What learning from home looks like

Issue: Volume 99, Number 6

Posted: 7 May 2020
Reference #: 1HA7Ko

Education Gazette asks six families across Aotearoa to share their experiences of learning from home, prompting questions of how different learners and their whānau might be supported in different learning environments.

Covid-19 has altered many aspects of our day-to-day lives. For families with young learners, that has included learning from home.

For some learners, the time away from school, friends and teachers has proved difficult. For others it has given some respite from the challenges of the school environment. 

Similarly, while some parents have enjoyed the opportunity to be more involved with their children’s learning, others have found it daunting. 

Everyone’s experience of learning from home will be different, as the following six stories show. What can be learnt from these experiences? And how can different learners be supported in different learning environments? 

Missing friends and sport

Jackson is looking forward to getting back to school.

Jackson is looking forward to getting back to school.

Like many young people around the country, Jackson, 11, and his older sister Ellie, are looking forward to returning to their schools in South Christchurch. 

Initially, Jackson was a little worried about learning from home. “I didn’t know what was going to happen and I was wondering, ‘How are they going to do this?’

“First we had emails and then started doing Google Meets. It’s quite glitchy, you can hardly hear people and the teacher just mutes us so it’s quite different; you’re just doing work and you can’t talk to your friends. 

“It’s OK, I thought it was going to be a lot worse. You’re more focused on your learning and you don’t have to make the effort to get a pencil and sharpen it; you just work online.

“I’m looking forward to going back to school because you can see people and talk to them all day. I miss seeing my friends and doing Tech with the big saws; you can’t do that at home.”

Ellie is starting to miss school and sport.

“At first I was excited because I wanted a break but after a while the shock set in because I didn’t realise how closed off everything would be. 

“Distance learning is pretty good; the work they’re setting us isn’t too hard but I don’t like working by myself, I prefer to work in groups. I’m missing sport a lot because usually I play netball, basketball, volleyball, korfball and touch rugby.”

Year 13 student Lucy says living with a disability has prepared her for the challenges of distance learning and life in lockdown.

Year 13 student Lucy says living with a disability has prepared her for the challenges of distance learning and life in lockdown.

Prepared for distance learning 

However, for other students the transition to distance learning has been less disruptive.

Year 13 student Lucy says she feels well equipped to manage distance learning because she was catapulted into social isolation four years ago when she lost the use of her legs. 

“This hasn’t been the massive transition for me that it has for many people because I’ve dealt with missing school and isolation before. I lost the use of my legs at 12 and that changed my life in every way. I’ve had to adapt physically, of course, and all my relationships have changed. 

“Before my accident I had a very good group of friends and I never felt isolated or left out, but returning to school two years later it was just crazy how differently people treated me, the girl in the wheelchair, and how different my daily life was. 

“Because of what I’ve been through, I can deal with life in lockdown. You have to find it within yourself to succeed and to accept that learning comes in different ways, not just for six hours a day in a classroom. Everyone thought that me being out of school for two years would be a massive step backwards, but we found there are lots of ways around things and I’ve been able to keep up. 

“Socially this has been interesting because I felt very left out before, there are so many places I can’t go and generally I get excluded from parties, but now we’re all in the same position so I can focus better on school work. 

“Isolation is something we in the disability community know very well and to an extent we have an advantage because we know how to stay in touch at a distance.

“I know everyone’s really worried that this is going to set us back significantly, but as someone who has missed a lot of schooling, I know we can come back from this. It’s about getting through the moment, and doing the best that you can with each thing that comes your way.”

Safe from bullying

Then there are some children and young people for whom distance learning is providing a welcome reprieve from school.

Despite the best efforts of schools and communities to tackle bullying, it is still experienced by too many of New Zealand’s young people.

Joshua, 13, is in Year 8 at a school in South Canterbury. For him, lockdown learning means a break from being bullied.

“For me lockdown means having a break from the bullying and being able to learn stuff so it’s a relief. To be honest I am finding the workload astronomical and I’m having a hard time keeping up but I’m trying really hard to get everything done. It’s easier to ask questions on Zoom than in the classroom and it’s also easier to learn when there’s no one misbehaving. 

“It’s sort of the rest I needed, it’s given me opportunities to make more videos; I’m producing four a week now compared with one a month before, but I do miss going plane spotting. I like posting photos of planes and eventually I’m going to run out of them.

“If lockdown ended today, I would be crossing my fingers that the bullying would stop, but I would be happier if it continued for a long time because it’s the break I deserve.” 

All children should feel safe from bullying in their school environments. With many students set to return to school after an extended period of learning from home during the Covid-19 crisis, this is a good opportunity for schools to revisit their frameworks for preventing and addressing bullying. 

