When Greater Sydney was plunged into our very own ongoing lockdown, uncertainty and doubt mounted against students, parents, teachers and tutors. It’s hard to imagine that we were initially optimistic about this year and homeschooling wasn’t in the cards! Cases were low, restrictions were easing and then… bam! Home learning for all.
It’s a bummer, but when life hands you lemons, what do you do? Make some refreshing lemonade to drink while you read through an article about our very best tips to navigate and conquer schooling at home!
If your child is in primary school, high school or prepping for the HSC, we’ve got you covered. We’ll walk you through some of our proven strategies to ace this homeschooling season.
What are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
The Difficulties of Juggling Work from Home and Home Learning
It seems to be a pretty universal realisation for students, parents and teachers, that schooling is way harder when it’s limited to Zoom calls and online classes. Students feel disconnected from their classmates, parents are juggling their own life as well as their kid’s curriculum, and teachers are trying to get used to endless phone calls and the entirely digital world.
Everyone’s feeling like they’re not doing it right or they’re missing out on something — it’s only human! From our extensive chats with teachers, parents and counsellors, we’ve summed up our findings in a nifty one liner:
Try not to focus on the things you can’t control, instead pay attention to what you can control.
We can’t control this lockdown, we can’t stop COVID and we can’t limit other people’s movement to stop its spread.
What we can control is how we react, how we use this unique time and what we can learn about ourselves and others during the lockdown. If you can shift your perspective to viewing this lockdown as some sort of learning curve, we may be able to handle it a little easier. It’s a challenge but it’s one that will develop some awesome life skills to use in later life.
It’s cheesy, but eventually, this lockdown will end. And while we wait for that moment, all we can do is try to deal with and navigate this strange time.
Below, we’ll cover some specific strategies for helping out primary school students, high school students, and students prepping for the HSC.
Advice for K-6 Learning
The lockdown and at home learning can be particularly challenging for young kids. They don’t have the concentration span of older students and generally need more attention before the lockdown boredom takes over.
To help us get an understanding of the challenges facing primary school parents, we got to chat with Ange, our HR Administrator at Art of Smart and the mum of two young girls, one in Year 2 and the other in Year 5.
It’s been a challenging time, says Ange, but one that’s been made a little easier in comparison to last year’s lockdown. This time around, Ange told us that schools provided some more content and some more opportunities for parents to feel involved with weekly consultation calls and timetables.
She added, “After we did the last lockdown, the school asked us what we thought of home learning. We all provided feedback to the school and I think they listened to what we had to say. We’re also receiving phone calls, two to three times a week, from teachers to see how it’s going. So, there’s a lot more support.”
If you haven’t been given the opportunity, see if you’re able to provide your school with some feedback. That way, the school may be able to give more tips depending on your child’s year level.
Homeschool Strategies for K-6 Students
#1: Follow or create a timetable that works for everyone
Since younger students are going to rely on parents to help them get through their school, creating a timetable will depend on everyone’s schedule.
For Ange, her Year 5 daughter can generally work on her own — she’s able to follow the school’s recommended timetable independently.
For her Year 2 daughter, Ange told us that her daughter’s schooling needs to revolve around her own work day. This would be the case for plenty of parents, so it’s a tricky balance to make and may involve co-creating a timetable that works for everyone.
“My Year 2 has a timetable, but we don’t follow it, so we tend to just do the same everyday. We start at 9, we do some mindfulness, we do our spelling, English, writing, Maths,” Ange explained.
#2: Integrate breaks where necessary
It can be hard, especially for little kids, to avoid feeling cooped up inside when the majority of their days are spent in the same room, using the same computer and staring into the same screen. Ange explained that something that’s worked best for her schedule is to implement regular breaks whenever her child is feeling tired or in need of a refresh.
Ange explained, “During this time, we have different breaks. If I feel she’s getting tired, I’ll get her to jump up and down on the trampoline, she’s not allowed on her iPad until the work is completed and then we’ll have a break for lunch if we haven’t finished it all and then we’ll go back to it.”
