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Coronavirus school closure: Five tips for homeschooling your child
Special times require special measures. With every school in Belgium closed until after the Easter holidays, a lot of parents are suddenly faced with the prospect of homeschooling, but have never taught before, aside from some homework guidance.
We asked Montessori primary teachers Christoph Schiebold and Ninette Senft, who run Treasure Trove bookstore in Tervuren, for their tips. They say that, if approached the right way and with a bit of preparation, this homeschooling period can be a positive experience for you as a parent, as well as for children.
"Having primary school children at home non-stop during the day needs an adaptation of the daily routine," they add. "It will be challenging from time to time and it might take a while until the new set-up is well established. Homeschooling might start smoothly but will most likely have a dip after a week or so. Don’t let yourself be discouraged, instead keep up your routine and it will settle again."
Here are their five tips, tailored for children aged seven to 11:
1. Who – your child
This might be an awkward scenario, yet routine is the key. It will take a moment for your child to accept you as his/her teacher for a certain period. Maybe you have experience from homework support, but now the timeframe is prolonged - the duration of interaction is stretched and both parties need to find the right rhythm to collaborate. So give it time, be patient, help, support and guide if needed.
2. Where – the environment
Set up a nice, inviting and orderly space. If you are working from home, try to set up a workspace close to your own. Children like to stay close to someone while learning and working. In class, most children prefer to work next to their friends and/or sit next to their peers. Prepare worksheets, books and the potential utensils needed such as pencils, rulers, sharpener, colour pencils, felt pens, sticky tape, hole puncher, white blank paper, lined paper, squared paper, compass, eraser, sticky notes and, eventually, a computer or any other device like a tablet. This allows your child to start the homeschooling day smoothly and without any need to look for essential working tools.
3. What – choosing the subjects
Let children have an overview of what they have to do that day. Before working, children like to know how much work they have to do for the day. Show them briefly the overview and help them to prepare the tools they need in order to start.
You can always let them choose with which subject they want to start. Some children love maths, some prefer languages. Sometimes, children are deeply absorbed by the subject they are working on. They absolutely want to continue working on that subject and do not want to switch to a different exercise. This is OK. Let them do so, because the beauty of homeschooling is that they/you always have the chance to catch up, whatever is needed, the next day.
4. When – decide on time
Routine is important, so set up a daily morning routine. It could look like this:
a) Start of homeschool between 9.00 and 9.30. Children are probably excited to not have to go to school. One of the main reasons might be to not have to get up so early. It would be helpful to support this experience with positivity. Later in life, children might remember this with good thoughts, having experienced a moment out of the ordinary.
b) Include one small break during the work cycle. A small snack time with healthy food should interrupt the work cycle after about an hour. Here's an example of a possible work cycle during a homeschool morning.
(1) Start of work cycle; (2) Beginning work phase; (3) Loss of focus - snack and drink; (4) In-depth work; (5) Finalisation of work and packing away
c) Well-deserved playtime. After a productive work cycle, most children feel proud and happy. They want to move, have fresh air and relax before they have lunch. Avoid screen times though. Better let them play outside or (in case of raining days), let them have creative playtime inside.
d) Reading time. After lunch is a perfect time to introduce the routine of reading time (instead of screen time). Children love books. Fiction but also non-fiction. Do not expect your child to just read one book. Instead, prepare a box or shelf with nice, interesting and appealing books. That allows children to have a good choice. If your child is already a good reader and he/she is about to continue a chapter book, that is also an option. Variety is good: it feeds an interest and widens the horizon.
e) Follow-up activities. After silent reading time, allow your child to revise. This is the moment for further reflection. Simple activities, easy to execute and giving successful moments, positive achievements and self-assurance is very important. It can be helpful to use this time to let thechild repeat activities, concepts or operations that have been done the previous day.
This is a new experience for most parents. Patience is the key for a successful homeschooling period. In case of questions or getting stuck with an exercise, the best is to skip it and to move on to an exercise the child can solve easily. This prevents frustration and keeps spirits up. If possible, contact the teacher and ask for advice. This will avoid eventual struggles and unnecessary disagreements.