, but this presents a problem for younger ones. To keep things in some semblance of order, children are asked to mute their audio and keep their video off. Their only outlet for questions is via the text chat function. This results in either too many questions at once, overwhelming the teacher’s ability to teach and answer them at the same time, or where the teacher is presenting and not looking at the chat completely, a torrent of irrelevant chat and GIFs; hardly surprising since the children are only 12 years old and there’s potentially 100 of them in the same lesson.

In terms of presentation, a Maths lesson I observed had the teacher talking and demonstrating by using a camera pointed down at a desk whiteboard. This hints at teachers not being provided with the right equipment. A tablet computer or separate tablet device (with or without screen) is what they should be using. Perhaps this is part of the teething issues and will be resolved at a later date as the school gains more experience from this approach to learning.

Recently I also saw a pre-recorded lesson. It looked more professional, as the teacher had clearly taken the time to create the presentation deck and voice over during the lesson. However, this is not ideal as it wasn’t live.

The biggest issues I see with the above approach that need to be considered and rectified by the school are:

My child’s school remote learning implementation is not the greatest. Large class sizes, almost no ability for interaction or questions, no record of the class post lesson, results in an inferior learning experience. I think the school should lower class sizes by having more teachers present, thus allowing more interaction. It should make recordings available to the students afterward, provide more training and better equipment to teachers.  

Hopefully as the school gains experience and more teachers become available to teach, some of these issues will start to diminish or even disappear. Hopefully this happens sooner rather than later. But from my observation, remote learning as implemented by my child’s school is little better than my child teaching himself. Only the fact that the classes are at set times and timetabled give any sort of advantage to this approach.

My son has learning difficulties and he was feeling overwhelmed and anxious with the technical issues, impossible workloads and lack of communication with his teachers.  He is in constant need of support and encouragement and I therefore sought the help of Bright Heart to increase the number of tutoring sessions through their online platform. Having that 1:1 support proved to be invaluable for my son, who is now successfully coping with all the challenges which seemed insurmountable to him not too long ago.”    

Online tutoring
Learning online has presented unique challenges for students, teachers, parents and tutors during lockdown

Angela (Bright Heart tutor)

Finally, one of our tutors, Angela, who made the transition from in-person to online tutoring relates her experience below, which has been educational for both her and her students.

Working as an online tutor during lockdown has generally been very positive. 

I am currently 9 months pregnant so it has been a great way to continue supporting the students while not having to navigate the tube at rush hour! Overall, it has been remarkable to see how some of the children have adapted to and have enjoyed using the technology. I have seen them engage in novel ways with the material and some have demonstrated more agency in their learning. Having a screen in front of them, at a set time has also, somewhat surprisingly, been a good medium for those students who struggle to focus. 

My students have benefitted from the consistency of maintaining weekly tuition and it has definitely given them confidence in using new skills. It has also brought about new skills for me, for example, forcing me to be more concise in my instruction and explanation. Overall, I believe that going forward, it is an excellent option for students and tutors alike.”

What has been your experience of education during lockdown?

We would love to hear about it on our Facebook page, or feel free to get in touch directly to see how we can help. 

We have written a series of blogs about education during lockdown which you may find useful: Homeschooling tips for parents during Coronavirus lockdownQuestions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown and Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor.

We also held a Facebook Live Q & A where we answered some common questions from parents at this time.

Bright Heart will continue to offer guidance and support during this challenging period.


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Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor

student learning online with tutor

In part 3 of our lockdown blog series, one of our directors discusses online tutoring and provides some tips.                

John Salmon director

In part 3, I provide some details on online tuition and provide tips for using an online tutor

Pros and cons of online tutoring and tips for parents using an online tutor

In this third blog in a 3-part series to help parents during lockdown, I discuss online tutoring. Online tuition has experienced a massive surge in popularity due to lockdown.

With the growth of technology and the desire for education in the home, online tutoring had already been experiencing increasing adoption before coronavirus (COVID-19).     

