How to survive home schooling your kids

Living Well | Clare Barry | Posted on 04 August 2020

Nail at-home education with these expert tips for remote learning.

Victorian families are back in the thick of at-home learning this week, as almost all the state’s roughly one million students tune in to tackle their term three schooling remotely.

It will continue to challenge students, teachers and parents, so we’ve asked specialists in distance learning and teacher-parent partnerships for their tips on surviving – and thriving – while learning from home. (Plus, how to keep your kids safe online.)

Kids doing shool work at home


Remote learning survival tips


Remember, you are not your child’s teacher…

“Children are not being home schooled,” points out Deakin University education senior lecturer Elizabeth Rouse, who has a special focus on partnerships between parents and teachers. “They’re actually being schooled by teachers who are working really hard to make the learning as enjoyable and engaging as they can and to support those kids at home to maintain their continuity with school. 

“They are the children’s teachers and parents need to a take a bit of the pressure off themselves, thinking they need to take on yet another role of schooling children while also trying to be a parent and work from home.”

… but you are their parent

“Teachers want to know the parents have their back,” says Elizabeth. “They need the parent at home to support their child to be focused and also to recognise if their child’s just not coping today and to have that dialogue with the teacher.”

Stick to a school routine

Elizabeth emphasises the importance of sticking to a normal school-day routine of getting up and dressed and ready to work by the normal school start time. “A parent might say, ‘I’ve got to write this report so let’s have learning time, I’ll do my work, you do your work, we’ll all sit there from 9 til 11 and get our work done then we’ll have a break at 11 together’,” she suggests.

“That’s what we normally do, if you’re in an office you have a break, at school it’s morning play. Go out, sit in the sunshine, have a cup of tea, have a snack, have a run outside – then come back in and start again and at 1 o’clock we’ll break for lunch.”

Organise a learning space 

Education department guidelines recommend setting up a “quiet and comfortable” place to learn, ideally in a shared family space such as a loungeroom or dining room rather than a bedroom “where your child can feel isolated and supervision can be more challenging”. 

“Not everyone has the opportunity for a dedicated space,” says Elizabeth. “If you’re in a two-bedroom house with three kids all learning from home and you’re trying to work and the only place you have is the dining-room table or the kitchen bench, then that’s what you’ve got, that’s your workspace.”

Take a break

Paul Noble’s Kimberley School of the Air delivers lessons to primary-school students across Kimberley cattle stations via satellite, but limited attention spans, he says, are a challenge for teachers everywhere.

“With younger kids, if you can get a good solid two hours in and get that right you’re doing well,” he says. “It’s easier to work with success and build it up, rather than insisting ‘you’re going to be at school for five hours’ and it all ends up in tears.

“Break it up. Maybe you’ll only get 40 minutes out of them, so go do some skipping and measure their heart rate, or have an apple and a bit of a wander around then back we come. Or maybe just do a stretch and touch your toes then okay, let’s get back on with it now.”

Make the most of the morning

Paul recommends tackling more formal work such as maths and literacy early in the day. “Kids from mainstream schools know that anyway – they do the more complex work in the morning and then as the day goes on they’re out doing sport or art.”

Remember that not all learning is formal

“Work that relaxed time in,” says Paul, “because there’s so much learning that goes on that’s not formal – planting some seeds or taking the weeds out or building a tower with Lego. Your seed’s grown three centimetres, okay let’s go make a line or a bar graph, bring it back to formal learning.“

Give kids some control 

Children will cope better if they have some control over their timetable or at least know what’s on for the day, Elizabeth advises. 

“If a child is doing their own self-paced learning let them work out how they’re going to manage things, because they know what works best for them.

“For older secondary-school children in particular, get them to plan out their timetable so they can see what they’re doing across the week – doing subject time in all areas but also having the opportunity for a break. If children think all they’re going to be doing is learning they’re going to turn off.” 

Home schooling
Home schooling
Home schooling

Keep up their social contact

“School is not just a place of learning, it’s a place of social contact,” Elizabeth says. “Children are missing out on Auskick, they’re missing out on netball, they’re missing out on catching up with friends at lunchtime. So maybe work with other parents to say can we set up a Zoom or WhatsApp session at lunchtime or 3 or 4pm so kids can all have afternoon tea and sit around and have a chat with each other for half an hour or an hour.”

Resist the urge to take over

Elizabeth warns that worried parents can be tempted to take over their child’s learning. “As parents we’re terrified our children are going to fall behind so we want to be in there to make sure they stay on top of things. Sometimes we can undermine the child by doing that.”

Showing your child that you’re interested, but not taking over their work, will help them engage. You can say ‘that’s really interesting, I was listening when you were talking to the teacher about those koalas, I didn’t realise you knew that’.

“A child might say, ‘I’m going okay with my maths but I’m not too sure about my English’, then parents can say how can I help you, what do you need from me – what strategies can we put into place so you can catch up?’ ”.

Everyone practise patience

There will be good and bad days for parents, kids and teachers, Elizabeth warns. “One day might go really well and the next will be a disaster so patience is really important. Allow yourself permission to do what you can do and not what you can’t do – you can’t take on the world.  

“When the kids do go back to school, if I was the classroom teacher, I’d just want the kids really happy to be with me, happy to be with each other, confident that they’ve done their best and are ready to move on. What’s important is their wellbeing, that they feel included, and they feel in control of themselves as a successful learner.”

Accentuate the positives

Distance learning on the scale we’ve just returned to is not easy, but both Paul and Elizabeth anticipate clear positives. Teachers will see their students differently, and children disengaged in the classroom might shine in a new setting with more or less structure than they’re used to. But parents are arguably the biggest winners.

“Just being at home with your children is a luxury [for] many parents ... because they’ve been so busy having to go to outside work,” Elizabeth points out.

“Maybe Dad’s never heard his son read a passage out of a book,” says Paul. “Maybe Mum has never seen that Mary’s really good at drawing pictures or can write really good sentences now. [They can] engage more without tearing off to get this kid to footy, or that kid there – and just slow down and enjoy the process.”