COVID-19 and home learning
COVID-19 lockdowns might mean your child has periods of learning from home.
The tips below can help you and your child get the most out of home learning during lockdown.
Home learning isn’t the same as home-schooling. With home learning, subject teachers prepare and provide learning activities for students like they do when students are physically at school. With home-schooling, parents are registered as their child’s teacher and are responsible for setting all their child’s learning activities.
1. Stay connected with the school
When you and your child stay connected with your child’s school, you’ll both have a better idea of what needs to be done and when. And you’ll be better placed to help your child stick to their learning routine.
Most schools send out regular emails or other communications to keep parents informed about student learning, so it’s important to read these. It’s also OK to get in touch with your child’s year coordinator, homeroom teacher, mentor or head of house if you’re not sure what your child should be doing or if you have any concerns.
It’s good to check on how the school is organising home learning too. For example, you can check:
- which online platform the school is using
- what your child’s timetable is – for example, when they have online classes, or whether there’s any flexibility
- what resources the school is providing
- how your child should complete tasks, submit work and get feedback
- what your child should do if they finish their tasks early – for example, whether there are any extended learning activities
- who can support your child if they have any problems
- what adjustments the school can make if your child has an individual learning plan.
It’s important to be polite and understanding when you communicate with your child’s teachers or other school staff. Teachers and school staff are working from home too, and some might also be trying to support their own children’s learning.
2. Set up a daily home and learning routine
Home learning gives your child some flexibility and choice in their day, but a routine is still one of the best ways to keep your child motivated and engaged with learning. When teenagers know what to expect from their day, they’re more likely to be calm and cooperative. A routine helps them build good habits too. This is because a routine:
- gets your child moving in the morning
- breaks your child’s day into manageable chunks
- ensures your child gets enough breaks
- gives your child some predictability.
It’s important for your child’s routine to include:
- getting up at a regular time
- getting dressed and having breakfast before school starts
- doing their learning tasks and assignments
- attending online classes
- having recess and lunch breaks
- doing some physical activity
- doing something social
- setting times for the start and finish of their school day.
Many schools have modified student timetables for home learning. If your child’s school hasn’t done this, you can suggest that your child makes shorter periods and longer breaks part of their daily routine. This can help them manage increased screen time.
During home learning, staying connected with friends is very important to your child’s wellbeing. This is why it’s good for your child’s routine to include time for socialising. This could be video-calling or physical activity with friends if your local restrictions allow. Your child could even combine learning and socialising by setting up an online study group.
3. Help teenagers follow their routine
If you encourage your child to develop their own routine, they’ll feel that the routine belongs to them. This gives them a sense of control and makes it more likely that they’ll follow the routine.
If your child is reluctant to develop a routine, you can try talking with them about their needs and preferences for school days. You could also get your child to write out the routine or use an app to record and monitor it. This gives you something you can share with everyone in the family.
You can build your child’s independence and time management skills by encouraging them to manage their own time and learning tasks using prompts or other reminders. For example, they could set a timer to signal when they need to move on to the next subject or stop for lunch.
It might also help if your child knows when you’ll be available if they need your help.
4. Help teenagers set up a good workspace
A good workspace can help your child focus and manage stress when they’re learning at home. A good workspace can also help your child with healthy posture and reduce your child’s risk of physical problems like neck, shoulder and eye pain. If possible, a good workspace for learning is somewhere that:
- has a desk or table with space for books, pens, a calculator, a computer or laptop and other equipment
- has a comfortable and supportive chair – not a bed or bean bag
- has plenty of light
- isn’t hot, cold or stuffy – you might be able to leave the door or window open for more airflow
- is quiet and doesn’t have distractions – although it’s OK for teenagers to listen to music while they study.
Your child might sometimes prefer to work sitting on their bed or outside. This is fine for short periods, particularly if they’re reading or they need time to think. But it’s best for them to write and use a computer work while sitting at a desk or table.
5. Tune in to teenagers’ feelings
Teenagers might have many and mixed feelings about home learning.
