Around the UK, public libraries are providing vital digital services and support, with a wealth of resources and help on hand for all ages. In connection with this year’s digitally-themed Libraries Week (7 – 12 October), this blog post looks at the importance of library homework clubs and resources.
|We talk to Michaela Hope (pictured left), Librarian at Church Street Library, Westminster on the joys and rewards of running their club for the last 15 years. Not yet providing such a service? Then read on for some useful advice on starting your own homework club.|
When does the homework club run and who attends?
The club takes place at Church Street Library every Thursday afternoon. It’s a long-running club, established in 2004. All children of school age are able to attend. If they’re under 8, they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
There’s always a librarian present to support the children, plus volunteers from the Family Lives Matter charity help out. The children just need to be library members to register for the club. This provides them with a login to resources for use in the library, from school or from home.
The library sessions are very popular; usually there are around 15 children attending for homework help and maths and English practice, but it can be more than this. The younger children who may not have homework yet we help with reading. Older children with a later school finish time and further to travel tend to register and continue using the resources from home or school.
How has it proved so successful?
It’s a vital service – many of the children don’t have internet access from home. Or they may find it’s much quieter in the library so better for studying and getting their work done. They can get quality homework time on a library computer and get extra support. We have 14 terminals in total in our learning centre.
There’s extra motivation available at the club with certificates and rewards once a particular quantity of questions has been answered or for being the first to finish a section. It gives the children an extra sense of achievement. We see them putting the effort in and getting so much out of it.
When they go into school, they might tell their classmates about it and encourage them to go too.
Top 7 tips for starting a successful homework club:
• Make it motivating and fun with rewards and certificates
Some of them enjoy meeting up with friends here. We don’t expect them to work silently, it’s not strict as in a school classroom. It’s obvious that the children are there to learn and are well behaved in the club.
What do the parents get out of attending and how do you involve them?
When parents accompany their children, they get to see what the children are learning at school and how they might help them. We can see that children enjoy involving their parents in their homework too. It’s the right environment for that.
Often the parents learn alongside their children. For example, they can see the latest maths methods in use such as for long division – there’s the chunking method and the bus stop method etc – it may have changed since they were at school. So they can see how it works and give better support. They’ll definitely be clearer on what their children are learning. It makes for quality family time too. It’s a nice alternative to spending time outside the home other than the park.
If English is not a parent’s first language, they may struggle to help their children with homework. We can actually see a need to start an English and Maths club for adults, for those that missed out on achieving qualifications while at school. It’s something that we’re exploring introducing in the future.
What’s the most common subject areas that children need help with?
It’s mostly Maths and English. In September last year, the club started to use the IXL resource which is a curriculum-based service for practising maths and English skills online. The council funded the subscription licences, with a proportion of accesses made available to Church Street library.
There’s help given for lots of other subjects as well, including history and geography. We get asked everything across a wide range of topics and are always able to provide help. The syllabuses of our members tend to vary, so there’s no standard approach for helping at the club. Sometimes we need to refer a question to another librarian but we’ve never been completely stumped. We can always give assistance and always adapt to whatever’s being asked.
What importance do the library’s computers have for the club?
The computers are essential for a number of reasons. Having access to information on the internet has become increasingly important, but children might not have this at home, especially if they’re from one of the many lower income families in the area. Or they may only have access to a single family laptop which isn’t always available for them to use. So everyone uses the library PCs. This way everyone has the same equipment and there’s no pressure for the children to show they’ve got the latest gadget or risk bringing in and damaging a valuable possession, especially when coming straight from school.
Also, if the children were all bringing in their own devices, we would have a mixture of operating systems and browsers to deal with and various filters in place. It could cause difficulties getting to and displaying the right resources, playing audio or picking up the Wi-Fi. So it would interfere with the smooth running of the club. Instead, the computers all run on the same operating system for the same experience, which helps massively. So they really are vital to the learning experience and how much can be achieved.
Generally speaking, the club is geared much more to online learning than book learning these days. It supports practising core skills in Maths and English – users’ work can be automatically marked and it can demonstrate how you solve a problem if you make a mistake.
The computer screens here are a good size so the children can easily sit round and work together with a friend or sibling on their school projects. It’s easy for them to print out their homework from the computers, and they can use the USB ports to save their work to a memory stick.
At the club we make sure the children are using reliable websites with accurate information. Some of the websites they might otherwise use won’t always be 100% correct. Although Wikipedia pages might be useful for some quick general knowledge, we make sure they use more than this. For example we have a subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica. And of course we also have the IXL subscription service which is incredibly useful.
How rewarding is it for you to provide the club?
When a child isn’t able to do something, or if they’re really stuck with their homework, we help them and see that they’re able to master it. It might be fractions or long division – they work through examples, know that they’ve got it and go home happy.
We encourage the children to aim high and produce really good project work, although we aim to keep it fun. I remember one child with a Hampton Court project. He worked on it at the club and then went into school and got an A* grade. Doing the homework and getting it done to a better standard at the club meant he got so much out of it. It means as staff we also go home satisfied at doing a good job.
Why are libraries more important than ever now?
As other services have been reduced, libraries have taken up the slack. They really can be described as the fourth emergency service. Where we’re based, the library is known as that haven in the neighbourhood for anything you need.
We’re here to help people and it’s something we love to do. So often these days, people are told to go online and do this or that, but we’re always here to help them. We’re dedicated to helping our community.
Whatever people come in for, we’re always pleased to see them and will go out of our way for them. We welcome everyone and always have new services and classes being introduced. There are lots of activities, a drama group, community garden projects and a games club. Now, you can even get your blood pressure checked or join a cookery class!
What would you say to libraries who are thinking of starting a homework club?
You should go for it! There will always be a need for it. Start with the support of one staff member and go from there. You could build up a team of reliable volunteers for extra support. Ours come from a charity (details above), which reduces how much direct recruitment and DBS checking of volunteers that the library needs to manage.
You can promote interest by having open days, information at school assemblies and in their newsletters and at school coffee mornings, at community events and with leaflets. And of course interest will spread as ours did by word of mouth, because it meets such important needs.
With thanks to Michaela Hope at Church Street Library for sharing her insights with us.