With the coronavirus crisis still looming large worldwide, parents are scrambling to deal with the fallout from school closures — whether it is to find alternative childcare, switch to a work-from-home arrangement if one’s workplace has not already done so, or leave children at home unsupervised.
For parents already based at home, or those who are able to take time off during school closures, another major concern is: can I tutor my child at home?
For Singapore schools, e-learning systems are in place, and teachers will likely set daily assignments, with same-day deadlines for completion. To ensure compliance, they may call you personally if your child hasn’t logged into the e-learning systems by a specified time. If you are unable to supervise your children during school closures, you can help them get organised by ensuring that their log-in passwords are printed out on a sheet of paper, stored in a file on the computer, or saved in the web browser that they will use.
Here on KSP, parents and educators have been sharing tips and resources about helping kids with schoolwork for over a decade. Below, we’ve rounded up the best home learning tips on our site that you can use.
Declutter study areas.
Don’t wait till school closure to tidy your child’s workspace — Princeton studies have suggested that clutter is tiring for the brain, because it has to work harder to filter out objects in the visual field.
There will be learning materials that you are obligated to keep, such as your child’s textbooks for the year. For everything else, take an intentional approach, by asking:
- How often has my child used this?
- Is my child likely to pick this up in the future?
- Is this interesting to read?
- Am I learning anything from it?
- Am I retaining the information?
- Does it make me curious to find out more?
- Is this information available in a more palatable form elsewhere, such as on an app?
Older children can also use these questions as a guide when tidying up. Items that you no longer need can be donated; in Singapore, selected libraries have a Book Exchange shelf for pre-loved books and resource materials. (Click here for Book Exchange locations and more decluttering tips.)
Study cues help children stay focused.
Your child’s school may have provided a home-learning timetable to follow. If not, discuss and agree on a daily study routine with your child. To signal to your child that it is time to begin work, create a tangible study cue. An easy way to do this is by getting your child to work in a designated space. If your child doesn’t have a study area, give him or her a portable lamp to be switched on whenever work is in progress. Alternatively, look for an unobtrusive instrumental or classical music playlist (on music streaming apps such as Spotify) to set the mood, and use this playlist only when your child is studying.
Counter resistance to studying.
If your child makes excuses to put off schoolwork, don’t be drawn into a battle of wills. Instead, ask your child, “On a scale of 1 to 10, ‘1’ being ‘not ready to start work’ and ‘10’ being ‘ready to start anytime,’ where do you think you are right now?”
If your child names any number greater than one, you can reply, “What makes you say ‘2’ and not ‘1’?” This helps children to view their own readiness in a more positive light.
If, however, your child claims to be at the bottom of the scale, ask why this is so. The next step is to ask questions that will help your child move forward, such as “What would be one small thing you could do to move up the scale?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you be more ready?” (Get more tips on dealing with resistance.)
Teach children to take good notes.
If older children need to watch video lectures assigned by the school, teach them to stay alert by taking good notes. Typically, a video lecture will do the following:
- Introduce a topic
- Provide an outline for the topic or subtopics
- Emphasise important information
- Indicate when information is non-essential or informal
- Define terms
- Provide examples
Here’s how you can help: watch a video lecture with your child, and identify the elements of the lecture using the framework above.
Some schools have trained their students in the Cornell note-taking method, where a notebook page is divided into three sections — a narrow left column for questions, a broader right column for notes, and a summary section across the bottom of the page, to be filled in during a post-class review of notes. Encourage your child not to transcribe a lecture verbatim, but to rewrite important points in his or her own words, and to reflect on these points and jot down questions for the teacher.
The advantage of video lectures is the ability to press “pause” and “replay,” so don’t hesitate to do that. You can also introduce your child to common note-taking abbreviations to save time. (Get more note-taking tips.)
Teach textbook-reading strategies.
Much like lectures, textbooks usually follow a set format, covering:
- terms and definitions
- examples to illustrate abstract concepts
- examples to illustrate cause-and-effect relationships (“why does this happen?”)
- classifications and lists
- comparisons between ideas (“how is this similar or different from that?”).
If, during the reading process, your child is aware of the purpose that each section serves, this will provide structure for making summary notes and self-testing.
As textbooks can be challenging to read, ask your child to alert you if there is material that he or she doesn’t understand. Together — or with the teacher’s help — look online for explanatory materials that are presented in a jargon-free and conversational tone, with clear examples and illustrations to aid understanding. (Get more textbook-reading tips.)
Keep study sessions to 30 minutes.
Many educators and learning experts recommend keeping study sessions to 30 minutes — if your child needs to complete assigned reading, he or she can spend 20–25 minutes on reading, followed by five to 10 minutes on review, i.e. quizzing oneself orally on the material. Let your child take short breaks between study sessions to recharge.
Does your child display any of the following behaviours?
- Poor posture (head on arm, head on table, or slouching), which creates sluggishness and a sense of inertia
- A fixation on how much work remains, instead of focusing one’s attention on answering the question at hand
- Wanting to get work over and done with quickly, rather than properly, which leads to careless and sloppy work
- A general aversion towards seatwork
If so, you may want to reduce study sessions to 10 or 15 minutes, and focus on good work habits instead.
Get your child to use a timer for keeping track of work sessions and breaks. For some children, a jarring alarm can trigger stress, so choose a pleasant tone to signal that time is up. When work for the day is complete, let your child have something to look forward to, be it family bonding time, or a relaxing activity.
Test your children’s understanding.
On a daily basis, a simple way to check if your children have understood the concepts that they’ve been tasked to learn is this: First, ask them to describe the concepts in their own words. Next, ask them to provide examples of these concepts, or tell you why they are useful or relevant in real life.
Keep an observation log.
Is your child is struggling with e-learning homework assignments? Resist the urge to jump in with solutions. To encourage independent learning, show your child how to utilise tools and resources — for example, e-learning sites often have explanatory videos to guide children through assignments.
If your child is seemingly stuck on a problem, you can say, “Think about possible ways to solve this question,” and give them space to work it out on their own. If they repeat certain errors, you can ask, “Why did you go about it this way?”
Should your child be encountering multiple challenges, you may want to keep a log. Remember: your role is not to replace your child’s teacher. Instead, focus on providing observations to give teachers a clear picture of what your child’s learning issues might be.
You don’t have to follow a strict routine.
If your child’s school hasn’t provided a daily timetable, you can allow for flexibility if it aids learning.
“It’s not helpful to clock watch all the time, because a child may take a longer time to finish a project, and we should allow the child the satisfaction of seeing it to completion,” says a local homeschooling mother. “Sometimes, while doing the project, an interesting discussion may surface, so time should be given for that too. It’s useful to give some leeway for exploration with the child, as you may encounter teaching moments that may not come up again.”
Use technology to your advantage.
It’s likely that your child’s school would have subscribed to a number of e-learning services, making them free for your child to use. Do check with the school and take advantage of these resources. If you are looking for additional learning support, some popular tools used by schools are Quizlet (for making online flashcards and quizzes) and Kahoot (a game-based learning platform).
Other sites you can explore include Vocabulary.com (a reader-friendly dictionary with a word mastery game app), Diagnostic Questions (attempt math diagnostic tests and receive feedback), and Diffen (a site that allows you to “compare anything” and is particularly useful for science).
Alternatively, visit Open Culture for a list of 200 free educational resources that you can tap into during this time.
Stay in touch with teachers and support networks.
You’re not in this alone, so don’t hesitate to use apps such as ClassDojo to contact your child’s teachers whenever you need help. And if you’ve been shying away from parenting WhatsApp and Facebook groups, this is a good time to join one, because we could all use a community to lean on.