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Using routine and structure to help with schooling at home

Setting up routines for education at home

I have seen a lot of people writing online in these last couple of weeks about how hard it is to transition to schooling at home, and not to pressure yourself or your kids to achieve great things. I heartily agree – cuddling on the couch reading books may be the only (and best!) thing you can get done today!

However … I think we are in for a long haul with homeschooling, and it’s going to be hard to fill the weeks ahead with only cuddling and reading. You may also be finding that your kids are actually craving some of the routines they were used to at school, as these give a comforting familiarity to the day and allow them to know what is coming next, both of which alleviate anxiety in these uncertain times.

Here in Australia, we also have the Easter school holidays coming up in a couple of weeks. I think having some school-like routines at present will help us to mark out the difference when we hit the holidays. Otherwise it all starts to feel the same!

So here are some ideas for establishing routine … (with the proviso of course that you should ignore anything below that really wouldn’t work for you and your tribe – adapt as needed!)

  • Start the ‘school day’ at 9 am and finish at 3pm – or adjust times to your family but stick to the same ones each weekday
  • Consider getting the kids to dress in their uniforms – many guides to working from home suggest that you should ‘dress the part’, as psychologically this triggers a work mindset and helps you be more productive. In a similar way consider whether continuing with uniforms would help your kids get into ‘school mode’ (but perhaps ignore if this would create too much of a battle in your home!)
  • For younger kids, you could use some kind of cue to indicate when it is the start of the school day and the end of the school day. In our case, my kids’ school plays a song for the few minutes leading up to the bell so I am playing the same song to my kids to indicate it’s time to get started! In the afternoon, I simply call ‘time’ and we pack away school stuff and then have afternoon tea together
  • Follow a rough schedule and write this out so the kids can follow it – on a whiteboard or just a piece of paper stuck up somewhere visible. Our primary school has issued a plan of school work that involves English in the morning session, Maths in the middle session, and a different subject after lunch each day. Just that rough guide means that the kids know each particular task will not be the whole day’s focus.
  • Use the same break times as used by your school, and call them recess and lunch (or whatever name your school uses). Again readjust the times if needed but stick to a routine with this. It will help the kids to know what’s expected of them in terms of a block of work or focused/quieter activities, followed by breaks where they can have a run around, do something fun or socialize with some friends online, via Facetime or so on. You may find that some kids crave that free time in breaks to be spontaneous … other kids may need suggestions about what to do even at lunchtime, if they tend to rely on having friends to entertain them at school!
  • Consider still packing a lunchbox for each child (now would also be a great time to get kids involved in preparing their lunchbox, choosing items etc!). This can help avoid the constant requests for food through the day. Also it can give you a longer break at lunchtime if you can literally send them outdoors or to a different space with lunchboxes in hand, as soon as that break time arrives!
  • If you have any sort of balcony/backyard/outdoor area, try to get kids sitting outside to eat their food, as they usually do at school, and then doing some physical activity. If there’s not much space to run around, we (like many others) have been enjoying “PE with Joe” on Youtube!

Structuring your space

Friends, I have a small house … I swear it is shrinking this week!!! If you have a designated space for your kids’ learning, that is wonderful, but many of us don’t.

Here are my thoughts on how I’m making a small space work:

  • After breakfast, taking a few minutes to clear away all the ‘domestic trappings’ and clutter (how does this reappear every evening?!) and reset the dining table as a learning space with our basket of pencils, devices for online learning etc.
  • We’ve also been sticking up artworks around our dining room, as the kids make them. I have creative little ones and they love having their art hanging around the walls of the classroom at school, so it’s nice to replicate this a little at home. (We have also taken grandparents on a virtual tour around our art display on Facetime!)
  • We have a shelf next to our living and dining space which I re-sorted so it’s full of all the extra things we might need – textas, paper, other craft supplies, plus games and puzzles for quick access during lunch breaks
  • A designated area for all the paperwork from school about the plan for the week of schooling
  • Using outside spaces as much as possible to break up the ‘cabin fever’

I’d love to hear any further thoughts from all the parents out there! One thing that has totally impressed me over these last weeks grappling with Covid-19, is the wonderful community spirit amongst so many parents – sharing resources online, posting with honest vulnerability about the struggles, and encouraging one another. We are doing our best in a difficult situation – let’s keep doing it together. #Stayconnected

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here. 

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