Ange added that she’s only focussing on the essential work so as to not overwhelm her kids with too much schooling. “We’re also not doing any optional work. There’s a lot of optional work, we’re not doing that because we’d be there all day.”
#3: Clearly separate school devices and recreational devices (if possible)
Since students are already forced to spend hours on Zoom, you should try and distinguish between educational technology and personal technology. This way, you can more easily break up school work and play time.
Then your child will associate a particular device with school work and their other device for recreation and a chance to refresh and rejuvenate.
Instead of breaks that involve more technology, you could suggest some physical breaks to get those endorphins flowing. “If I see she’s getting tired, she can go out and jump on the trampoline or do 12 star jumps just to get her re-energised and take her away from the computer,” Ange said.
#4: Use fun equipment where you can
Another great strategy that Ange has implemented is utilising equipment where possible! So, instead of only using pen and paper, she’s brought in coloured pencils, physical objects and paint to make the activities a little more exciting.
“I use a lot of aids. I use a whiteboard and when we can, I get her to do things on the whiteboard. We also use blocks to count things out. We’re doing arrays at the moment, so we use blocks to work them out,” Ange explained.
She added, “We also use paint so if she’s doing her spelling days, she can paint the words and some days, she’ll use different coloured pencils to spell the words.”
#5: Implement a rewards system
Something that Ange told us she’s looking to integrate in her homeschooling days is the use of a rewards system.
“I’m looking to incorporate a rewards chart. I’ve tried the, ‘You can’t have your iPad one’ and that works to a degree, but I feel like I need to implement a rewards chart where at the end of the week, they can go online shopping to get a $10 toy. That’s what I’m going to start doing,” explained Ange.
Advice for Parents with Students in Years 7-9
As we dig into the advice for the older school years, there’s generally an expectation that they’ll work independently and diligently. But it’s good to remember that this is a totally different environment from what they’re used to and one that’s going to involve a lot more adapting.
With that said, we were able to chat to Roshani, a substitute high school teacher, who’s also navigating this new online world.
Roshani’s main teaching area is Business Studies, though as a substitute and with the uncertainty of lockdown, she’s transitioned to English for the time being. Roshani also has a high school student of her own so she’s been balancing the teaching and parenting role.
Roshani also explained that as a teacher there’s more prep than there was for face-to-face classes.
“Now I need to prepare by setting up Zoom meetings and then I’ll do the online roll. Everything has to be planned, so I’ll get on the Zoom call, explain the plan for today and then have everything there so if someone did join the call late, they still have access to the materials.”
Homeschool Strategies for Years 7-9 Students
#1: Hold your child accountable for being on time to their classes
As a parent, you’ll know all too well that the ability to sleep past those school alarms can be very tempting. They don’t have to be anywhere so they’re able to open their laptop in pyjamas and they’re in a class! It sounds like a dream, but you should try and encourage your child to get to each of their classes on time.
“My main advice would be to log on at the right time and try to finish that work in the same time that you could in class,” Roshani said.
Since a lot of schools have transitioned to one hour classes in an attempt to preserve motivation and work ethic, every minute is important. Even if those 15 more minutes of sleep sounds like bliss as the time, remind your child that they’re missing out on a quarter of their class! And that’s going to rack up.
Roshani added, “If you don’t do it as you go, then you’re going to be overwhelmed with all the stuff left to do.”
#2: Remind your child to ask questions
Asking questions can be intimidating. Your child might not want to admit that they’re behind, that they weren’t listening or that they don’t understand the content. It makes sense!
But remind your child that a positive of online classes is that they can privately message their teachers without their classmates seeing. This may be a great motivating factor for kids that are a little shy, especially in a new learning environment.
“I’d say asking questions is the best thing. Some kids don’t ask questions and then they don’t know what to do. And then it becomes even more work, but you can prevent that. Teachers are happy to answer questions,” Roshani told us.
#3: Encourage your child to stick to their timetable
In these older years, it’s likely that your child’s been given a pretty extensive timetable to follow. Roshani suggested that students should follow their timetable as if they’re going to school.
“While the lessons may be shorter, we are sticking to our timetable. They should try and make it as school-like as possible. If you have maths this period, you do maths this period,” Roshani said.