Online tutoring platforms have been improving, as they allow for interactive teaching and learning, as well as effective evaluation, in real time. Online tutoring also presents opportunities for students who live in areas that are hard to access, where there are not many tutors. For tutors, online tutoring is much more efficient than navigating the city’s public transport or driving at rush hour.

While in-person tuition is often the preferred option for parents, there are some students who find in-person social interaction awkward and who may feel more comfortable online. There are also many students who enjoy technology and find this method of learning exciting. However, for some students with special educational needs (SEN) who require kinaesthetic learning, meeting their needs online will not be as attainable. Building rapport, which is an important part of tutoring, is a bit more challenging online. Some parents are also happier once they’ve met the tutor in person before online lessons commence.

Let’s consider some of the pros and cons of online tutoring and some general tips for parents.

student learning online with tutor
Online tuition has certain strengths and weaknesses

What are some advantages of online tutoring?

What are some disadvantages of online tutoring?

Parents should take precautions to make sure they are happy with the online tutor for their child.

6 tips for parents using a private online tutor

  1. Use an agency that follows strict protocols when screening and interviewing tutors and conducting background checks (Enhanced DBS) and reference checks. Although the tutor is not physically present in the home, using a carefully vetted tutor that the agency knows personally is very important.
  1. Check that the tutoring agency or tutor is using a suitable platform for tuition. This would be one that allows video, audio, file sharing and online whiteboard options. The latter is important when evaluating written content in real time. The ability to share pictures related to the topic (e.g. volcanoes for Geography) is also helpful to maintain interest.
  1. Preferably meet them in person beforehand; however, if this is not possible, set up an online mini interview before the lesson to get a sense of their approach, personality and experience.
  1. Prior to the first lesson, allow some time to set up the technology and to gain some familiarity with it. Children are naturals with technology, but some applications are more intuitive than others.
  1. Make sure the topic is chosen prior to the lesson. Extra preparation is needed for online tuition and this will be much appreciated by the tutor.
  1. Carefully review the first online lesson to make sure that you are comfortable with the tutor and that your child and the tutor have established the necessary rapport. A good tutoring agency will also provide a lesson report following the session and some agencies, such as Bright Heart, even offer a free trial to make sure you are completely satisfied before continuing.   
Gardening during lockdown has shown a large increase in popularity

What can we do to help you during lockdown?

This lockdown period will be a challenge for everyone. But with every challenge there is an opportunity – with a little thought and planning this period can be productive and a time of family connection and reflection. We hope that you keep healthy with your family and make the most of the next months. We also hope you have found this 3-part blog series helpful – see Part 1 and Part 2.

My fellow Bright Heart directors and I are here to help at this difficult time. Please don’t hesitate to contact us. Whether it is simply to ask a question about the blog series or to discuss how one of our experienced, caring tutors could be the right choice to help your child, we are always happy to hear from parents.

Please share our blogs with other parents if you think they could be helpful. We would also love you to share your own experiences and tips with us through our Facebook page.


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Homeschooling tips for parents during Coronavirus lockdown

mother homeschooling her daughter

One of our directors, an experienced former head teacher, provides some homeschooling tips to help families during lockdown.                 

John Salmon director

In part 1 of this blog series I provide some helpful tips for parents to support their children learning at home

Homeschooling tips for parents during Coronavirus lockdown

Boris Johnson made a bombshell announcement in response to increasing cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) by placing the UK in lockdown on 23 March.

This followed the government’s earlier decision to close schools to most students and cancel GCSEs and A level exams. This has understandably created significant uncertainty for parents and children alike. Children are feeling pressure due to the uncertainty and parents are trying their best to help with all the schoolwork, while also trying to devise fun activities and still have time for their own working requirements.

With schools having been due to resume this week after Easter, we appreciate that many parents could do with some helpful tips and advice at this difficult time. As an experienced teacher, former head teacher, tutor and father, I have used my significant expertise to put together a 3-part blog series to help.