For example, your child might like learning at their own pace away from distractions. Or they might find it hard to concentrate and stay motivated. They might not want to do their school tasks at all. Their feelings, energy levels and motivation for home learning might also go up and down throughout the day or across the week.
The key thing is checking in with your child regularly to see how they’re feeling. This shows your child that what they feel is important to you. If you’re in touch with your child’s feelings, you’ll be in a good position to pick up on any problems that your child might be having, like feelings of anxiety or depression. Your child is also more likely to come to you with problems.
Here are some tips for tuning in to your child:
- Think about a good time to talk regularly with your child. Some teenagers like to talk when they’re doing something with you, like taking the dog for a walk or helping to prepare dinner.
- Ask open-ended questions like ‘What was something good about today? What didn’t you enjoy about today?’ You can also use prompts to encourage your child to share their feelings. For example, ‘It sounds like you felt annoyed when I had that meeting and couldn’t help you with your question this morning’.
- Give your child time to think and speak after you’ve asked a question – up to a minute is OK. And actively listen to your child’s response without interrupting.
- Pay attention to your child’s body language and facial expressions, as well as to what they’re saying. This can help you understand what’s behind your child’s words.
- Let your child try to solve problems for themselves before you step in to help. For example, ‘I noticed that you got a bit restless today. Is there something you could do to burn off energy if you get restless tomorrow?’ or ‘I understand why you’re embarrassed to share your art with your class. Let’s brainstorm what you might say to your teacher’.
- If your child doesn’t want to do any work, you might need to negotiate with your child to reach a solution.
- If your child is feeling strong emotions, support your child while they calm down by being patient and calm. Give your child some space if they want it, but let them know you’re close by.
- Let your child know that it’s OK if they’re finding things hard. Encourage them to say something kind to themselves, For example, ‘I’m doing the best I can’ or ‘A lot of students are finding this hard too’.
A sense of security, healthy eating, physical activity and good sleep are all essential to your child’s health and wellbeing during lockdown. When your child is healthy and well, they’re more likely to concentrate well, have energy, behave well, regulate their emotions, manage stress and learn.
6. Talk to the school about learning concerns
It’s important to encourage your child to ask for help if they need it. They can get help from their subject teachers, year coordinator, homeroom teacher, mentor or head of house if they’re feeling lost or isolated.
It’s also important for you to contact the school if you’re concerned about how your child is going with home learning. For example, your child might be falling behind in a subject, stressed about an assignment or refusing to do their work at all.
The school’s wellbeing teachers or counsellors are also good people to talk to if you’re concerned about your child’s wellbeing – for example, if you can’t get your child out of bed or they seem very withdrawn.
The earlier you or your child raises issues the better. School staff can help you find and use strategies to support your child’s learning and wellbeing. For example, they might be able to modify learning tasks for your child, suggest changes to your child’s timetable to reduce stress, and recommend activities to improve your child’s wellbeing.
If you’re concerned about your child’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, you can also talk with your GP. Your child can also call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Youth Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or eheadspace on 1800 650 890.
7. Praise and encourage teenagers’ efforts
It’s important to praise and encourage your child’s effort and other positive behaviour. This shows your child that you’ve noticed that they’re trying and you appreciate it. It can motivate your child to keep trying or to stick with a learning task.
Try to be specific when you’re praising and encouraging your child. For example, ‘It was a really good idea to ask the teacher about what to do with that science assignment’ or ‘I noticed you got back to your online tasks after lunch without being asked – thank you. It helps me a lot when you do that’.
You can also encourage your child to reward themselves for effort by doing something nice for themselves. For example, ‘You’re doing so well! Why don’t you finish that slide presentation and then do something nice like going for a walk with the dog?’ or ‘You’ve worked really hard today. Do that last maths question then watch something fun on YouTube’.
Some teenagers might have additional challenges that can affect their ability to learn at home. Our article on COVID-19 and children with disability, autism or other conditions has suggestions for supporting your child with additional needs in this situation.
Looking after yourself when teenagers are learning from home
Your wellbeing as a parent during lockdown is important. When you look after yourself and are kind to yourself, you’re better able to help your child cope and do well too. You’re also role-modelling a healthy and positive approach to the situation.