Tips to help you make the most of the day – and make it run more smoothly!
For most of us currently trying to turn our hands to home schooling this represents a new and unique challenge – and one that we didn’t choose to take on. It’s reassuring to remember that lots of people are in the same boat, and there is no such thing as a perfect approach. What works for you and your child(ren) will be different than what works for another family, and lets be honest, what works well on one day might be utterly futile the next! That’s why our tips focus on a few different things to try and ways to structure your day, rather than being a prescriptive schedule. If something isn’t working for you, or your little darlings aren’t playing ball, don’t worry, just try a different approach or swap activity. Remember as long as they are getting any necessary school work done over the week, the order that they do it in largely doesn’t matter.
Set the alarm clock
Although you aren’t leaving the house to go to school, making sure the alarm is still set and you get up earlier on weekdays is a really helpful way to get into the right frame of mind for learning. Make sure that breakfast has been eaten, teeth brushed, and pajamas changed for proper clothes by the time the school day would normally begin.
Check the instructions from school
Most schools are providing at least some information or work for each day. Make sure you read this too, as well as your children reading it, so you can make sure they understand the tasks set, and importantly how long they are expected to take over each task. For example, if they need to write a story, knowing that this task should take an hour gives a useful guide to how long it should be. There might also be instructions as to what needs to be done with work once completed – does it need submitting, and if so how? For primary age children, this might be an ideal time to set them up an email address and teach them how to send an email to their teacher attaching their work, or asking any questions.
Its much easier for kids to focus on their school work if you set a clear expectation about how long they will be spending on this work session, and when they will next get the chance to change activity or have a break. Remember school days are normally broken up into lots of bite sized chunks – trying to apply the same approach to a home school day will make this much more palatable for all of you!
Make sure that the TV and radio are switched off, and phones are set to silent during ‘lesson time’. Doing school work at home takes a bit of getting used to, and interruptions that wouldn’t normally interupt a school lesson don’t help. Try to save games console use for ‘home time’, rather than using them during any break times – it can be really hard to switch on and off mentally between games and lessons, and trying to enforce a switch off when break time is over might lead to (avoidable) rows! Saving things like this for the end of the day also helps to create a divide between the school day and downtime, which is much more difficult already given that we are all at home all the time.
Involve family and friends
Although you can’t involve face to face help, getting relatives or friends to help once a week or so with a remote session might be a great help all round. Using Skype or Zoom so that Granddad can do a weekly spelling test, or Grandma can read a story is a nice way to mix things up for the children, really helps to take a bit of pressure off you for half an hour or so, and also is a great way for relatives that might be isolating to feel like they are still needed and being genuinely useful.
Schedule regular breaks
Breaktimes are a really important feature of the school day, and home school is no different. How many breaks a day might be needed will depend upon the age of your child and their learning and personality style, but at a minimum you should plan in a short mid-morning break, a lunch break, and a mid-afternoon break. Let them pick their own way to relax (within reason, and avoiding consoles), as this is an area where they can feel they have some control over their day. Getting up and active is really helpful to motivation and overall wellbeing – if you have a garden encourage them outside, and if you don’t try to designate a certain space (living room, or hallway maybe) that they can move about in during breaktime. A small hallway can be used quite creatively for short relays or follow-the-leader style games.
Be flexible, and have some backup activities on hand
Realistically there will be some days where the routine works better than others, for all sorts of reasons. A bit of time well spent, that will save you a lot of time and hassle over the coming weeks, is to make a list or ideas board of other activities that children can pick from that would still provide some value. There are a lot of free resources out there at the moment (check out our Resources list if you’re struggling), and having a selection of things that your children can pick from themselves gives them choice and control, and can be a real sanity-saver for you if they get bored or run out of work to do at a tricky point. Don’t be afraid to let them swap activities around. Tailor the ideas to the age of your child – here’s a few suggestions outside of educational resources to get you started:
- Do a Jigsaw
- Do a Wordsearch
- Read a Book
- Create a Picture
- Think of a new ending to a favourite story
- Create a Model or Craft
- Online Educational Games
- Do a Virtual Tour of a City, Museum, Theme Park or Gallery
Extra Ideas for Middle Children
- Practice Reading Aloud – One Chapter
- Create a Lego Model
- Design a Poster
- Write a Letter (maybe to a relative, or to someone influential)
- Design a Workout Routine
- Create a New Recipe
- Keep a Diary or Journal
- Make the Lunch (set guidelines as to quantities and nutrition, and what kitchen tools might be off-limits alone)
Ideas for Older Children
- Research a Job or Career (is there any useful skills they could be adding now, or narrowing down future direction)
- Plan a Dream Trip (add some extra education by setting them a budget and criteria to meet)
- Learn a New Skill (a hobby, language, new cuisine to cook, or help with DIY and household chores)
- Helping with the Family Budget (maybe you need to scrutinise extra costs during reduced income periods, or look for better utilities deals)
- Design a Weekly Quiz (and get them to set up Skype or Zoom invites to wider family or friends to join in)
Plan in snacks
Make sure you plan in what snacks might be on offer when children are hungry, and what time snacks are allowed. Maybe after morning break, and at the end of the school day – do whatever fits for your family and routine. Offer a mix through the week of healthy snacks, and the odd treat – after all, living in such close proximity, home schooling and home working at the same time can be tough, a treat here and there can lighten the mood!
Include PE (and join in if you can!)
Keeping active is important for both physical fitness and for mental wellbeing, and some movement for kids especially can really help to mix up the day. There are some brilliant resources available, some of which you can do live, or that you can replay at a time to suit your routine (check out our Staying Active Resources). Experiment with what time of day works best for your family – for some, getting up and active is a lovely way to start the day. Others might find that adding PE in part way through the day helps to break up more concentrated study times. There isn’t a rule book – do what works for your family.
Try to keep evenings and weekends clear
At least from more formal structured education activities. Educational hobbies are fine, but it’s really important to carve out quality down-time that feels different from the weekday routine. Closing down laptops and school books at a certain time, and putting them out of sight if possible helps to adjust everyone’s mindset back to home life.