In this first blog, I provide tips and suggested activities and strategies for parents to support their children learning at home. I also provide a list of top resources (both academic and non-academic) that can be used during these difficult times.

In part 2, I attempt to answer some frequently asked questions about the consequences of the lockdown on education in the UK and explain how Bright Heart Education is helping in the circumstances.

In part 3, I outline the benefits of using online tuition to support students at this difficult time.

7 homeschooling tips for parents during lockdown

While parents cannot be expected to substitute trained teachers, they can offer support to their children learning at home by following some tips below. Parents should be careful not to put all the emphasis on academics.  As a matter of fact, the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) has pointed out that this is a good opportunity to spend quality time with your children: “Don’t put too much pressure on doing academic work.  Parents and carers aren’t teachers, and it is important to also spend time building relationships, enjoying shared activities and reassuring children.”

1. Plan your day

While providing extra attention for your children at home can be challenging, a little planning will go a long way. Each night, ensure your child has a plan for the following day. This should involve aiming to get up at roughly the same time every day, eating well, exercising and getting some much-needed fresh air. Creating a routine that is exactly like the one at school would be impractical, but it is possible to follow a similar structure, in the sense that you have one subject followed by another, with breaks in between.  This may be done through work provided by the school, your own supervision or by using a private tutor for online lessons (preferably) or face-to-face lessons (where possible) for students with special learning needs who are unable to concentrate online.   

At the same time, despite the benefits of following a daily routine, child psychologists warn that parents should still leave some room for flexibility to avoid pursuing an overly controlled environment. This may lead to more stress and anxiety in children. It is therefore crucial to maintain a healthy balance, which can be achieved through the understanding of your child’s wants and needs. 

2. Maintain education

Maintaining learning during this period is important to keep concepts fresh and create a sense of satisfaction for children. This will also help their confidence when adjusting to the next year of education once they go back to school. A tutor can aid with any online schoolwork set by teachers and help bring it to life (virtual classrooms are unlikely to offer much 2-way interaction). Maintaining engagement is important and is a challenge when homeschooling.  For parents, online tutoring sessions can also be a period of time when their children are being kept busy and not seeking continuous entertainment.

Creating a dedicated workspace can help to avoid distractions and enhance children’s concentration.

mother homeschooling her daughter
A dedicated space for working in the home is best.

3. Keep them entertained

Aside from academics, it is important not to underestimate the power of play.  Infusing children’s life with play not only helps them to relax, but also ensures their well-being and healthy development. Research has highlighted its numerous benefits. These include increasing self-confidence associated with acquiring new skills, improving or maintaining physical and mental health, and stimulating imagination and creativity. Click on the link below to read about all benefits of child’s play:

-> Why play is important

Additionally, keeping your family entertained will help to keep everyone happy and allow parents the chance to focus on some of their own needs – whether work or some downtime.

For more ideas on how to keep your children entertained, please have a look at our blog 9 Nifty Activities for Children during Lockdown.

Moreover, engaging in games as an entire family is a perfect way to create fun, long-lasting memories and to promote family bonding. See the link below to discover some great board games to try:

-> The top ten board games of all time

Monopoly can entertain the family for hours and help keep children's Maths sharp!

4. Keep them active

Although it is undeniable that having to stay at home has led to a significant reduction of our daily activity, it is essential to maintain physical health for children and adults alike. According to Dr Sarahjane Belton, adults should aim to spend 30 minutes of “moderate to vigorous exercises” on a daily basis, whereas children need twice that time. In order to stay healthy and at the same time help your children expel their accumulated energy, use the allowed one form of exercise a day to go outside for a walk, jog or other type of physical activity, whilst still adhering to the social distancing measures. 

To find out more about how to keep children active during lockdown, read the article written by Dr Belton below: 

–> How to keep yourself and your kids active during the lockdown

Alternatively, stay active even indoors by dancing, skipping, doing exercises found on YouTube or other resources like GoNoodle (designed specifically for children), or stretching your muscles in a good old classic game of Twister. 

