Home schooling: A guide for Australian parents
While the NSW government twiddles its thumbs on school closures, many parents are already pulling their children out of schools to work from home in the interest of health and safety. Meanwhile, Australian teachers are working around the clock to make sure students and teachers have all the support they need if (or when) online learning becomes the norm.
When students return from the Easter holidays this year, it’s looking more, and more like Term 2 will be an entirely online experience for Australian students and teachers. Even though the sudden pivot to online is the most sensible choice, there’s no ignoring the fact that it creates new difficulties and hurdles for students, teachers, and parents to overcome.
We’ve spoken to a small group of Primary School teachers from Sydney about the most useful resources and websites parents, and teachers will benefit from when teaching and learning from a distance.
First, here are the must-haves for online learning setups.
It’s not just the kids that will be working from home. Parents lucky enough to do their day jobs in a work-from-home setting will also be gearing up their own home offices. Large families will be vying for time with the home computer, and in some cases, there’s going to be a need to add another.
Most laptops these days are going to be able to support word processing and video calls simultaneously without any real issue, so if you do need to invest in a second computer, we recommend opting for a cheap notebook or second-hand deal.
iPad or Android Tablet for couch-based learning
Most video conference services offer an iPad or Android app, so if you can’t spare the screen time on your home computer, you can always delegate your kids with the family tablet for online learning sessions. And don’t worry, it’s likely the little ones are more tech-literate than most of us. Some of them might even prefer working with a touchscreen keyboard.
Most laptops and tablets come with an in-built camera, but if your kids are using a dusty old laptop you pulled from storage, there are plenty of cheap webcams available these days.
However, it’s best to check what your school’s action plan is before going ahead and making a purchase; some schools might be opting for a 1-way video feed, rather than a typical conference setup.
Printer (and plenty of ink)
When was the last time you needed a printer at home? As we write this, we’re looking at a dusty Canon Pixma printer that hasn’t seen a drop of ink since University. In the incredibly rare case that we do need to print something, it’s typically handled by the office or library printer, and we’re assuming we’re not alone on that. But with those options out the window, parents are going to need to put in an order for some fresh ink (and maybe a new printer) to support their child’s learning needs fully.
There’s a massive selection of digital online learning resources, but there are still a lot of (free) activities that require a good old fashioned printout.
Most public schools only print in black and white, so you won’t be forking out the big bucks when your little one chews through cyan cartridges like they’re going out of fashion. And, as always, you don’t have to break the bank on a printer. For activity printouts, just about any will do.
Reliable internet connection
This one might seem like a no-brainer but video conferencing uses a fair bit of data and a fair bit of bandwidth. If you’re planning on working from home and having your kids participate in an online classroom, you might want to consider upgrading to a premium speed (NBN 100) plan with unlimited data.
Our friends at WhistleOut have put together an incredibly helpful guide on every telco’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the support packages on offer. We highly recommend giving it a read to see what discounts and bonuses you are eligible for.
In the meantime, here are some of the fastest NBN plans on the market if you need to upgrade.
Conferencing apps and video calls
Here is the new reality: online classrooms are going to need reliable video conferencing solutions that can handle fifteen to thirty students and one teacher, and Facebook Messenger and Skype aren’t going to cut the mustard. There are some real deal video conferencing apps out there that have the grit to handle the influx of students and teachers, but the decision of which will likely fall to the school.
Teachers and school staff will communicate the type of software used, but if you’re looking to do your research, here are a few popular video conferencing options for online learning.
- Google Hangouts
- Microsoft Teams
Screen recording and video capture
The conferencing apps above all offer screen recording. As teachers roll out online learning strategies, screen recording and video capture tools are going to play a vital part in keeping parents, teachers, and students up-to-date.
If there’s a scheduling conflict with students and parents working from home, students will be able to catch up on lessons via recorded video. Some teachers are going old-school and using a whiteboard to teach lessons; others are using PowerPoint slides and printable activities.
Online learning resources
The idea of resourcing for online learning will be daunting for Australian parents. Right now, teachers across Australia are meeting and preparing to make the transition as smooth as possible. Still, in the meantime, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the online learning resources Australian teachers trust and use.
