Home-based learning is a reality for most kids for the foreseeable future. So, it’s important to establish an environment in your home that makes it easier for your kids to succeed.
Building on what schools use to empower and support children can help parents create a good learning environment.
“Kids are worrying whether they can keep up, and are concerned about new norms around assignments and tests and peer interactions,” explains Deborah Rosenfeld, an education researcher for the nonprofit education consulting firm Education Development Center (EDC). “Providing structure and flexibility to address all of that is important.”
Use these ideas to create a home learning structure that fits your child’s unique needs.
- Set a schedule — but don’t overschedule. It will feel more like a school day at home if your kids have a schedule beyond their online classes. Mapping out a daily or weekly schedule that includes classes, homework and other commitments can provide a child with confidence that they can handle what’s ahead. This is, in turn, motivating. Be realistic and mindful of what’s appropriate based on your child’s age and learning style. Young children, and even some older kids, may need more breaks than you realize.
- Involve your children. Don’t overwhelm them with too many choices, but when possible, let your child have a say in what happens and when. Having some control over the situation will help give them ownership and a sense of responsibility. Both sentiments help kids stay focused and engaged. “Educators know that kids will buy into a schedule more if they help create it,” explains Rosenfeld.
- Encourage independence. This new learning environment also happens to be a great opportunity for middle school and high school students to improve their time management skills, says Rosenfeld. Help your kids, if they need it, to plan their agenda for the week based on how much time they need for certain tasks. Then, let them try running their own schedule. Check in to see what worked and what didn’t. For example, if they didn’t have time to finish something, help them see how they could improve their planning.
- Avoid vampire hours. Just because they don’t have to be at the bus stop doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t keep a regular schedule. Keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up time to help provide the energy they need to succeed. Change from pajamas to clothes each morning, have breakfast and create other routines that signal the school day is starting.
- Keep it fun. The best way to keep learning lively will depend on the age and interests of your kids. Games on sites like DreamBox — for kids up to eighth grade — provide a means of practicing math. For any age, board games are a tool for reinforcing math, spelling, vocabulary, geography and other skills. Literacy building also has potential beyond just reading: Kids of all ages can give you a verbal summary of something they’ve read, compare news coverage of events across media outlets or write letters.
- Create a school space. Avoid sitting your kids down to learn in the same spot where they play, relax or socialize. A dedicated learning space has many advantages. It reinforces that it’s time to focus on schoolwork, and, when kids leave it, that it’s time for a break. A dedicated space is also efficient. Kids who can establish an organized workspace with needed supplies, the right light and other details can hit the ground running when it’s time to focus. If space is tight and kids must set up and dismantle their work area each day, get bins or crates for easy and organized storage of schoolwork and projects.
- Be flexible. While the school space is important, don’t be rigid about your child staying there all the time. If they like to read in a chair, let them switch locales to break up the day. Or, if the weather is good, allow them to go outside to work on a writing or art assignment. Movement throughout the day is important to burn off energy and keep motivation up.
- Leave time for breaks. Adults can’t work all day straight, and neither can kids. Let them take a break between classes and activities. Rosenfeld recommends having kids make a list of favorite activities to turn to when they’re bored or running out of steam. These activities should be things that your kids enjoy and that rejuvenate them — beyond screen time, ideally. Think art projects, short bike rides, building Legos, shooting baskets or playing an instrument.
- Incentivize the experience. Let kids know that once they complete a task, they can take a break. Having an enjoyable goal to work toward can help make the day go by faster for everyone and help young children focus on getting their work done.
Above all, cautions Rosenfeld, don’t be too hard on yourself.
“We’re all adapting to what’s being thrown at us, and that requires patience and compassion with ourselves and with others,” she says. “If you try something the first week of school, and it isn’t quite right, don’t despair. Reevaluate, and try again.”
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