Your child’s school is now closed and all learning is online. Suddenly you have been thrust into the role of a teacher helping your child engage in virtual learning. You have no experience of it and it can be frustrating. It’s a big change for them and a big one for you. It may start as fun and a something of a novelty but that is unlikely to last. You are in it for the long haul.  How do you and your partner stay sane? 

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10 ways to create routines in learning

1. Make it clear from the start that they won’t have to work as long as they do in school. We feel better if we know what is expected and in the case of home learning, it is hard to sustain a full day of engagement. Remind yourself and your child that learning comes in many forms and that just talking and playing games is a form of learning. So maybe just the morning doing formal schoolwork and more informal activities after lunch.

2. Keep a routine for getting up, breakfast and starting work. Most children learn best in the mornings so make the most of that productive time. Keep to the routine you had when they were in school and instead of heading out to school start work at home. It’s tempting to go for an extra lie-in but avoid it. We are all more productive if we have a routine and stick to it. 

3. Clear a space before starting work. If we want our children to be motivated to achieve, we need to demonstrate that they are entering the ‘school’ space and that their attitude and behaviour – and yours - is going to reflect that. If you have a space that can become the ‘schoolroom’ then that is ideal but more likely this will be the kitchen table. With older children, it may be their bedroom. 

4. Help them get started. ‘Rather than helping them download the material from schools and then saying, “OK off you go, I will be back in an hour to check on you”, instead take five minutes to make sure they understand the lesson or task and can get started. Of course, you may have work to do of your own but you will get fewer interruptions if they know what they are doing. 

5. Make sure they have everything they are going to need.  When teachers are trying to make activities interesting and engaging they often ask children to do practical tasks. This may involve drawing or cutting out and glueing.  So it helps to have paper, pencils, felt tips, safe scissors etc. Basing the craft materials you might have at home already. There is nothing more annoying than a constant stream of requests for materials. 

6. Build-in time for breaks. If your child is older, especially if they’ve started secondary school, you can challenge their lack of motivation by highlighting the importance of working hard. They need reminding that the work they’re doing now is preparing them for future success and that it’s worth putting in the effort now to have more choices later in life. This can be more effective in building motivation than pointing out short-term gains, such as a good mark in a test.

7. Show an interest in what they are doing. Children are not used to working alone or online and it’s natural that they will get bored or feel frustrated. You will need to judge when they simply cannot do more but you can extend the point at which that occurs by showing an interest in what they are doing. If you have helped them get started then when to drop in to check how it’s going you can ask and maybe make suggestions etc. 

8. Celebrate effort rather than achievement. This is always better for the child. If your child struggles to motivate themselves, it can be tempting to offer incentives. The problem with bribery is that it creates a mentality where children are just looking for what they have to do to “win the game”. ‘It’s better to reward the effort than achievement, whether that’s with praise and kind words or something concrete.’

9. Build-in rewards but keep down the sugar. We all like to have a reward when we have done our work and stayed on task. Little rewards can make a big difference but do avoid too many rewards that involve sugar, for example, sweets and biscuits. Otherwise, they will be ‘bouncing off the walls’

10. Share the burden with your partner if you can. It is likely that both you and your partner will be working from home. Rather than both of you being half available, better to decide who is supervising the children over a given period of time and take it in turns. Employers know they need to be flexible in these extraordinary circumstances. 

Finally, show them some love. At the end of the ‘school’ day and also during it keep showing that you love them. It’s a tough time for everyone and tempers may fray. It’s understandable but in the end, a child needs to have the reassurance of knowing that they are loved so – show some love. 

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