Updated: Apr 15, 2020
I've been a student doing some online subjects for almost 3 years now and one thing I can say is that what children and parents are about to experience is not your normal "home schooling" arrangement. By this I mean home schooling is usually a choice - COVID-19 has forced this upon all of us. Young students lives have been upheaved - they've been forced to stay home and are more vulnerable than ever before. Parents (myself included) are trying to figure out not only how to work from home, but also how to take a more active role in managing our children's education and wellbeing.
Community support is really important right now, and I was lucky enough to have some mums in our area reach out to offer each other some support and share ways they are planning to navigate their children's schooling. Ironically, I missed the initial call because I was watching a comedy special - anyone else having week 3 Netflix and red wine sessions? My kids come home tomorrow, so today is the first day I have turned my attention to creating learning spaces for our four children and researching what to do. Thankfully the other mums and I have shared some emails and text messages and I am grateful for the prompt my friends gave me to get organised. It sure does take a village (I keep saying that lately) and I miss mine right now as I know my children do too. But it won't be forever.
I have an 11 year old in grade 6, a 13 year old in year 7, a 15 year old in year 9 and a 16 year old in year 11 with 1 year 12 subject that will be contributing to her ATAR score. I think the eldest is the most stressed because she knows that her results will impact her University opportunities, and I am really looking to help her optimise her approach and do the best she can. All four of my children have different learning styles/strengths and cope differently with stress too - but over the years, as I imagine you all have, I have found ways for us to work together in supporting one another as well as engaging them individually and enhancing their potential. Here's the general gist of how I am approaching home schooling in much the way I coach students - but I will give you an update in a week or two to let you know how I am tracking, what approaches have worked, and what has not.
Set up a learning space
We’ve got four kids, so the older ones have a learning space in our formal lounge room and the younger ones have a space at the kitchen table where my partner and I will base ourselves to supervise. The older ones wanted to stay in their bedrooms, but with the schools advice we decided against it for their own benefit - even though we will inevitably come up against stubborn resistance. Both rooms are light, have plants and fresh air and are not their own private spaces.
Plan the technology they will need.
Remove personal devices between school hours and provide them with a laptop if you can. Make sure the digital devices have parental controls and age-appropriate censorship so they don't get distracted. I believe the best thing schools have done recently was introduce a ban on phones, so I want to keep that up here - even though I know it's going to be like going to war, it is worth the struggle.
Be sure to download all the apps they’ll need, like Zoom or some other form of video conferencing.
Create a routine
It’s important to establish a routine that works. I am going to test out the usual school routine by starting at 9am and sticking to the day's breaks they would have if they went to school. I will be flexible, but aim to stick to the schedule below. They won't get their gadgets back until 3pm and wifi for a limited time in the evening as always with screen time coming on at 10pm for the older kids and 8pm for the younger ones.
Kids learn differently, so some of our children might adapt faster and finish work more quickly than others - and I will make allowances for that.
8.45-10am Check in on daily tasks set by teacher. Plan day, Study.
10-11.15 Study time
11.15 - 11.45 Snack
11:45- 1pm Study time
1pm- 1.50 Lunch and time in nature.
3pm Home school is finished for the day.
Encourage your children to monitor the daily tasks set by their teachers and plan out learning tasks for each day. Be present with them at the start of the day to go through their goals and build a plan. We’ve found study journals and whiteboards are really helpful for turning tasks into daily goals to help them self-manage. The children who get stressed about school work find planners help give them a sense of control in managing themselves and ticking items off the list. We also ritualise the wins when big tasks are completed - we have little celebrations which create a positive spiral associated with building resilience. The other thing I will ritualise is the start and end of the school day to make clear boundaries between how time is spent.
Supervise your child
Depending on their age, you will need to ensure your child is studying and can do this without watching over their shoulder the whole time. Empowering them to self-manage is the best way for them (and you) to get through this. Check in regularly with their progress, ask questions relevant to their learning inquiry and monitor their communication with the teacher - ensuring they are asking for more help if needed. Be sure they are monitoring their tasks online and are aware of the timelines for tasks set out - try not to do it all for them, because they won't feel as rewarded when they achieve something.
In the classroom, your child will be used to working with other children on tasks. Continue to facilitate group enquiries by finding other parents and children who are happy for your children to work together on certain projects, or reflect on learning tasks at different times of the week. This will also make the learning journey fun and interesting for them. Perhaps choose some parents and children who would be open to this time and schedule it in - because if you're like me, you're juggling several different things simultaneously.
Support yours and your children's wellbeing
Make sure you are mindful of children's stress levels and providing lots of opportunities for laughter, silliness and joy which will build their resilience for times of challenge. You can encourage regular breaks for good nutrition - brain food that will energise them and resource their learning. Also include exercise like walking in nature, playing with your pets, ball games in the backyard or park, or doing some children's yoga or meditation with an app. Explore creativity like making art, knitting and sewing - we've made a puppet theatre and create our own shows, we have a jewellery-making kit for the older girls ordered, we've been baking every few days, dancing, singing and learning music on the guitar and piano and to be honest I am really loving the extra time with my children. You can also just encourage your children to talk about how they are tracking with everything and make the space for any thoughts and feelings that may arise. Teaching my children about growth mindset also really helped my kids who struggled more with the critical and fixed mindset. Lastly, try to choose your battles wisely because inner peace through this crisis will really set them up for the challenges they will face as adults.
Good luck friends and feel free to reach out if you're looking for support. You can see our student coaching services for more information on what we offer.