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Strike day: What could you teach your child?

Pupil in school, girl at museum, and mother and son at an art gallery

As thousands of teachers prepare to strike over pensions, inconvenienced parents are debating whether to give their children a day off or continue their education at home. What can they realistically expect to teach their offspring in a single day?

Imagine if Amy Chua, author of the pushy parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, was faced with a one-day strike by teachers.

She might prefer children to have a morning of piano lessons, followed by an afternoon of Pythagoras and poetry.

Strike day is Thursday and for many working parents, it will simply be an expensive headache. They will have to sort out childcare, work from home or grudgingly take a day's leave.

But how can they turn it to their advantage?

With the summer holidays just around the corner, many parents will have a relaxed approach to a lost day of education, taking their children to the park or letting them watch Toy Story for the umpteenth time.

However for those intent on keeping a scholarly aspect to the day, education expert Prof Dylan Wiliam says some parents are well equipped to become teachers for the day and some children will respond well to it.

Test pressures

But his top recommendation is to give children a project and give them plenty of time to complete it.

"Given the pressures of tests, learning in schools has been concentrated into little blocks. Give children two to three hours to build something out of papier mache, write a piece of music or a short story.

"If you look at the school curriculum, what's missing is the chance to work on something for half a day or a whole day."

Prof Wiliam, from the London University Institute for Education, says pupils in the middle of exams should be allowed to get together and come up with test questions.

"It leads to better results than just sitting lots of practice tests," he adds.

Author Anna May Mangan, who has written about the military planning involved in getting her twin daughters into medical school, thinks older pupils should not rest on their laurels.

She says teenagers could spend the day revising for exams, practising interviews or doing extra-curricular work which will earn them bonus CV points.

But even the self-confessed pushy mum says pupils who do not have such pressures hanging over them should be shown that learning can be fun.

"It's a parent's responsibility to make learning fun, to show them how exciting it can be," says Mangan.

Her top tips include visiting a museum or art gallery or watching a play, followed by a less educational motivation such as shopping or a meal of their choosing.

Hands-on stuff

Some parents will be entirely unaffected by the strikes - those whose children have flown the nest and those who already home school.

Kay Smith has been a home educator for 11 years and she says some parents strictly follow the curriculum, while others take a less formal approach.

She is in the latter camp and her advice for parents thinking about having an educational day off is to make sure the children are on board.

"Listen to what the children want to do because they will learn much quicker if they are interested in something.

"My girls grew up doing projects on whatever they were interested in. For instance we found out everything about World War II. They read Anne Frank's Diary and we visited an air raid shelter. It was all hands-on stuff."

Teacher and author Francis Gilbert claims it would be "disastrous" for most parents to spend Thursday teaching numeracy and literacy.

"It could utterly backfire. Parents are not trained to teach specific subjects. It's important that teachers are left do their job. The parent's job is to be a parent and give nurture and structure.

"It's not good for a child to miss a day of school but parents should not jump in and fill that hole for a day."

Gilbert says parents should use the time to "reconnect with their children, show them some attention and have fun".

"In my experience the children who are really struggling are those who have a poor relationship with their parents."

All of these experts seem to agree that if parents don't want their young children to go on strike as well, put away the exercise books and get the creative juices flowing.

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