We sat down for a chat with a group of NSW teachers and asked for their recommendations on the most valuable online learning resources for K to 12 students, here’s what they recommend.
- Free option: Yes
- Monthly subscription: Core: $8.33 | Extra: $10.50 | Ultimate: $14.96
- EAL/D resources: Yes
- EYLF resources: Yes
- Years: K-12
Twinkl.com.au is an Australian teacher-created website with a wide range of free and paid resources, with monthly subscription options. This trusted tool categorises its content by age bracket (e.g., 5 to 6 years old) and grade (e.g., Year 1). The lesson resources cater to the National Curriculum, and there’s a wide selection of subjects for primary and high-school students, including some helpful packages for PE, handwriting, and inclusive learning.
“Twinkl is great for free resources that tie directly into the Australian curriculum. It also covers Kindergarten through to Year 12.”
In response to COVID-19, the teachers at Twinkl have also mobilised to create a Home Learning Hub that has scheduled online lessons at various intervals of the typical school day. Kind of like broadcast television scheduling but for home learning.
- Free option: No
- Yearly subscription: Classic: $49.95 | Ultimate: $74.95
- EAL/D resources: No
- EYLF resources: Yes
- Years: K-3
- Mobile app: No
Topteacher.com.au is an Australian subscription-based resource with a focus on Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and K-3 students. The teachers we spoke to rated this one highly for its hands-on literacy and numeracy games and activities.
Top Teacher is more classroom-focused, offering fun classroom design ideas and templates, decor packs, and labelling resources. Still, it could be a useful resource for parents trying to replicate the classroom vibe in their own homes.
- Free option: Yes
- Yearly subscription: Basic: $79 | Essential: $99 | Plus $149
- School plan: $99 p/ teacher
- EAL/D resources: Yes
- EYLF resources: Yes
- Years: K-6
- Mobile app: Yes
Like Twinkl, Teach Starter has made short work of responding to COVID-19, with an up-to-date blog detailing the latest developments and support options for parents and teachers. Teach Starter is currently offering a free one-month trial of Teach Starter Plus ($149 p/year).
Teach Starter’s subscriptions cover all key learning areas for K-6 with printable PDF activities, PowerPoint presentations, ready-to-use units, lessons, and full-day plans.
While Teach Starter covers all of K-6, the teachers we spoke to found it particularly useful for upper primary students (3 to 6), thanks to the attention-grabbing apps and colourful resource design.
Teach Starter is offering up a treasure trove of free resources in response to school closures and has outlined its action plan in the event of nationwide closures here. We highly recommend following that link for some helpful FAQs and support articles for both parents and teachers.
- Free option: 2-day free trial
- Mathletics price*: 1-month: $19.95 | 6-month: $59 | 12-month: $99
- Spellodrome price*: 1-month: $9.95 | 6-month: $30 | 12-month: $50
- Bundle*: 12-month Mathletics and Spellodrome: $119
- EAL/D resources: Not specified
- EYLF resources: No
- Years: K-12
- Mobile app: Yes
*Pricing per student
By now, you’ve no doubt heard of Mathletics and its spelling spin-off Spellodrome from 3P Learning. This early-learning goliath is like the Netflix of Maths and English. One of the first of its kind, the Sydney-based 3P Learning has taken its interactive maths and literacy activities global. Its programs are now used internationally, with over 3 million students, 200,000 teachers, and over 14,000 schools active on the platform.
Educational games are a tough market to crack; they need to be informative enough without being too dry, and fun enough without becoming a distraction. But 3P learning seems to have found the perfect recipe for success as it’s not only beloved by teachers, but it’s the one educational game students go wild for.
The teachers we spoke to were quick to recommend Mathletics and Spellodrome for upper primary (3-6) students who might otherwise have difficulty engaging with online learning activities.
It’s not all fun and games, though; there’s also a powerful reporting and tracking system in the backend for parents and teachers to track their students’ progress.
Mathletics is commonplace in Australian schools, but the program began with home-learning in mind, so it’s a little ahead of the curve when it comes to catering from homeschooling setups.
