So, it has been a week since the beginning of Home-based Learning (HBL) and I am not going to lie, it feels like it has been a month. This is unchartered territory for many families having to juggle their own job responsibilities as well as their children’s learning.

Some children have eased into the process and can be left alone to focus on their work. Others may require more guidance and consistent check-ins to ensure that they are not distracted, they know what is going on in their lessons and they are on task. It is no easy feat having to now be accountable for your child’s learning on top of taking care of other priorities within your homes.

The good news is that learning from home is not a new concept and there are experienced parents who have been sharing tips and strategies to help with your child so that you can take the time to focus on your own work commitments. Here are the top 4 secrets that have been shared to help you facilitate independent learning at home to ease your load.

1. Gear them up for learning

All successful people have warm-up routines. Charles Dickens ensured he was awake at sunrise and had breakfast at 8am. Jennifer Aniston wakes up at 430am daily, has a cup of hot water with lemon, washes her face and meditates for 20 minutes. Barack Obama ensures he does strength training or cardio as soon as he gets up. These routines inform the brain and tell us that our day has started, that it is time to get to work. Curate a warm-up routine for your child;

Physically 
  • Wake up at the same time
  • Take a shower, put on your uniform, comb their hair
  • Have breakfast
  • Play an energiser with them (e.g. keep a ball in the air for as long as you can, play a hype song and jump to the beat, play thumb wars with them)

Let them feel like they are getting ready for something. You do not need special equipment to do this! Be creative, find what works for you and your children.

Mentally
  • Play a game that gets them thinking (e.g. Name nouns that begin with all the letters of the alphabet, solve a riddle together, etc.)
  • Doodle what they want to do for the day or how they are feeling
  • Listen to classical music
  • Write as many questions as they can think of in 3 minutes

Just like how athletes stretch to warm up their muscles, warm their brain up before learning begins. Try doing little things that would help them kickstart their brain activity.

Emotionally 
  • Reflect on a memory that they have had where they felt like they achieved success
  • Smiling exercise: Relax your face muscles. Slowly smile as wide as you can and feel your eyebrows move upwards. Hold the expression for 20 seconds.

Help them start their day right by achieving optimum levels of excitement. These simple things help to evoke positive emotions within them. When their mood is high and they feel great about their day, they will be more willing to take on any task in front of them – including school.

2. Prepare the workspace

All our homes are different. We do not necessarily have enough work desks for both parents and children. Apart from having a good desk space and chair, here are 2 guidelines that we can keep with us to ensure an effective workspace for our children.

Differentiation – your child’s ability to recognise the space as a space to work. It can be as simple as 
  • changing the arrangement of their table during school time and arranging it back during non-school time. 
  • Putting up pictures or images that they might see when they are in school.
  • Making a sign with them that says, “Joshua’s Learning Space”. 

Your child needs to be able to differentiate the space physically and psychologically. Supporting their understanding of the difference with these physical tweaks help to reinforce a more task-oriented behaviour. When they can separate their home space from their learning space, the transition from home behaviour to school behaviour becomes smoother.

Focus Mode – a mode that limits interruption from distraction or family members

You know how in radio stations, once they go live, they turn on a lighted sign that says, “On Air”? When anyone sees it, they know that they must be quieter and not interrupt the session. In the same way, you can create a system with your family.

  • Make your own “On Air” sign. Put your own spin on it like “learning in progress” or “studying now, I’ll call you later”
  • Set designated times when your child should not be disturbed or even when you should not be disturbed
  • Use physical cues like when you have headphones on, it means that you are focusing and should not be interrupted. 
  • Decide when they can use their phones or have a snack 

Setting agreements and boundaries like this with your family can help them recognise how their actions can affect another person as well as create mutual respect for everyone’s working time.

3. Set Micro Goals for The Day

It is a tall order to ask a child to sit still and do their work for 4 hours without any type of break. They are still figuring out their sense of time and it will feel like forever to them. Setting smaller checkpoints for them throughout their learning day can help curb questions like “what time is recess?”, “what is for lunch?”, “when can I play Roblox?”.

  • Work out their schedule of the day with them and identify break times. 
  • Share the menu for the day so they have something to look forward to. 
  • Ask them what are some things that they would want to do for the day – a walk in the park, some Netflix time, gaming time, etc. – and see how you can fit them into their day’s plan. 
  • Create a challenge for the day that they can do anytime they choose like doing something nice for your brother or smiling when you see anyone today. 

When you make this a conversation, instead of something that is dictated to them, you allow them to take responsibility for their learning and feel more invested in their day. What begins as an overwhelming 4-hour learning session becomes broken down into smaller chunks of focus time interspersed with relaxation time.

4. Plan Purposeful Breaks

Breaks are meant to refresh their minds before they enter a new cycle of concentration for another subject or task. Breaks do not necessarily have to be just lying down or phone time. A common problem children face is headaches from prolonged screen time. 

  • Use their breaks as a chance to rest their eyes by staring out into greenery or looking into the distance. 
  • Do a short physical exercise to get their blood pumping to their brains.
  •  Invite them to prepare a snack with you. 

Simply doing an alternative activity is enough to reset their focus before going in for another lesson. You can coordinate their breaks with your own work schedule or with their siblings for a quick catch-up before everyone heads back to work again. Breaks are perfect opportunities to make sure they are ready to absorb new content each time they go back to their lessons.

Most of all, TAKE IT EASY…

Give yourself a break. It has been 2 weeks. We are all still trying to find the best combination of methods and habits to help get our families through this new way of life. We want the best for our children and it can seem daunting to coordinate all these different things to support your children. That’s why focusing on little tweaks to our daily habits can help set your children up for success each day. 

At the same time, give them a break too. This circuit breaker is a transition that can be difficult for them to navigate. You may not see them become completely independent overnight but 5 extra minutes of uninterrupted time each day is still a win. Recognise that they too are trying through positive reinforcement or affirmation. “Thank you for helping to put your cup in the sink” or “Good job for finishing up you assigned tasks today!” can go a long way in helping them feel more positively towards learning and shaping them to be independent learners.

We are almost at the end of Week 2. There is still 2 weeks to go. We’re halfway there. Stay Safe, Stay Healthy.

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