A daily walk in Nature does much to calm the mind and body.

5. Help them socialise

Whilst the lockdown presents a wonderful opportunity to strengthen family ties, it is paramount for children’s social development that they remain in touch with their peers. Try to organise a video call with your child’s friends or classmates by making use of numerous available platforms, such as Skype, Zoom, Houseparty, WhatsApp of Google Hangouts. However, even though it is likely that children and teenagers might spend increasingly more time using technology, certain rules regarding their screen time should nevertheless be applied. 

6. Make use of free resources on the internet to help

There is no shortage of resources available online. In fact, there are so many resources available that it can be hard to know where to start. To help parents, we have picked our own top 10 list of online resources (see further below). They will assist you in keeping your children engaged whilst they learn, including a couple of resources outlining creative and entertaining non-academic activities at the end of the list. 

7. Don’t be afraid to seek expert advice when you need it

Homeschooling your children is not easy. Even experienced qualified teachers find it difficult to homeschool their own children. So don’t be afraid to ask for help.

For further insight into homeschooling, visit the biggest organisation of its kind in England, Education Otherwise.

Find more strategies and tips from the British Psychological Society below:

-> Coronavirus and UK schools closures:  support and advice for schools and parents/carers 

Alternatively, please get in touch with me or one of Bright Heart’s other directors – whether you are looking for a homeschooling tutor or just need some friendly advice, we are more than happy to help.

Top 10 online resources for children learning at home

Twinkl teaching resources
Gojimo app for KS3 11+ 13+ GCSE A Levels
  1. BBC Bitesize started providing daily lessons for children of all ages on April 20.  They also have a dedicated TV channel full of learning content, podcasts and educational videos.
  1. Seneca is a wonderful website for KS2, KS3, GCSE and A levels. 
  1. Gojimo is a mobile app for revision of GCSEs, A levels, IB, iGCSEs, Common Entrance and several international qualifications. 
  1. The National Literacy Trust provides an online zone for parents who are looking for a variety of activities for their children during school closures.
  1. Khan Academy is a free resource for parents, as well as young and older students, that offers free lessons in a wide range of subjects. Although it is US-based, there is plenty of content that overlaps with UK education.
  1. Twinkl offers thousands of worksheets and activities in Maths, English and Science to teachers, parents, and learners.
  1. Coolmath4kids.com is a great way to keep education entertaining. The website features lessons, quizzes and numerous games to teach children basic Maths.
  1. Hamilton Trust is a UK charity that provides an array of planning and learning resources in English, Maths, and Science for children up to Year 6.
  1. This article highlights 50 creative ideas to have fun with your children and make sure that they will never get bored during the lockdown.
  1. Another helpful article with 59 activities to do at the home to keep children entertained.

For even more help, the Department for Education has a wealth of online resources for home education.

Please see our Part 2 of this blog series: Questions (FAQ) about learning, schools and exams during lockdown where we provide answers to common queries.

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9 nifty activities to survive lockdown with your children

fun coloured window with hearts

It can be tricky to keep children entertained and focus on one’s own work. Here are some fun activities! 

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

Need inspiration to keep your children entertained during lockdown? Here’s a roundup of 9 fun & easy activities.

9 nifty activities to survive lockdown with your children

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an almost global lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. Schools are largely closed and many of us are working from home. This means that we’re spending a lot of time with our partners and/or children. It can be tricky to keep children entertained and focus on one’s own work. It’s easy to fall into the trap of letting children watch TV or scroll online for hours on end, but the little ones in particular are bound to become restless as the days go by.

Below are some fun activities you can do with your younger children (or allow your older children to do themselves) during lockdown:

Lockdown Idea #1

Let your children paint numbers 1-1 on ordinary garden stones (or you can use prepared coloured cards).  Hide the numbers 1 to 10…around the garden or around the house and let them play Number Fun Hide ‘n Seek! (You can give younger children clues as to where to look that correspond to each number, for example:  “1 is hidden in or near an appliance that we have one of (e.g. the fridge) 2 is hidden in a room with two beds in it…” etc. ). This will also be a good practice for an Easter egg hunt for Sunday the 12th of April.

