In these uncertain times, when MANY things are topsy turvy, the importance of creating a family routine cannot be overstated. You know this and, as every expert suggests, you’ve carved out an enriching, personalized schedule for your children while trying to keep your child on task with their school away from school and it’s been tough because your child refuses to shift from “vacation mode” to “study mode” while at home.
Getting a child, whether in elementary or high school, to adopt a new routine is complicated, certainly more so when no one can predict when ‘real life’ will start up again. If you’re at a loss, and fear that your child may be losing important academic ground, here’s my advice for you: Collaborate. Don’t Dictate.
If you haven’t already, talk with your child about their daily schedule. Lay out your concerns and explain how you’re feeling. You can say something like, “I’m worried with you being out of school for so long that things might really feel unstructured. What if we set up a time for learning and a time for homework?” Invite them to design or refine the schedule with you. Sometimes, approaching with a question rather than a command yields better results.
Younger kids may need hand-holding—in designing their schedule and adhering to it day in and day out. Lay out clear expectations regarding what they will do independently and when it’s okay—and not okay—to approach you for help during the day.
Give any new schedule three days of transition time before determining if it needs revisiting.
“Chunk” Time Effectively
An hour and a half of steady study time is just way too much for any child, especially one with home attention distractions. No child is going to be able to sustain focus unless the work is segmented into smaller chunks.
To do so, follow the Pomodoro technique. This technique posits that people are more attentive and motivated to do a task when they have a specific amount of time to work. The ideal amount of time for adults is about 25 minutes, according to the research.
Between each 25-minute chunk of work should be a five-minute break, and string together no more than four pomodoros in a row—any more than that deflates motivation levels.
Students in middle and high school can generally sustain attention for about the same time as adults, however they do better with two or three consecutive pomodoros, and then a longer break.
If your child is resistant or can’t focus consistently for 25 minutes, start where they are—and don’t stress. Shorten the time period and see what they are willing to do.
Do the Hard Stuff Before Lunch
There’s an optimal time to do just about anything, according to Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He wrote in his book that human energy and motivation peaks and valleys throughout the day. When we get up in the morning, our energy and attention levels are flat. As we go through the morning, it gets better until it peaks around lunch time, and then it starts to go down—much lower to where it even started at the beginning of the day.
For that reason, start the day with the subjects that are hardest for your children, like math and language arts. Save the easier tasks for after lunch.
Commute Between Work Stations
For elementary school children: Younger children need to be active; they won’t do well sitting down for long stretches. For them, adopt the Montessori approach and set up an environment made up of stations. At the reading station, collect your child’s books with a beanbag chair or pile of pillows for comfortable reading. Designate a table for the math station, where you station pencils, books, and worksheets. Create a LEGO or puzzle station, and another one for science. Set a 25-minute timer and encourage your child to physically move from station to station when it goes off. Remember, it’s your child’s job to stay busy at each station.
For middle and high school students: Likewise, older children should have at their disposal a few effective work stations that don’t include their own bedrooms. Letting them stay in their rooms all day long is not a good idea. If you have a two-story home, suggest that your teen stays on the first-floor in the morning for the heavy work before returning to their room in the afternoon. If the weather’s nice have them go outside for a 30 minute break for the monotony of indoor life. Maybe take in some yard work or a walk.
Set up Virtual Social Interactions
It’s so important for children to stay in touch with each other—they need their peers to keep motivated and for some socially positive interaction. If the school isn’t doing anything to promote or facilitate social interaction, encourage your children to set up study groups with their friends. If they are reading a book, they can talk about chapters after reading them together. Consider signing up for Zoom, a software exploding in popularity right now. Zoom allows users to share screens and it offers add-ons like bitpaper.io that make for more calls more fun and interactive. #
Ann Dolin, M.Ed. author of Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions to Stress-Free Homework and founder of Educational Connections Inc. For more info visit anndolin.com.