The Bullying Free NZ website(external link) offers a wide range of resources, advice and support for students, parents and whānau, teachers, school leaders and boards of trustees. For younger children, Oat the Goat is a useful resource. The free, interactive, online story book is designed to help 4–7 year-olds learn about the power of kindness and make the right decision through a positive interactive experience with their family, teacher or peers. 

An opportunity to better support children’s learning

Phoebe is making great progress learning at home.

Phoebe is making great progress learning at home.

Distance learning has prompted many parents to take a more active role in their children’s learning. Auckland primary teacher Jo Coughlan has relished the chance to support her daughter Phoebe’s learning at home.

Jo says Phoebe’s learning has taken off during lockdown. “She likes school but she doesn’t find it easy; she’s such a quiet girl that she gets lost in the classroom, she won’t ask questions. 

“We’re doing just a couple of hours a day and I’m seeing so much progress. Phoebe is learning spelling patterns she’s never known before, not that she hasn’t been taught them but it went over her head. 

“I’m able to give her that one-on-one support now and it’s lovely to see her thrive. She’s also learnt some of her times tables off by heart and I’m feeling very lucky to have had this time with her. I couldn’t do this work with her after school, she’s too tired.

“She’s going to go back to school more ready than ever. She has missed her teacher and she does miss her friends but she’s also loving the family time.”

Phoebe says she’s looking forward to returning to school so she can see her friends and play outside. 

“My favourite part of school is reading and free time when you can choose books, puzzles, games or dress ups. In my bubble I’m sad that we can’t see our friends or go to school or the playground, but we do go on more scooter rides and walks, and we see teddy bears in the windows.”

Worrying the kids will fall behind

However, not all parents feel equipped to support their children’s learning. 

Hastings beautician Jenna (not her real name) feels daunted and is concerned that her teenagers, 17 and 13, are missing out on vital learning. 

“I was relieved when schools closed because I was worried about the children’s safety in the pandemic, but I don’t know how to help them with their schoolwork because I’m not smart at all. I left school at 14 so I could work to help my parents, so I’m really out of my depth with home schooling. Even going to parent-teacher meetings makes me nervous. 

“Our big boy, the 17-year-old, is really good, he seems to be able to manage his workload, but I worry about the 13-year-old. In some ways being home is better for him because he’s away from the kids he’s been getting into trouble with, but I do worry about him falling behind.” 

The Ministry of Education is keen to support parents and caregivers with learning from home. The Ministry’s two new websites, Learning from Home(external link) (for English medium schools) and Ki te Ao Mārama(external link) (for Māori medium kura) launched on 23 March, and aim to help support learning from home, offering a wide range of resources for parents and teachers to utilise. The Learning from Home website emphasises the importance of staying connected, and making wellbeing a priority. 

The Ministry is also broadcasting educational material on TV, as well as providing hard copy materials where possible for different year levels.  

Overwhelmed by competing priorities

These resources may also prove useful for parents who are struggling to balance their work demands while supporting their children with their learning.

Tracey and Richard have two children, Curtis, 11, and Yasmin, 6, whose schools are operating on different school calendars.

“As parents and workers you’re trying to find a new way of getting everyone through their days and their work, and trying to juggle their schooling which is tricky when one is on holiday, one is doing schoolwork and both parents are trying to work in the house,” says Tracey.

“There’s an issue of bandwidth availability and of one child having to entertain themselves while the other is trying to do online learning. And it’s happening at the same time that we’re adjusting to big changes in our lifestyle and dealing with pay cuts.”

Curtis has mixed feelings about learning from home.

“In some ways it’s quite good because I get an extra sleep in and it’s not like I’m going to miss the train or bus. 

“But I really miss catching the bus because it’s an hour and a bit of just chatting with my friends, and I also miss Japanese, PE, and Tech because they’re way more fun at school. 

“The work comes by email and I worry about missing tasks; a lot of the time I wonder what the other kids are doing and if I’m keeping up. 

“Half the time I can’t go in my room because my parents are using my desk, and I have to play with my sister, and it’s raining so I can’t go on the trampoline. 

“But I do like that I get to go for a run with my dad and if it’s a long one we get to go to the dairy afterwards.”

Curtis’ account is amongst so many different experiences of learning from home during this extraordinary time of life during a global pandemic.

Collectively they reinforce that everyone responds differently to different learning environments. Post-Covid, when life returns to relative normality, it will be useful to reflect and learn from the experiences of learners and their families across New Zealand at this time.


Richard, Tracey, Curtis and Yasmin are finding it difficult to juggle work and school commitments at home.

Richard, Tracey, Curtis and Yasmin are finding it difficult to juggle work and school commitments at home.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:35 am, 7 May 2020

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