ABC Reading Eggs and Mathseeds
For the younger years, 3P Learning has partnered with the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) to create ABC Reading Eggs, Reading Eggspress, and Mathseeds. The teachers we spoke to say these programs are already offered by many schools and implore parents to make use of the resources on hand.
“Mathseeds and Reading Eggs are incredibly user-friendly and low-effort for parents.”
Mathseeds caters to ages 3-9, whereas Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress provide for a broader range of reading levels.
Teachers Pay Teachers
Teachers Pay Teachers is a platform that empowers teachers to make a little extra cash for the resources they create. All content is user-generated, and the creator gets a cut of every sale made on the platform. It’s kind of like the Etsy of online learning resources.
It’s not an interactive learning platform like most of the recommendations above but rather a searchable database of printable lesson plans, worksheets, posters, and assessments. Teachers Pay Teachers also offers templates and activities for Google Classrooms, a program used statewide in NSW.
Storyline Online and Storybox Library
These two websites were perhaps the biggest surprise for us. We’re not teachers, but we are fans of television and the people that appear on it. So we were pretty wrapped to find out you can visit Storyline Online, a SAG-AFTRA initiative, and have Alison Janney (The West Wing), David Harbour (Stranger Things), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) and more read children’s books to you for free.
Head over to Storyline Online if you want Annette Benning to read The Tooth, or Al Gore to read Brave Irene. The kids might even enjoy it too.
There’s also a local version called Storybox Library Online with Australian talent, like musos Dan Sultan, Trevor Jamieson, and Missy Higgins, actors Jay Laga’aia and Pia Miranda and, would you believe it, Nick Cave and Tim Rogers.
Unlike Storyline Online, Storybox is a paid subscription service. There are separate pricing plans for families and schools, but it comes at a reasonable price for home-use ($4.99 per month or $39.99 per year). Still, it’s always worth checking if your school already has a subscription.
It doesn’t cost much, but Nick Cave’s gravelly reading of The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek is worth the admission alone.
Lastly, if you’re after a purely audio experience, ABC’s Story Time is a great free resource for short-form audio books.
Indoor physical activities and play time
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, parents are going to need to set a schedule for physical activity and leisure time. These are stressful times, and amidst it all, many students will be missing out on crucial physical activity, and social time they get two to three times a day for lunch and recess.
We already mentioned Twinkl.com.au’s online PE resources, but for actual physical activity, you’re going to have to get creative.
Joe Wick’s online PE classes
U.K. fitness instructor and TV personality Joe Wick has been hosting live PE lessons on his YouTube channel to the tune of 790,000 viewers. Joe is an educator at heart and offers fun and engaging workout lessons that should get the kids moving. Speaking of Joe, there are some printable exercises from the man himself over on Twinkl.
Cosmic Kids Yoga and Zen Den
YouTube is a bastion for a bit of online inspiration. We also recommend Yoga with Adriene for a relaxing whole-family fitness session, and for the younger kids, you can never go wrong working up a sweat to some classic Wiggles bangers.
But if you want the best online workouts for kids that YouTube has to offer, the teachers we spoke to recommend Cosmic Kids and Zen Den highly. These channels provide yoga workouts, and mindfulness practices themed around classic kids’ stories, like 3 Little Pigs and more recent kids fare, like Moana, Frozen, and Trolls.
Safe social time online
Lastly, there’s the social aspect of school your kids might miss out on. It’s essential for kids stuck at home to get in some valuable play time with their mates from school. Parents might be a little wary about letting their children socialise online, but the video conferencing apps listed above all offer safe and secure ways for kids to interact with their friend groups.
There are also online chat apps, like Discord, that allow parents to set up private servers for kids to communicate through, but that option might require a bit of supervision and a read over Discord’s guide to keeping your kids safe online.
And parents, it might be time to relax the house rules on online gaming. Games like Minecraft and Fortnite, get a bad wrap for their respective online communities, but with appropriate supervision and a safe chat system like Discord, it could be your child’s best option for getting in some social time in typical school hours.