One of the biggest and most disruptive changes that many of us have been accommodating in this time of Coronavirus has been the closure of a number of schools as part of sweeping public health policies. Some parents and caregivers have voluntarily elected to keep their kids away from school as a means of limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
In many homes, families are trying to manage their own ‘working from home’ demands or seeking new employment opportunities while, at the same time, adequately supervising the home schooling of their children. Unless you’re a teacher yourself, it’s understandable you might be feeling overwhelmed trying to navigate this new frontier.
As we gradually adjust to social distancing and stay-at-home measures, the task of ensuring our kids’ educations continue as best as they can is at the forefront of our priorities. To help cope with this, many schools are providing a network of resources to help parents and children alike when it comes to what needs to be taught.
At TALi, we’ve already talked about some of the ways you can handle the new working from home/home-schooling paradigm. However, in this article, we’ve compiled some further tips from the experts about creating effective mental parameters for helping children learn from home – especially for those parents with neurodiverse kids who might be struggling that little bit more.
Create a routine
There’s so much change going on at the moment that it’s likely the kids are feeling anxious and uneasy about their day-to-day life. With this in mind, establishing and keeping a routine that best matches their school day, while instituting clear boundaries and expectations, is going to be very important.
“Ensure the daily schedule includes a balance of academic, creative, physical and social activities with clear expectations for wake-up and bedtimes,” advises Dr Chelsea Hyde, an educational psychologist from the University of Melbourne. “Irrespective of age, keeping your child to a routine schedule will create predictability and reduce anxiety. Having a routine for screen time will help too; make clear your expectations around screen time for education and for leisure.”
Many schools are developing online hubs to support parents teaching their children at home. Dr Hyde encourages downloading many of the apps and resources that your kids’ schools offer to make the challenge of learning from home that little bit simpler.
Establish a learning space
As well as a routine, you’ll find learning at home will be easier if you have an area of the home that’s specifically dedicated to learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean attempting to recreate a classroom, as such, but it’s still important to create an environment where kids can focus, concentrate and apply themselves to their work.
Every child is different, of course, so what works for one, might not be great for another but, as David Roy from the University of Newcastle writes in The Conversation, “Home learning has an advantage in that it can cater to the individual child. As long as the student can focus and be safe, there are no limits to where the learning can take place. Feel free to allow children different places to learn, whether lying on the ground or sitting at a table – whatever works best for them.”
“Try to limit distractions,” David Roy advises. “Turning the TV off and switching off app notifications will help.”
You’re allowed to have fun
Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you that one of the many challenges they deal with is engaging their students to a level that makes learning interesting and fun. Obviously, what’s considered ‘fun’ is going to differ between age levels but there are some simple strategies you can implement to make things that little bit more interesting, especially for younger students.
Michelle Martin from the University of Washington, quoted in The Atlantic, says, “Sending kids who are learning math basics on a mission around the house or the building to count all the windows, for example—and then asking them the average number of windows in each room or apartment,” is an example of practical learning.
“Challenging children to pitch a tent—or, in the absence of a tent, create a play fort—out in the yard or at the park can teach kids innovation and resourcefulness,” she advises. “In a pinch, it’s always fun for kids to write spelling words or do math problems on the windows using dry-erase markers. It’s almost like writing on a wall [she laughs] but [the kids] are allowed to do it.”
Getting your relationship right
By managing your kids schooling from home, you’re taking on an additional role. You’re always the parent but, whether you like it or not, you’re also – consciously or sub-consciously in the eyes of kids – assuming the role of teacher. Accordingly, as Dr Annie Snyder, Senior Learning Scientist with McGraw-Hill told the Huffington Post, you should focus on maintaining a good relationship with your children.
“One of the very first questions I ask parents is: Think back to your favourite teacher,” she says. “What were the qualities of that person? Almost without fail, adults will recall a teacher who was kind and who they could tell really cared about them.”
“Your first priority in your… parent/teacher role is to focus on your relationship with your kid and keep that strong. If they’re pushing back against home school on a particular day — or you find yourself kind of going head-to-head with them to get them to finish a particular assignment — step back and remember that what matters most right now is that you guys keep your relationship strong.”
“It just simply doesn’t work all that well to badger your kid into learning,” admits Dr Kim Allen, also to the Huffington Post. “If your child is feeling stressed, they’re going to have a hard time learning anyway.”
You’re not supposed to have all the answers – figuratively, of course – so, if you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent trying to introduce remote learning into your home, that is a perfectly natural response. Hopefully, you will feel some solace knowing there are plenty of help and resources available for you.
There’s also no one-size-fits-all approach to effectively managing everyone working and/or learning from home, which means there is no hard-and-fast rulebook either. In your discovery of what works for you and your children, if you find a strategy that gets results, stick with it; if other strategies don’t work, bin them and try something else.
At the heart of it all, setting aside a space dedicated to learning, establishing a day-to-day routine, making the learning fun and remembering you’re a parent first are some simple steps that you can try for effective learning from home.
And, whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself.