Nine home learning lessons from those in the know

April 27th, 2020

School has moved into the family home due to COVID-19, and many parents are wondering how to take care of their kids’ wellbeing during home learning.

But some families have been learning from home for years, and have great knowledge to share. They include families living in remote Australia, and families of children living with serious illness.

  1. Prioritise relationships

Distance education teachers agree that it’s vital to build strong relationships between students, parents and educators, to make up for the lack of face-to-face contact. And children who’ve missed school due to serious illness often comment that while they didn’t always miss their schoolwork, they desperately missed their friends. Technology is key to filling this gap, although some families are also exploring low-tech ways to keep social connections alive, such as cards and letter-writing.

  1. Set a routine

The School of Isolated and Distance Education encourages parents to agree on home classroom rules with their children, which might include:

  • Sharing each other’s belongings and asking before you borrow things
  • Setting up study materials at the start of each session and tidying them away afterwards
  • Speaking respectfully
  • Trying things even when they’re hard
  • Completing work in agreed timeframes.
  1. Teach kids to have a go

The School of Isolated and Distance Education and Broken Hill School of the Air have shared tips for parents on keeping kids motivated. These include:

  • Teach kids to turn negative self-talk into helpful actions – for example, recognising that ‘This is stupid’ might mean ‘I don’t understand this’, which can become ‘I’ll ask Dad to help me’.
  • Show kids how to approach tasks that they don’t enjoy, such as breaking tasks into small chunks, knocking over the worst task first, reminding ourselves of the benefits of getting the task done, or picking a time when we’re feeling good and tackling the task right then.
  • Show kids how to keep things in perspective – e.g. asking ourselves ‘Will this problem still matter tomorrow or next week? Have we dealt with problems like this in the past? What went well today?’.
  • Vary the praise you give – try to find 50 ways of saying ‘well done’.’
  • Tick off tasks for a sense of accomplishment.
  • Stay encouraging and enthusiastic.
  1. Get active outdoors if you can

This might mean going for a walk (if you can be safe and observe social distancing), playing in the yard or bouncing on a trampoline.

  1. Accept that things won’t always work

Teachers who’ve worked in distance education for years have observed that no system is perfect and sometimes tech will crash! It may help to clarify with the teachers which tasks are most important, so you can be sure to prioritise those.

  1. Make room for sadness

Many students feel bad about losing fun experiences and rites of passage like school formals, sporting matches, parties and travel. Teens may feel it’s selfish to mention these ‘small’ problems during a pandemic, so parents might need to start the conversation: asking kids what they miss and assuring them it’s OK to feel sad about it, while also encouraging hope and optimism for the future.

  1. Celebrate what you’re learning

Many young people who’ve done distance education say it taught them amazing qualities like independence, responsibility, discipline and tenaciousness.

  1. Show that you’re trying to take care of yourself

You don’t have to pretend that everything’s fine. But it’s great if kids can see their parents trying to look after their own wellbeing, whether it’s by taking a walk, talking to friends, having a coffee in the garden, keeping a journal, or seeking professional support if needed.

  1. Learn from families who’ve done this before

For city families, this could be a great time to encourage your kids to think about what it might be like to live in a remote area where there’s no ‘typical’ school. Kids growing up on cattle stations have created a fantastic video about their experiences here, and the Broken Hill School of the Air and Alice Springs School of the Air have generously shared their insights.

Your family might also enjoy hearing stories of kids who did virtual education in unusual situations, such as onboard a whale-watching ship or from a remote Cambodian village. There’s even a program which uses robots in schools to stand in for sick children who are isolated in hospital – the robots ‘live’ in the children’s classrooms and social spaces, and the kids operate them remotely from their hospital beds.

If some families are just starting to grapple with virtual learning, there are others who are old hands at this, and they have great lessons to share.