No-one knew in January, or even February, that schools would close and ALL students would be learning from home. We didn’t have time to prepare and many of us are struggling. While there isn’t any magic pixie dust, here are the top three things to make home learning more effective.
We are conditioned to behave in certain ways in specific locations. When you walk into a library or church, you speak softly. When you lay down in your bed, you get sleepy or at least relax. The second example is very important. Your child’s bed is not a productive work space.
Single Use: The first thing you can do to make home learning more effective is to designate a work space. If possible provide a small table or desk to be used specifically for school work.
Multi-Use: If that isn’t feasible, create a different atmosphere when working at a multi purpose space. For example, if your child is working at the kitchen table, remove the placemats, napkin holder, and whatever else makes the table a dining space. Now, provide a few accessories to signify it is a learning space. Paper, pencils, calculator, and a clock or timer will be a good start.
Supplies: It is particularly helpful to have all the tools your child will need stored in a box or bag. Take them out of the container and set up the table like an office desk. For suggestions on what tools and accessories create an effective workspace check out my post How to Create an Effective Learning Environment. These visuals will help your child associate the space with learning.
Just like your child connects location with behaviors, they are used to adhering to a strict schedule at school. Having a schedule at home is one of the top three things to make home learning more effective.
Setting a schedule: Frustrations stem from unmet expectations. Let your child know exactly what is expected. If they are old enough to help, get their input in setting up the schedule. There have been numerous studies about teenagers needing more sleep. Starting a little later might increase the productivity for your high schooler while scheduling lessons for late afternoon may not work for a younger child.
Visible Reminders: Schedules should be visible from the student’s work station, especially while they are adjusting to the new situation. This can be presented in ways as elaborate as a color coded bulletin board or as simple as a sheet of paper. Having a written schedule eliminates the back and forth of negotiation. Everyone knows what is expected. The ability to check things off as they are completed will add a sense of accomplishment.
Time Management: Keeping your child focused, especially during home learning, can be a challenge. Using a timer is part of the time portion of the top three things to make home learning more effective. Set a timer and tell your child that they are to work consistently until the timer goes off. Be careful not to set unrealistic expectations. Don’t start out with lengthy blocks of time. Watch your child work. How long is it before they lose focus, 3 minutes, 4, 5…? If it is 3 minutes, set the timer for 3:30 seconds. Gradually increase the time as they are able to focus successfully and independently. This will not only assist in maintaining focus, it will also build mental stamina as you increase the length of time on the timer.
Keeping your child on task or just getting them started is often a major stumbling block to effective home learning. We have talked about where and when to learn but how do we get them started and keep them going? Providing effective motivation is one of the top three things to make home learning more effective.
Positive Reinforcement: Unmet expectations often lead to negative consequences. If you don’t complete a project on time, you get a poor grade. If you don’t clean your room, you get grounded. Especially during this quarantine, when we are in constant contact with our children, a positive atmosphere can go a LONG way. Instead of punishing your child for NOT staying on task and completing assignments, reward them, effusively if necessary, for completing their work. Get their input about what they enjoy. Do they want more screen time? more free time? Are they saving for a particular video game? Set up a system of rewards that they can work toward rather than a system of punishments for incomplete work.
Dealing with Pushback: Even it you follow all of the top three things to make home learning more effective, there are going to be times when you child does not want to cooperate. How do you handle the complaints, whining, or even temper tantrums? You will probably ask yourself why they behave this way with you and not at school. If you do, you have already answered your own question. They aren’t at school. At school, they have peers that would not react kindly to them crying in class or arguing about an assignment. If you give into whining or complaining, you have established a behavior; if I don’t want to do something, I just need to complain until they let me stop. You have set expectations and established rewards. Stick to it. Avoid criticism, blame or other negative emotions. Try to remove the adjectives. Simply remind your child: “I know this is different and challenging for all of us. We have an agreed plan that we made together. We need to stick to it. If at the end of the week (or day) you still feel the plan is not working we can revisit it.”
Exceptions: Lastly, don’t forget, you are their parent NOT their teacher. There are exceptions to every rule and that has never been more apparent or important than during this unprecedented and crazy time. I found it particularly effective with my students and my own children to allow them a specific number of mulligans or get out of jail free cards. Let your child know that they have 1 day a month, or whatever you deem reasonable given your and your child’s circumstances, that they can call time out. It is VITAL that this be set up in advance and the number be solid otherwise you are negotiating and all the structure you have created just turned to jelly. Remind your child of how many of these special days they have before they use one. It is helpful to name them, just like a holiday. In my family, we called them by the child’s name. It was a Drew Day or a Kate Day. That established that one specific child was taking a day. The rest were expected to work as usual. Since children often use these days when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it also made the child whose day it was feel special.
These top three things to make home learning more effective will help you set up a structure for success. For more information on this topic you may want to check out the following articles: