Three years ago I was a parent to a newly minted prep boy. I was a prep mum the year after too.
Afterschool learning activities during those first years of school – practicing readers, learning high-frequency words and some finishing off – were difficult, especially with my eldest boy.
My requests of him to do these things were met with refusal or a reluctance that saw him grudgingly do the task quickly and with little care. It was difficult keeping my own emotions in check as well, with increasing frustration and a track of “I can’t do this” playing in my head.
Three years on, with our boys now in Grades 2 and 3, the difficulties and frustrations are far less frequent.
In this post I share strategies that have worked for me for both afterschool learning and homeschooling (we had a stint of that just prior to the Term holidays).
In the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely that most parents will need to set up learning at-home in place of school for at least part of Term 2. I hope my strategies can help with that.
At-home learning is different to school
One of the greatest challenges to creating an effective at-home learning environment is that home is a child’s safe zone and parents’ are a child’s safe people.
Home is where our kids get grumpy and throw tantrums. Our children say “no” to us in a way they never would to their teachers.
Some of the strategies in this post will help with this dynamic. To the extent they don’t, I think it’s important to accept that at-home learning is not going to be perfect and to be kind to yourself and your children as you work together and do your best.
Agree and display a written schedule
This was a very successful strategy for both our afterschool reading practice and our recent week of homeschool because it:
- took the focus off me as the source of the program
- created a structure and boundaries (most children respond well to these)
- avoided confusion and arguments about what was meant to be happening at a particular time
- allowed the kids to be part of the decision-making, bolstering their enthusiasm for the activities and making it harder for them to refuse to participate
- provided something to look forward to (whether a special activity or just the end of the program for the day)!
But, while structure is good, it’s also important to be flexible, particularly if you’re like me and juggling school and younger children. Many a reading practice session at our house has been cancelled due to a toddler meltdown! Allowing room for spontaneity and variation may also allow you to develop your child’s learning about things that catch their attention (and cope with things that don’t!)
Be prepared for younger children
Younger children are another major challenge for afterschool learning activities or homeschool.
To help cater for everyone’s needs, I suggest:
- having activities the younger child can do beside your school children, eg, blocks, dolls, playdough, drawing, books
- preparing snacks and a water bottle in advance
Your younger child may feel put out with his or her older siblings home and less time alone with Mum and Dad. Try to dedicate some one-on-one time for your younger child. For that, I love bathtime and stories before bed!
This was a masterstroke in our quest to get our particularly reluctant reader to practice reading at home and gave me a rest from having to be the organiser (also chief nagger). Our reading practice schedule included a read to Dad session every Sunday night and, in the event of visitors, we enlisted them to listen to our children read too.
Applying this strategy in the COVID-19 pandemic comes with its challenges of course – but your children could read to their grandparents over Facetime or video conference. And, what about enlisting grandparents to read a chapter book to your child over the phone? Grandparents might not have all the modern titles on their bookshelves, but they might be able to dust off a classic or two. The Famous Five or some of Enid Blyton’s books, perhaps.
Reading went from being a chore to a captivating adventure for my particularly reluctant reader after a Summer holiday during which we read a number of chapter books pitched perfectly at young boys.
Even with my school boys’ now in Grades 2 and 3, we still read to them most days – at bedtime and at any time we need to change the pace a bit!
Audiobooks are another great option for helping kids get interested in books and reading. We have memberships to a couple of libraries and get access to audiobooks for free.
Learning opportunities are everywhere
So your learning activity (perhaps even the whole day!) doesn’t go to plan?
Yes, I’ve had a few of those!
Get your kids to help make dinner and make it a lesson in reading, maths and science. Or, show them how to peg clothes out or fold washing – they’re going to need those skills in the future too!
A break for the subbed-in playmate
If your kids are learning at home in place of school and you have a particularly social boy or girl (as we do!), you may find yourself being asked to play more than usual.
Try to give yourself a break each day – otherwise the program of teaching/supervising, parenting and play can be all-consuming.
For me at the moment that comes in the form of putting on the TV.
Paid work from home with kids in tow
Doing all this and doing paid work from home at the same time is another level again.
I worked part-time for a number of years after having kids and had some days working from home with kids in tow. I’ve taken phone calls in closets and worked while my kids watched TV all day. These experiences were not fun for any of us.
While it depends on how old and independent your kids are (mine were little at the time and not very independent), my advice on adding paid work into the juggle is that to the extent you can, push your work to kid bedtimes and early mornings. With daytime work commitments, tag team with your partner and use TV when you can’t.
Good luck and may the force and these ideas be with you for Term 2!