Lockdown Idea #2

This will keep the kids calm for a little while – invite them to read or listen to an audio book in an easy, home-made under table hammock using blankets or sheets knotted above a sturdy tabletop as shown above.

Lockdown Idea #3

Have a Lockdown Disco one evening – print tickets and invite your family to have some fun while you play DJ. Suggest each member of the family makes a half-hour playlist, dim the lights and get your groove on! Or try online dance classes and learn a routine.

Lockdown Idea #4

Take virtual tours

The museums and art galleries may be closed but if your teenager wants to expand their horizons, there are now virtual tours of thousands of the world’s most important museums, including the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Guggenheim in New York. The tours are so good it’s like you are actually wandering through the corridors and you can zoom in to view any masterpieces you fancy. Look up the museums’ websites for more details. 

One such example is the National Videogame Museum. Your child can create a Pixel Art character or design their own arcade cabinet with these fun activities to play at home: https://www.thenvm.org/nvm-at-home

Lockdown Idea #5

fun coloured window with hearts

Order tissue paper from Amazon (or simply use any coloured paper you have on hand) and let your children cut these rainbow hearts out by hand. So worth it for adding a splash of brightness to windows and fun to make too!

Lockdown Idea #6

Grow a windowsill garden

Just because they are cooped up inside doesn’t mean children can’t keep learning about the natural world. Inspire a love of nature by helping them grow some easy flowers and veg. To get fast results, order cornflower or pot marigold seeds online, which germinate in as little as two weeks.

Alternatively, help them grow their own salad veg by planting quick-sprouting radishes or cress. A fruit carton, cut in half, with holes in the bottom or even an old welly boot will do the trick if you don’t have any pots. 

Lockdown Idea #7

The Animal Name Game exercises both body and mind. Each player should think of an animal and tell the others a fact about it.

The other players must try and guess the animal, with a maximum of three facts per person to guess.

Players should continue until the group has cycled through five animals each, taking inspiration from the outdoors where possible. For those in a flat, let the participant use Google animal 3D to search for the animal in Google and display it in augmented reality (AR) and let the others try and work out which animal they are looking at once they provide a fact.

Lockdown Idea #8

Paper Crafts are simple and easy to make and these Moving Fish provide extra entertainment value (let the kids put on a puppet show for you afterwards to extend this activity) – older children can also help younger siblings with this activity. Watch the How To video here: https://youtu.be/UmZgsnY8fMQ

Lockdown Idea #9

A fun activity in 5 minutes! All you need is a sock, plastic bottle and a bit of washing-up liquid with water to help while away hours engaged in sensory play in the fresh air or even blow bubbles out of your flat window. Credit to #TheDadLab

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Homeschooling your child with special educational needs: pros and cons

homeschooled boy

We outline some typical pros and cons to be aware of for parents considering homeschooling their child with SEN.

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

Considering homeschooling your child with Special Educational Needs (SEN)? We outline the potential advantages and disadvantages…

Homeschooling your child with special educational needs: pros and cons

homeschooled boy
Homeschooling your child presents some unique opportunities and challenges

For parents considering homeschooling their child with special educational needs (SEN), we outline some typical pros and cons to be aware of.

Note that if your child attends a special school which was arranged by your local authority, you’ll need the council’s permission to homeschool your child. You do not need the council’s permission if your child attends a mainstream school, even if they have an education, health and care (EHC) plan.

Potential Advantages

1. Personalised, flexible learning

Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to create a tailor-made education for your child; one that suits his or her unique learning needs.

2. One-to-one teaching is very effective

Your homeschooled child can make more progress with less teaching time when they are supported with one-to-one teaching; a school day’s worth of learning may take place within two hours of focused teaching. A tutor is an ideal way to incorporate this support. This also applies to online tutoring if this is an option you wish to explore with your tutor.

