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Beyond The Classroom: Empowering Parents To Help With Homework

06/09/2016 12:13 | Updated 06 September 2016

British engineer and broadcaster Kate Bellingham is partnering with E.ON to launch its new online learning resources, 'Energise Anything!'. The resources are free and designed to help inspire and support children's STEM learning.

As kids everywhere go back to school this week, the cycle of learning, lessons and homework begins again. You can expect your children to start asking lots of awkward questions, and from my experience, it's not only the ones they have been set by the teacher.

I remember taking my daughter home from a party as she carefully clutched the string to a helium balloon when she asked, "Mum, if I let go, where will it stop? Where is the ceiling of the sky?". My answer was one she became quite used to; "Hmm, that's an interesting question. Let's see if we can find out!".

As I write this post, she is doing her homework for starting her A level physics course. I've just asked her if she remembered that occasion and she replied, "You used to say that quite often. We did a lot of 'finding out'!"

I've always been into Science. After taking a physics degree, I worked as a BBC Radio Engineer then as a TV presenter, including Tomorrow's World. Some people take a conventional career break when they start a family: I took a Masters in Electronic Communication Systems. After helping out in my children's school, I was inspired to train as a teacher and I've since taught both Maths and Physics. But despite all that study, I couldn't always answer my children's questions and we often had to go and 'find out' the answer.

As both a parent and a teacher, my aim is for children to develop a love of learning and a real understanding of the subject that goes beyond school and exams. Work done by the ASPIRES group at King's College London shows that the 'science capital' children get from their parents can be a huge boost for their engagement and success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects. That's why I've always been interested in science activities parents can do at home with their children, making science investigation and learning part of normal family life.

Two hours per week is what the average UK parent spends helping their child with homework. This is according to research by E.ON, which is today launching a new set of online resources on its 'Energise Anything!' hub, aimed at supporting children aged between five and fourteen years with STEM learning. The resources are designed to aid children's studies in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and form part of E.ON's online portal where parents can find inspiration to help their children learn about science.

I'm not surprised to see that one of the biggest challenges when it comes to STEM subjects is confidence - not just for children, but also for parents.

E.ON's research shows that eight in ten parents feel it is important for their children to be interested in STEM subjects, but plenty (36%) say they struggle to understand the questions or subjects. 15% do not feel they're giving the right help when their children ask for guidance. As parents, we know it's important to help, but feeling ill-equipped is very common.

If you ask the average parent, "Which exams do you think you could pass today?" you'll likely find that less than half (46% to be exact) would give you a 'yes' for a Key Stage 3 Science test. A similar pattern emerges when we look at parents of children aged eight to ten, who are the group most likely to say they feel completely helpless when their child asks for help with STEM subjects (19%).

Therefore the challenge is how do we nurture the confidence of parents to provide the strongest possible support for their children with STEM? And more so, how do we do it in a way that will allow enthusiasm to be transferred from one generation to the next (and help build that 'science capital')?

One way to is to encourage parents and children to make more of the opportunity to find out the answers together.

The good news is that we're seeing lots of people doing this already. Almost two thirds of parents (63%) say they search for the answer together with their children, whether it's online or at the library; and this sort of proactivity and curiosity can only be a good thing for everyone involved.

So it seems that what we need in answer to this crisis of confidence are more places for parents and children to find inspiration to make learning fun, engaging yet practical, but also as hands-on as possible. Bringing Science to life, whether that's through experiments, challenges or building things, means that it's much easier to understand for everyone involved - whether you're thirteen or thirty five.

We know that it's important to inspire the next generation when it comes to STEM, not least because the future of UK industry depends on it. Helping parents to feel as comfortable and supported as possible in developing their children's understanding of more challenging subjects is a vital first step towards achieving this, and will pave the way for the next generation to do the same for their children when the time eventually comes.

If parents are willing to seek help to improve their own understanding, then it surely follows that their children will feel empowered to do the same. That's why I think it's great to see resources like E.ON's which are specifically geared to home learning and can provide a place for both parents and children to turn.

The future of STEM lies in building confidence at an early age, and it makes a huge difference if we can empower parents to be our drivers of enthusiasm for this. There's a lot of research that supports the importance of parents and other family members, and I really hope we'll see more initiatives like E.ON's that encourage families to say, "Let's go and find out!".

Find out more about E.ON's resources on the Energise Anything! hub here.

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