Home schooling: Some strategies to help parents and children |06 February 2021
In order to contain the Covid-19, school has shifted to home and children are mainly learning online. In addition, many parents are being asked to work from home and they have been forced into the shoes of a teacher. But many families now face new challenges: how do we care for our children while working and schooling at home, and not panic during this unprecedented outbreak? In order to help us parents understand the new dynamics in place, our newspaper, Seychelles NATION, contacted Catriona Monthy, educational psychologist and Amelia Savy, provisional psychologist from the Student Support Services at the Ministry of Education.
Seychelles NATION: How, as parents, can we recreate/emulate the discipline of a classroom while at home?
Catriona and Amelia: As many parents will attest, getting children through their regular home-work can be a challenge, never mind weeks of home and virtual schooling! The context of home and school, in terms of the people, physical spaces, and routines, is quite different so it is important to set realistic expectations. Otherwise it can just lead to everyone being frustrated! That said, there are a few strategies that parents may find helpful, such as:
1) Establish regular routines during the week. Set times for school work, meals, play, creative activities, physical activity, relaxation, and social time with other members of the family. Display these on a schedule or time-table, using visuals (pictures/photos) if it is developmentally appropriate for your child. Depending on your child’s age, get them involved in setting up the time-table and let them make some choices. For younger children, you might refer to what comes next to help them prepare for transitions, and let them ‘tick off’ activities that are done.
2) Consider the physical space where children do school work. This can be difficult in many households but where possible, try to designate a space that is orderly and relatively free from distractions, including visual clutter (e.g. a lot of school materials and other things on the desk) and sounds (e.g. TV, radio, other people talking). Some people find listening to some kinds of music helps them concentrate while others need it to be quiet.
3) Have some ‘screen free’ time for everyone (including parents)
4) Break down tasks. Some children will need help organising the various tasks they have to do and may find it overwhelming if they have too many things to think about or do at once. For example, if a child has several worksheets to complete, you might give them one first, making sure they understand what to do and can complete it, before introducing the next one.
5) Provide constructive feedback, encouragement, and praise. Focus your praise on the effort that the child is making and what they are learning, rather than whether they get everything right.
6) Be responsive and flexible – different things work for different people and families. Observe what works and doesn’t work for you and make adjustments.
7) Be consistent and clear with your expectations of them.
Seychelles NATION: How can parents find ways to be more patient with their kids?
Catriona and Amelia: This comes down a lot to the expectations we have of our kids and ourselves. To be clear, this situation is not ideal for most people and we’re doing the best we can – parents, children, and educators. We’re all dealing with a sense of uncertainty and many are trying to cope with loss of the regular routines, resources, and social structures that help them feel safe, secure, and productive. So, for parents, take a deep breath, pick your battles (i.e. choose what is really important to insist upon and what you can let go), and try not to be too hard on yourself or your kids. They’re most probably not trying to give you a hard time but are actually having a hard time adjusting to the situation. Parents are usually their children’s safe space so it is not unexpected that they may express their emotions (verbally or through their actions) more with you than with anyone else.
Also, take a few minutes each day (this can be while doing a day-to-day activity) to check in and talk about how you’re both feeling and finding the day. It’s easier to have patience when you have some understanding of the other person’s perspective and what they are dealing with.
Seychelles NATION: What is the proper balance for home-schooling for 7-12 years?
Catriona and Amelia: There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ as children’s motivation, attention levels, and ability to work independently can vary quite a bit. It is important to schedule a certain amount of time per day dedicated to home-schooling. Perhaps, keep a similar schedule to that of the school, such as having ‘lessons’ from 8am to 2pm dispersed with breaks between, and time for lunch. However, it is possible that your child will not have the same level of focus as they would do at school so be flexible with the schedule. You may have to give activities that are shorter than a standard school period, especially for younger children. Most children are more attentive in the morning so you might consider having activities that require more concentration earlier in the day. Make sure to include at least some activities that your child enjoys every day, especially coming after an activity that may be harder or less interesting for them. Children also need some unstructured time when they can play and be creative; doing something because it is intrinsically motivating rather than trying to meet an objective. A general principle to bear in mind is ‘quality over quantity’; it’s better for a child to spend 15 minutes engaging with learning material and understanding it, rather than struggling over repetitive tasks for an hour.
Seychelles NATION: Children also miss the human contacts and relationships from school.
- How do we compensate for that?
Catriona and Amelia: Children can talk to each other on the phone, video chat, or send messages online (with appropriate parent supervision, of course). Children could also do an activity, such as an art project, cooking, or writing a story, in their own homes around the same time and share the results with each other through photos or short videos.
If you’re in contact with your child’s teacher, you could organise for the teacher to check in with you and your child on a regular basis (e.g. weekly) to follow up on progress and a sense of being ‘at school’. If the facility is available, the teacher could also give some instructions or explanations virtually.
However, it is important for us to acknowledge that we cannot compensate completely for the loss of human contact right now and it can be especially difficult for small children who don’t really understand what is going on and why they can’t go to school or see their friends. Sadness and frustration are natural emotions to have in such a situation so do listen and reassure them, but don’t minimise or dismiss their feelings. You can tell them things like, “this is hard”, “I’m listening”, and “it’s ok to feel a bit sad right now”.
We can also try to make the most of the human interactions we can still have – with other members of our household.
- What is the psychological impact when children are isolated at home without their friends?
Social isolation can bring with it feelings of loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. These feelings can sometimes be more pronounced if the child is surrounded only by adults. However, the psychological impact on the child will depend a lot on the home environment and on the quality of interactions that a child has with other people, be it physically or virtually. Children will be at greater risk of being negatively impacted if the home environment feels tense or unsafe due to conflict, neglect, abuse, or lack of material necessities.
While it is important to acknowledge the disadvantages of staying at home, it is equally important to focus on some of the positives, such as getting to try some new things at home, spending time with each other, and being part of national effort to stay healthy and safe. Give children age appropriate but truthful information about what is happening and why, to help them make sense of the situation.
Be aware of what children may be picking up from your own behaviour and emotional reactions. Take care of yourself. Be aware of your own feelings. Try to maintain a healthy diet, engage in physical exercise, get enough sleep, connect with others that support you, and limit your own exposure to news that may keep you in a constant state of alarm.
Seychelles NATION: How do we reinforce the child-parent bond after all home-schooling debacles (shouting etc)?
Catriona and Amelia: Such ‘debacles’ will probably happen to most people at some point! It can be helpful to acknowledge and accept your own feelings of frustration and loss of control in our current situation. Those feelings are normal and perfectly acceptable for you to feel. However, we do have to be accountable for our actions; it is not ok to just let loose and be hurtful or destructive. If you’re feeling yourself getting to that point, try to remove yourself from the situation and give yourself a minute to calm down. If it does happen, let your child know how you felt and why. If you think that your actions (e.g. shouting) are not how you want yourself or your child to behave, tell them that and apologise. This is also an opportunity for you to model appropriate ways of dealing with unpleasant or difficult emotions.
It may also be helpful to define your roles as the ‘teacher/facilitator’ and parent. When ‘class time’ is up, try to find a way to let go of any frustration experienced during home-schooling and go back to being a parent. A good way to reinforce your bond is to do a fun or less structured activity together where you are less prone to frustration. For instance, by simply playing with your child, reading them a story before bed or by preparing dinner together. Offer your undivided attention and presence whenever you can.
Compiled by Vidya Gappy