This goes for breaks too! If they’ve got a lunch break or a break in between classes, remind them to use it as if they were at school. They could get outside, call a friend and get a snack.
#4: Suggest that they take advantage of their breaks
As we said, encouraging your child to take recess and lunch breaks like they would at school is extremely important. Similar to younger students, it’d be beneficial for them to take a break from technology while they’re at it.
“I think it’s important to stay away from your device, step away from the computer, have a drink of water, go outside for a bit, sit in the sun, get a break and rest. Your teachers expect that too,” Roshani explained.
As a parent, Roshani has also been able to apply these strategies to her own home. She explained that she only expects her daughter to engage in schoolwork for the allocated hours. Students should take a break when the school day’s over, especially in these particularly exhausting times.
Advice for Parents with Students in Years 10-12
While senior school students can generally work pretty independently to get their work done, it’s a big shift to suddenly feeling far more responsible for their own studies. As their parents, they’re going to expect that you’ll be encouraging, understanding and above all supportive in this new time.
Remember, preparing for the HSC is an already stressful and overwhelming time, and the lockdown and transition to at home learning can exacerbate those feelings. Remind your child that it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed.
Luckily, we scored a chat with Semanur, a high school counsellor, who gave us her best tips for senior students to handle lockdown and at home learning.
Semanur has been a high school counsellor for nearly 4 years now. She studied Psychology at uni and has been able to use her knowledge, compassion and empathy to help all sorts of high school students.
In fact, in one of our previous articles, Semanur walked us through 3 of her best tips to manage perfectionism-related anxiety! So, as an Art of Smart interviewee veteran, we can be certain that she’s got some of the best strategies to share.
“I think the most important thing in lockdown is for students to reassure themselves that they are going to cope with the changes — it may feel like things are getting hard but in the end, they’re going to pull through,” Semanur explained.
Remind your kids to take this as a life challenge! Once they get through this combination of lockdown and schooling, they’ll basically be unstoppable.
Homeschool strategies for Years 10-12 Students
#1: Encourage them to reframe those negative thoughts
Lockdowns can feel pretty restricting at times. Semanur told us that it’s vital for parents to support their children, especially in their senior years, to foster a growth-focussed mentality.
Semanur explained, “Students could use this opportunity to acquire a new skill that they’ve always wanted to acquire but never had the time to. It’s important to see this lockdown as an opportunity rather than a pullback.”
You could even learn a new activity together! Maybe you and your child could get involved in meditation classes together or try out painting. That way, it’s a time for skill development and relationship building, which we’ll get into right… now!
#2: Remind your child to put effort into maintaining friendships and relationships
Another tip that Semanur shared is to remind your senior student to put extra effort into their relationships. Whether that’s with friends, family or teachers.
Hence its name, isolation can feel really isolating, so the best way to combat those feelings is to have consistent and meaningful conversations with your child and to encourage them to make phone calls to their friends whenever they can!
“Because social relationships are so important for high school students, it’s really important for them to maintain and nurture those friendships,” Semanur explained.
#3: Help them structure their days to take care of academics and wellbeing
“I think students should be structuring their days to give them enough time for schoolwork while also enough time for keeping their social ties,” Semanur said.
While the amount of time your child will need to dedicate to their education and social life will differ for everyone, it’s still essential to fit them both in, especially in the senior years. Semanur recommended that they break up their days into three distinct parts:
“Mental health is important for healthy teenage development, that is something we definitely know is the case. That will feed into building strong relationships and building that resilience as well,” Semanur highlighted.
PSA: As a parent, you also have the right to dedicate time for your own mental health! There’s no way you can constantly be looking after your child’s wellbeing without actively making time for your own.
Perhaps you co-create a timetable with your child to fit in individual quiet times too. Solitude is always nice when everyone’s suddenly cooped up together.
#4: Try to maintain healthy lifestyles
This would also be a time where you and your child work out a sustainable, enjoyable and healthy lifestyle to follow! This means you’re each putting time into working on every facet of health whether that be mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual — each is important.
