Have you found yourself with no particular routine for work? Or are you cleaning every window and door to stay away from your desk? Maybe you’re working without knowing if you had lunch in between conference calls? This was me twelve years ago when I started working from home. Today, I hear many still experience this. “How do I get organised and also help my kids?” is the question our team gets most often these days.
The human brain was built with a high degree of learning capability, but also with a strong immunity to change. This is valid for both adults and children. We all need a routine to feel safe, and at the same time, we all need to get out of our comfort zone to learn. The problem is when the circumstances around us get us out of our comfort zone too fast and further than what our brain is prepared to handle. Check out the image below with the concentric circles. Imagine our inner circle is our brain’s comfort zone. The middle circle would be the learning zone. And the circle at the edge represents our brain’s panic zone. Getting out of your comfort zone feels exciting until it is too much and it becomes anxiety. Being asked for the first time to isolate at home, work from home and deliver results, while homeschooling, cooking, cleaning and so on, with no relevant experience for this, creates a lot of vulnerability, uncertainty and fear, and it can be overwhelming for our brains.
Under these circumstances, many parents wonder how to best organise their time or their homeschooling. In the long-term, there is no one right way to approach planning your homeschooling, so go at it with an open mind. I will simply share here what has worked for us and trust that you will choose what appeals to you to best organise learning at home. Then you can fine-tune the process and maybe share it with others.
It can be helpful and calming for children and parents to have a predictable weekly and daily routine. Start by sketching out a typical week. What is your cleaning day or shopping day? When does your day begin? When do you and your children normally rise in the morning, eat meals, and go to sleep at night? With household and family routines and the less flexible activities in place in your schedule (even tentatively), the next step is to make regular time for your homeschooling plan. Homeschooling parents prepare their academic plan yearly, monthly and weekly. If you are only temporarily homeschooling, it probably has to be in collaboration with your child’s teachers and school schedule. It is very important to include your child in the process. Set aside a dedicated time each day to look over your homeschooling materials and curriculum and figure out what needs to be accomplished on that particular day and in the coming days of the week. See if the poster we have created is helpful for your child. If it is something your child will like, you can find The Weekly Goals for children poster for download in our shop.
Do you have specific habits that help your children “get ready” when they wake up in the morning or wind down before bedtime? In our family, for example, I do my online live Pilates session at 9.00 am, and I use the living room for that. This makes everyone in the family accountable, as we all have to fit in the morning bath time and breakfast before 9 am. Time for meal preparation and lunch is also important. We have set it for 1 pm so that all members of the family schedule their online meetings accordingly.
With younger children, I would recommend that you start the day with Circle Time. This is an opportunity to share a verse, poem, song, or story as a family. You can also integrate yoga, dance, a thought question, or the cultivation of gratitude. Circle Time can be as long or as brief as your child can tolerate, but it must be just long enough to be a positive experience. Meaningful conversation starters for this daily routine can be found in the Bonus section under the 17 or 24 Days of Challenge (see image below) of the How People Learn book.
For older children who have outgrown the concept of Circle Time, devise another way to connect each morning. Use that opportunity to discuss the plan for the day. This might be as simple as chatting over breakfast or checking in with each other. Make it a point to touch base with your child in some way each morning to go over the day’s plan. Make sure to preserve time for one or two important daily family rituals. This could be watching a movie together, reading, painting, gardening, or anything you can do together for 30 to 90 minutes.
Visual tools can be very helpful. Create a weekly assignment sheet with checkboxes, so that each child can easily see what needs to be done and mark things off as they are completed. A large chalkboard or whiteboard is also a great tool for listing daily or weekly assignments, along with reminders of other important weekly responsibilities or events.
When your child is taking an online class, the classroom is wherever he/she is. You will want to find a place for them that is quiet and free from distraction, yet provides enough room for them to take notes, either on their computer or by hand. You may also need an electric outlet nearby to keep their device charged while logged into their class. Classes may be live or recorded, and in a live class, children may be asked to turn on their webcam or their microphone when they participate in the session. One big advantage of online classes is that they can attend from the comfort of their home. Before teaching begins, connect with the school or teachers to make sure a special session is organised to set up the ground rules in a way that lets children experience some of the functionality of the classroom. Practice raising hands, keeping themselves on mute and changing how they see each other. Maybe they can even start with a check-in session on how it feels to go through this time or what homeschooling feels like for them.
Getting into a learning routine will increase the chances that they will stay on top of what they need to be doing, rather than letting deadlines sneak up on them. Once they have a syllabus for each class and are clear on what’s expected of them, make a study schedule for each course. Include blocks of time for regular study and reading, as well as extra time to research and maybe find out how what they are learning is useful in their everyday life. Learning “about riding a bike” is very different from “riding the bike”. Try, for example, to use Google as learning tool and search “how is Pythagoras’ Theorem useful in your day-to-day life?” and see what you get. You’ll be surprised.
Create an Effective Workspace for Learning
It can be tempting for children to be a little too relaxed about creating a dedicated workspace for their schoolwork. That’s why is important to organise learning at home. If a potential learning space is already associated with activities, such as eating, watching television or sleeping, it’s probably not ideal. Instead, select an area they already associate with learning. The more time they spend in it, the stronger the association will become. Eventually, they will find themselves feeling more focused as soon as they enter the space.
If your space is limited or you can’t create a dedicated learning space, store their school materials in a rolling cart, backpack, or something else that is easily transportable. Whenever it’s time to study, they will have everything they need already organised for a smooth transition. Make sure their space is comfortable. One of the most important things to keep in mind is ergonomics. Both their table and chair should allow good posture, and when they are seated, the top of their desk should rest somewhere between their chest and ribcage. This way, they will be able to rest their elbows on the desktop without having to hunch their shoulders forward. Additionally, the chair should be comfortable, fit the height of the desk and allow their feet to rest flat on the floor. You can learn more about how to create best learning spaces for children here.
Taking online classes may seem a little isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. If your child has trouble staying organised, reach out to his or her peers online. Study groups can be an effective way of keeping themselves on track and help them organise learning at home.
Sometimes teachers assume every child has the same attention span, the same level of wi-fi, access to private space, and the same number of supportive people in their homes, but that’s not always the case. Feel free to kindly communicate your expectations and possibilities to school representatives. I’m sure they will understand and act more carefully, as for many of them, this is a new “out of the comfort zone” experience, too.
I’ve heard that some parents are opting out of homeschooling. This is for each of us to decide. But there is a difference between “no homeschooling” and “no learning”. Allowing children to fill their days with tens of hours of screen time not related to learning is not a healthy option. Our brains learn in many different ways.
Check out the How People Learn book for more ideas or follow this series of blog posts for more on learning activities for children. Try out the homeschooling tactics above and let us know which ones helped you the most!
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