Remote education is hard. It’s tough for parents to play the role of teacher and balance their work commitments. Children are understandably finding it hard to concentrate out of a school setting. Focussing on a screen for live lessons is becoming more and more challenging for many kids so what can parents do to make it easier? I’ve collected 10 tips from my staff who are teaching from home while managing their own children’s remote education too.
Preparations – Getting the Foundations for Learning Right
1. Routines. Stick to a regular bedtime and wake up time, like you’d do if you’re going to school. Add to this regular snack, lunch and dinner times. Make sure children are washed and dressed ready for the day. Sleeping in, lying around in pyjamas is a treat but won’t help your children transition into school-mode. Save it for the weekend. Having a routine creates stability, security and predictability. Kids know what to expect and this means less battles. In stressful and changeable times, routines really do help children (and adults!) feel less anxious.
2. Timetable for the day/week. Your child’s school may be doing live lessons scheduled at certain times or they may be sending you pre-recorded lessons to watch in your own time. Either way, there will be work for children to do outside of these taught sessions. You’ll know what works best for your child by now in terms of workload i.e. are they most productive and focussed in the mornings or are they best doing 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off? Create a timetable that clearly shows work times, mealtimes, play times, exercise times, breaks etc. For younger children, a visual timetable of pictures/photos works well.
3. Food and Drink. Children can’t focus if they’re hungry or thirsty so schedule in regular healthy snacks, nutritious meals and plenty of drinks to keep them going.
4. Workspace. Being at home makes learning much harder. When kids come into school, they learn to associate the classroom with work and the playground with play. If you can, set up a dedicated space at home for schoolwork so when your child is in that place, they know it’s worktime. It helps to not have distractions like toys around or the TV. It’s best to sit at a table rather than on the sofa or lying on a bed.
5. Breaks – kids need lots of breaks. At school, we don’t just have the traditional outdoor playtimes twice a day. We also have frequent brain-beaks during lessons too. Teachers learn how to read the signs that children are flagging and losing focus. When you can see your child is going off the boil, have them get up and do a few minutes of exercises inside or out. Brain Gym exercises are simple and effective – there are lots of examples on YouTube.
Helping your Child Focus in Online Lessons
6. Praise. If your child is reluctant to contribute in online lessons, they may need their confidence building up because it can be daunting speaking online. Encourage but don’t force it. When your child does join in, even if it’s just a one word, praise them to build up their confidence. Look out for every opportunity to praise.
7. Rewards. If it’s become a real struggle to get your child to focus in their online lessons or to complete their off-line work, then think about setting up a reward system like a sticker chart or a little treat like a smartie for each 5 minutes done. The secret to reward systems working is that you’ve got to make them really easily achievable, at least at first. Kids need to feel instant success for quite a while so don’t raise the stakes too quickly too soon.
8. Now & Next Board. Sometimes children need a more structured and visual approach to manage their time. A Now & Next board is a way to show children what activity they’re doing now and what they will be doing next, once the first activity is complete. Used as a way of motivating children, they are useful to keep children focused on their current task.
9. Pick and Choose. Schools have been told to provide 3-4 hours of work per day for primary children. Managing this much work at home is really hard. If it’s too much, then focus on those things your child needs most. Reading skills and maths are always a priority but try to mix it up with subjects your child enjoys so they keep motivated.
10. Exercise & fresh air. We get the children outside and active in all weathers at school, several times a day. It’s not just so the teachers can have a cup of tea; the benefits of fresh air for children’s mental and physical health have been proven. Fresh air is soothing, lowering hyperactivity and improving attention spans. If your child is particularly struggling with concentration then try starting your day’s timetable with fresh air and exercise before they start their school work. It can make a big difference for some kids.
Remember, if things go badly with home learning one day, then just start again tomorrow. Don’t give in completely as every little bit you can do is valuable. Just keep trying and don’t be too hard on yourself or the kids if you have had a bad day. If things are really not improving for you, be honest and tell your child’s school because they’ll do all they can to help you. Parents and teachers are in the same boat, so we understand. We’re trying to learn as quickly as we can how to deliver great remote education but making plenty of mistakes along the way too! Hopefully, we’ll be back in the classrooms before too long but in the meantime, know that you’re all doing a brilliant job and deserve a huge pat on the back, thank you!