“In essence, I think it comes down to encouraging teenagers to stay active, eat healthy and sleep. They’re what keeps us going. If one is lacking, it will impact the rest of the cycle,” Semanur said.
You could try meditating together, go for walks, do yoga, have a dance party with your child, arrange a family Skype call, drink plenty of water and make sure everyone’s sleep schedule is as good as it can be!
Nevertheless, it’s a given that no one will be living up to the healthiest lifestyle ever. I mean, c’mon, lockdown still has to be a time of late movie nights and popcorn. We’re only human!
#5: Help your child stick to a study routine
Semanur said that co-creating and following a study routine is fundamental, “Finishing high school is stressful as it is, but finishing during a pandemic is even more stressful. There’s added anxiety and added uncertainty. My main message would be to stick to a routine of study, I can’t stress this enough.”
So, before and after their allocated school classes, you can help them put together some sort of study plan to stay on top of their content. You could also make time for weekly mock exams if that’s something they find helpful!
Even with a study routine, it’s important to set realistic expectations — allocating 6 hours of maths study is probably not attainable. As a parent, your child will likely be looking to you as some sort of support network. Remind them that as long as they’re doing their best, it’s going to be okay!
Maintaining Your Wellbeing
Now that we’ve gone through the advice specific to particular year groups during this homeschooling season, it’s time to get stuck into some general wellbeing advice.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, the stress of lockdown can exacerbate the anxieties that already exist during school — for students and parents! It’s an unprecedented and challenging time.
We checked in with Ellie, a counsellor at KYDS (Ku-ring-gai Youth Development Service), to give us an idea of the best ways students can emotionally handle this lockdown while staying on top of study.
So, not only can at home learning feel particularly isolating, but it also inhibits your brain to think positively about the future. It’s easier to give into distractions.
#1: Adapt coping strategies
Since your current life, as well as your child’s, is entirely different, your coping strategies should be too.
Ellie recommended, “Get outside. It’s super tempting to stay inside all day going between study and Netflix but you need sun and fresh air (yes, like a plant). It sounds boring, but for full brain firing and wiring we need to get outside.”
Try out some new coping strategies too. Use this extra time to delve into other interests that require more time! But, most importantly, Ellie explained that doing ‘nothing’ is also completely okay, and normal!
“The biggest thing that I’d want young people to know is that it’s okay to slow down, it’s okay to feel off or sluggish. If you find your mental health slipping beyond a point that feels manageable — speak up. Talk to friends, family and professionals,” shared Ellie.
As a parent, you deserve to be cared for too. Make sure you’re taking time to relax, practise self care, talk kindly to yourself and most of all, remember that you’re doing the best you can with all that you’re juggling during lockdown — your own job, looking after your kids, making food and providing support.
#2: Add self care into your routine
At almost every year level, students are told that devising a school and study routine is of utmost importance! Whether you’re allocating time for mock exams or meditation, any kind of structure is essential. Ellie reminded students of the importance of delegating time for self care, which is advice that parents can take on too!
“Up the self care times ten. Ask yourself: How can you take care of yourself even more than usual? Food, sleep, kind words to yourself.”
Ellie added, “While a routine or or timetable may sound incredibly dull, it is important to note that timed breaks and fun activities should also be part of the schedule. These breaks are imperative for effective learning and should be implemented often, i.e. 20 minutes of study for 3 minutes of break in which you get up, stretch, get a snack.”
“Fun activities should also be implemented into the timetable, and may be effective as a reward instead of banning pleasure altogether which is not doable and much more likely to lead to burnout or avoidance.”
Self care for parents will also look wildly different depending on your circumstance. Maybe, if you’ve got older kids, this will involve communicating boundaries.
Perhaps you’ll tell everyone that Friday nights are the nights where you’re going to focus on self care. You could run a bath, play some tunes, finish that book. Remember, you’re allowed to feel challenged too. We’re all working this out together.
There you go! Our best tips for dealing with homeschooling! Whether you’re navigating at school learning as a parent, primary school student, high school student or someone prepping for the HSC, we wish you good luck!
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Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!