Home is where students spend most of their time studying outside of school hours. Whether self-isolating or doing their homework after a school day, it’s a dramatic change in learning environment compared to studying in the classroom or at a library and creates a series of challenges not only for school kids, but for their parents too. Despite these setbacks, it is entirely possible to be just as productive learning from home with a few simple adjustments. As a parent, there are 3 key things you can do to help create a better home learning environment for your kids.
1. Give Them Control
You’ve probably asked your kids to study before and chances are it didn’t work out the way you imagined. You’ve probably realised that telling them what to do and enforcing orders on them isn’t very effective.
The reality is, teenagers dislike being directed around. They enjoy the feeling of making decisions and having authority over their own actions. Hence, the best way to get your kids to study diligently is to make them feel as if they are the ones making their own study and learning decisions.
So how do you approach this? Clinical psychologist Amy Wilson-Hughes insists that you must focus on guiding rather than dictating your child’s decision making. The key here lies in asking the right questions, instead of telling them what to do. For example:
“How do you think you can study at home without being distracted?”
The best way for your kids to understand the “why” is to help them figure things out for themselves. When they have to think and make decisions for themselves, they will develop far more personal responsibility and intrinsic motivation when studying.
However, what if they don’t come up with the right approach? Use questions to gently guide them, for example:
“Do you think maybe doing XYZ would be better?”
Again, this will make your child feel like they are in control of their own actions and their own time. Some other possible questions you could try are:
- In which space do you think you’ll be the most productive?
- How much time do you need to finish your schoolwork?
- Is there anything else you need to help you study? What do you need from me?
2. Bring Structure to Their Day
Without school bells and classes to set structure in your child’s day, they will definitely need more help in establishing a study routine. This sudden freedom and lack-of-structure at home makes your kids a lot more prone to daily distractions, and increases the likelihood of falling off-track with their studies. To prevent this from happening, you need to help them build structure to their day. Productivity expert Cal Newport backs this notion, insisting that structuring your time can increase a person’s productivity by at least 33%.
“I found that waking up with a clear idea of what I had to do each day and when really helped me achieve my goals. Once you tell yourself you’ll do something, there’s no backing down on your own word. Just get it done.” says Ben Tran, a state-ranker for mathematics and tutor at Project Academy.
So how do you add structure to their day? Planning and enforcing an hourly timetable might work for younger kids, but not so much for teenagers in senior high school, who enjoy and crave more freedom. Therefore, instead of having strict timetables, prompt teenagers to create a structure for their day themselves and give them reminders when they veer off schedule.
Additionally, you can also help your teenager by introducing and communicating some consistent routines and rhythms into their days. For example, have regular times for certain activities, like meals and chores. Plan and inform your kids of any family activities well in advance. Let them know that they need to walk the dog at 8am every day. This way, you will greatly help your kids settle into their own routine.
3. Set a ‘School-Only’ Space at Home
Our brains associate certain behaviours with certain environments. The way your brain associates your office to work is the same as the way your children link a classroom to learning, and their bedroom to relaxation and sleep.
Like you, your kids need a space where they can dive into their studies without any distractions. Leading HSC expert and founder of Project Academy, Isuru Wanasinghe suggests, "The environment you work in makes a huge difference to your relationship with your work. We have study spaces at Project Academy with strict rules to help students focus, and our students try to bring that same work ethic and mindset to a dedicated study space in their home as well."
Thus, it is important that you help them establish a ‘school/study-only’ space where the only thing your kids should be doing is studying. This helps their brains associate the dedicated space as a learning-only space and reduces the desire to avoid studying.
Having a separate space where they can relax is just as important as having a distinguished study space. As expressed by Dr Sophie Bostock to metro.co.uk, separating sleep and study spaces not only improves productivity, but also establishes a healthy balance between study and downtime. Ideally, their study space should be outside their bedroom. If you have limited living space, you can still achieve this by assigning a specific area in your child’s bedroom (or any room that has the space) for studying. However, it is important that you differentiate that space from the rest of the room. This can be done by making sure that the space is tidy, distraction-free, and has good lighting.
Ergonomics of the study space also requires some attention. If possible, have your children seated at a table or desk in a chair that offers lower back support. Here is a checklist for an ergonomic assessment.
Make Home Learning More Productive
Having children learning at home is no easy task, for you or for them. However, with a few simple adjustments and through building a routine, it is certainly possible to replicate or even exceed your child’s learning progress at home. Hopefully these tips will help you create a better study environment at home, and make life a bit easier during these stressful times. If you have any questions or need high school tuition support, please feel free to reach out to us at Project Academy.
 Wilson-Hughes, A, "How to support teenagers through exam time.". in The Spinoff, 2017, <https://thespinoff.co.nz/parenting/31-10-2017/how-to-support-teenagers-through-exam-time/>.
 C Newport, in Calnewport.com, , 2020, <https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2013/12/21/deep-habits-the-importance-of-planning-every-minute-of-your-work-day/>.
 "Why you shouldn't work from your bed during coronavirus self-isolation | Metro News", in Metro.co.uk, 2020, <https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/18/shouldnt-work-bed-working-home-coronavirus-self-isolation-12413064/>.