3. Fewer distractions in a home setting

With no noise or distraction from classmates, which can sometimes negatively impact on your child’s concentration and performance, a home setting provides the distinct advantage of a focused environment

4. Application of learning into everyday life

From cooking to paying the household bills, to budgeting, and dealing with challenges, a key strength of homeschool learning is the way that children can learn to apply what they are learning to real life. With this relevance, learning takes on a whole new meaning, going from simply absorbing different pieces of information to developing fundamental skills to survive successfully in the future.

5. Freedom from peer pressure and bullying

When teaching your child at home, you don’t have to be as concerned about the harmful effects of peer pressure or the devastating effects of bullying. Your child will be assured of a safe and secure environment in which to learn and focus on growing into a happy, confident individual.

6. More organised and/or structured socialisation

Since socialisation will have to be more organised and/or structured, a home-schooled child can meet people who share their interests and hobbies rather than merely their age, and have the opportunity to get involved with a range of extra-curricular activities.

Potential Disadvantages

1. Homeschooling is a significant time commitment

Any parent leading a homeschooling education for their child with SEN will likely have to make a significant time commitment, especially if their child’s needs are more complex. The parent(s) will need to carry out a myriad of tasks. Tasks can include organising and teaching lessons, making a timetable, preparing visits, resources and field trips, joining local homeschooling groups, and making plenty of arrangements with other homeschooled children and/or extra-curricular activities for socialisation.

2. The cost

While a home education will tend to be cheaper than paying fees at a private school, parents who opt to homeschool their children will incur additional costs compared to a state school education. Parents may need to hire private tutors to help, which can be expensive, depending on the amount of tutoring required. If a parent has to give up his or her job to become a homeschool teacher, there are also high costs in terms of lost earnings.

3. Lack of teaching diversity and specialised skills

A homeschooled child will not usually have opportunities to learn from such a diverse range of skilled backgrounds as are found in a school setting, with specialist teachers and advisors. This is especially true if a child has special educational needs and requires expert teaching and care.

4. Reduced socialisation opportunities

Whilst a parent may welcome the chance to better direct their child’s interaction with other children, homeschooled children will generally have less opportunity to socialise with their peers. This does require parent’s to be proactive in making suitable arrangements to keep their homeschooled child engaged with other children.

5. Less structured routine

Attending school provides a structured routine for children, with a set timetable and school hours. A drawback of homeschooling can be this loss of routine, depending on how the homeschooling is structured.

Potential advantages and disadvantages depend to a large extent on you and your child’s unique circumstances and how you envisage providing your child with a home education. Making use of a suitably qualified tutor to complement a parent’s homeschooling efforts can make a significant difference to a child’s educational journey.

An experienced tutor will not only support you as a parent and free up some of your time, but is also a worthwhile, cost-effective investment in supporting your child with special educational needs as they learn. With the right tutor, you can enjoy the benefits of homeschooling, with less of the drawbacks. Get in touch with us today for your obligation-free consultation.

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Working with students with autism

Private tutoring for special educational needs (SEN)

Autism is a spectrum condition. Here we look at some considerations when working with these students.                      

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

Being aware of certain traits of students with ASC is helpful for tutoring. Here we provide some general tutoring tips.

Working with students with autism

Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning that no two students are the same. However, there are some general tips for parents and tutors to be aware of when working with students with autism.

5 tips for working with students on the autism spectrum

1. Establish a routine and communicate any changes in advance

Ensuring that a child with autism is well prepared is important for parents and tutors. This includes explaining what to expect in a first tutoring session and what to do if an unexpected change occurs. For example, having insight into how the lesson will be structured so your child / student is fully informed is key. Meeting their tutor before formal lessons begin, through a no pressure trial / getting to know you session is very beneficial. Being prepared and knowing whom to expect can be calming for a student with autism. This is also a great way for the tutor to meet their student and get a sense of requirements and needs.

