Family learning

Family learning is an effective way of providing adults with the skills and knowledge to support their children’s education. It also provides a non-threatening route back into learning for adults. This article gives a brief overview of family learning and discusses how Skillswise materials can be used on family learning courses.

What is family learning?
Family learning is any learning that includes more than one generation of a family (including extended families and carers). The learning may be informal, through events such as family fun days, or more formal - family learning courses are delivered in settings such as schools, children's centres and community centres.

The courses aim to help parents support their children's education – usually focusing on numeracy, literacy and/or language skills.  The Campaign for Learning states that ‘Families are not only our first and most important teachers, they also teach us the most important things in life’. Some of the family learning courses involve children directly, giving parents the opportunity to do activities with their children, while being supported by the course tutors.
Benefits to adults
Adults also benefit considerably from attending family learning courses. Family learning is a good way of encouraging people who might not consider joining a traditional adult education class to engage with learning – often because they are motivated by wanting to help their children. It can help overcome barriers caused by negative associations with traditional institutions of learning. The Every Child Matters document states that, not only do family Learning programmes deliver lasting improvements for both children and adults they encourage parents to go on to further training.

Some of the courses only involve adults. These courses are designed to give parents and carers the skills and knowledge to support their children’s learning.  In these courses there is usually an element of improving the adults' personal skills in order for them to be able to support their children.

Key differences between family learning and Skills for Life courses
Skillswise materials are well suited for use on family learning courses that include a focus on improving the adults’ personal literacy or numeracy skills. They can be used in much the same way that they can be used on other courses that are designed to improve adults’ personal skills. However, there are important differences:
•    the amount of time available for spending on the parents’ skills is usually much shorter  than in more traditional Skills for Life classes as the courses are often shorter and some of the time is devoted to development of the children’s skills
•    people who attend these courses may be very wary of traditional approaches or anything that reminds them of being taught at school
•    links with children’s learning should be integrated throughout the courses

How Skillswise materials can be used – factsheets and worksheets
Family learning groups have the common theme of interest in their children. Group work or pair work is therefore highly appropriate for family learning groups and it is helpful to use the materials in a way that promotes group work.

Fact sheets can be used to promote group discussions. You could base whole group questions on the content of a fact sheet or you could give copies to small groups and suggest they discuss what they already know on the topic.  You could also ask the learners to talk about what their children are learning in school on the same topic and any related vocabulary they are aware of. This could provide you with the basis to discuss how the children will progress from what they are currently learning to the level of the content found in the Skillswise materials. In this way you can link the children’s learning with that of the adults.  As a very rough guide, the learning objectives from the last few years of primary school are at a similar level to the E3 adult learning objectives.

The Primary Framework can support you with discussing the progression in children’s English and maths skills. You can also support learners who are working below E3 by going through what the children are learning in school. Another helpful outcome from teaching the children’s methods is that it gives adults permission to use a range of informal methods to solve problems rather than thinking they have to use the method they were taught at school. The Skillswise materials back this up by showing alternative methods, for example for performing calculations. The categories used in the Primary Framework are slightly different to those in the Skillswise materials but there are many similarities and you should be able to match the broad topics that children are learning in school with the topics in the Skillswise materials.
Worksheets can be used by pairs of learners working together. You can also use them to add learning time to the course hours by giving learners the option of working on them at home. This is particularly useful if there is accreditation attached to the course as it helps to reassure the adults that they are getting in some practice time on their personal skills.

How Skillswise materials can be used – games and quizzes
You can use Skillswise games with pairs or small groups of learners. As well as providing a non traditional, informal, and non-threatening type of learning it gives learners the opportunity to see how their children can learn through playing games. Playing the games on the course in a supportive environment can also give learners the confidence to visit the BBC Skillswise website at home and play the games with other family members, including any children who are at an appropriate age to join in and benefit from it.

Enjoying learning in this way can help to change attitudes and may encourage adults back into learning. Likewise, quizzes can provide a less traditional form of learning that can be used on the course or at home. Older children could compete with their parents to try to get the highest scores. Quizzes allow the learner to be in control of their learning by providing answers and explanations.  This may provide a different way of learning for adults who may have been used to teaching and learning that was much more teacher directed and can help to demonstrate how methods used currently in UK schools are more learner directed.

The Campaign for Learning website – overview of family learning:

The Primary Framework – document containing literacy and mathematics learning objectives from the Early Years Foundation Stage through to year 6 in primary school

Skills for Families site on Excellence Gateway – overview of Family Learning programmes with quote from Every Child Matters

Help Your Child with Numeracy Ages 3-7. Rosemary Russell.  Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 1847064124

Help Your Child with Literacy Ages 3 – 7. Caroline Coxon. Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. ISBN 0826495729

Literacy and Education: Understanding the New Literacy Studies in the Classroom. Kate Pahl & Jennifer Rowsell. Sage Publications Ltd. ISBN 1412901146

Opening PDF files
For more information on how to open PDF files, read the BBC Webwise guide to Adobe Reader.