Planning and sticking to a routine is important and can be the difference between a successful or chaotic experience. If you are going to introduce a test or a new way of working, always mention this in advance. Any changes to tutoring schedules should also be communicated in good time.

Private tutoring for special educational needs (SEN)
Structure and routine is important to minimise anxiety for students with ASC

2. Communicate using clear and simple language

Students with autism spectrum condition (ASC) find different aspects of communication and language more challenging. Avoid using sarcasm and idioms as they may take you literally and misunderstand your meaning. Some students will be unable to listen to people speaking for lengthy periods. They will require visuals and gestures to support their understanding or appropriate pauses to allow for processing time. If you have a student that requires visuals, they will need them for all aspects of written and spoken language i.e. their timetable, labels on folders, instructions and lists.

Use your student or child’s name before you address them so they understand you are speaking to them. Do not assume a student has understood you. Ensure you ‘check in’ with that student periodically. Use phrases that require them to repeat back what they have to do or answer direct questions about the topic to check if they have understood it. Be sure to moderate the directness of questions so that they are not always setup with a binary outcome e.g. correct or incorrect. For some students, experiencing failure can evoke intensely negative emotions.

If the student is sensitive to eye contact, start this off gently and do not insist this is reciprocated. Once familiarity increases then look to increase eye contact. Eye contact can be particularly challenging for some students on the spectrum, so a lack of this contact should not be taken personally. However, one-to-one tuition sessions can be hugely advantageous to increasing this aspect of communication.

Puzzles, word searches and ticking off items from their to-do list can be incredibly encouraging, relaxing and soothing for the child.

Even small differences can be detrimental to their learning; so maintain a sense of calm, explore repetitive teachings and begin with engaging communication. You’ll typically find this approach more constructive for the student.

3. Avoid over-stimulation

Students with ASC can become over-stimulated by things that have little impact on students without ASC. This can become overwhelming and means they are unable to learn at the times you want them to. Flexibility from parents and tutors can be invaluable.

Giving the child time means they are not sensing any chaotic rushing. Think carefully about the environment you will be tutoring the child in and where the student will sit. Over stimulation can come from bright lights, traffic noise, a loud ticking clock, a dog barking, a chair made of a particular material or someone’s perfume or aftershave.

If your student can communicate effectively, ask them if where they are sitting works for them. If they are unable to tell you, speak to their parents for insight.

4. Be patient and understanding with social skills and behaviour

Some students with ASC may appear to engage in low-level disruptive behaviour. A student may be humming, tapping, rocking or flapping. This behaviour is called stimming and helps to reduce anxiety. It may be that a student engages in this behaviour in order to help them concentrate. A student may appear abrupt, to lack tact or seem rude when speaking. This is often unintentional and reflects a student’s inability to recognise ‘social norms’ when having a conversation or passing comment. Giving very clear and literal instructions and tasks to do when working together will make it easier.

Some parent intervention may be required; tutors are familiar with this and it can be beneficial for both parties.

5. Follow a person-centered approach

Every student with ASC is different and will face different challenges just like students without ASC. Try not to make assumptions about your students. Observe your student for signs of anxiety and support them in reducing that. Ask the student what works for them. Speak to their parents for insight into what will help them to learn.

Always remain calm and remember your student may not intentionally be being rude so do not take such behaviour personally. Use these opportunities to teach and reiterate conversation skills. No student can learn whilst their anxiety levels are high. Reduce anxiety before attempting to teach.

Receiving one-to-one tuition can be incredibly beneficial for children with autism. Learning solely at school can be tricky with so many children in a class demanding the teacher’s attention, so having this focused time can really help these students with their studies as well as social and emotional skills. For parents peace of mind, think carefully about who you are choosing as your child’s tutor. It is important that both your child and the tutor are able to engage and work together in each session. This is rewarding for both and can make the student (and tutor) feel at ease in subsequent sessions.

It is through parents and tutors working together that the child will get the stability and secure environment to be taught effectively.

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