At this present moment, with most children being schooled from home, studying at home has become a much bigger part of our lives than usual. Even in normal times, however, good practice for self-directed study is invaluable. This article will include a few tips for setting yourself up for learning, aimed at both older students and parents supporting their children. Having worked in a school and as a current student myself, I’ve found that these tips (albeit fairly common sense) make a big difference.
When I study, I typically try to get out and about, going to libraries cafes and the like, and I am lucky that Oxford has countless workspaces. The division between places of work and rest is obviously much harder to achieve when you are home-based. I think that there is real value in trying to maintain this separation by setting up a workspace at the beginning of each day or week. Working in the bedroom is generally not advised; for example, the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School advise keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the bedroom. If several people in your household are studying or working from home at the moment, you might find it helpful to have a shared space within which you can all have a quiet and focused environment. My sister and I, anticipating a fairly long period of working from home, have moved our desks out of our bedrooms and into a spare room to create a makeshift study for the foreseeable future. If you don’t have a study perhaps set up a workspace on your kitchen table each morning and pack it down each evening.
In a similar vein, having a daily timetable and actually sticking to it provides structure for both work and down-time. Be realistic when you do this and don’t create something overambitious that you will inevitably fall short of, as this will only lead to frustration. Perhaps structure this around when you know you are most productive, rather than sticking to a 9-5, but also make sure that you have scheduled in time for rest, socialisation and leisure. I’m sure that this might seem like painfully obvious advice to many, but I know that having heard it 100 times myself hasn’t stopped me from forgetting it repeatedly. Break down what you need to do into its constituent parts, work out how long that actually is likely to take you, and then construct a timetable in which you have left room for flexibility.
Studying at home with children is likely going to be quite a different experience than for older students. For younger children, a lot of their learning does not have to happen at a desk, and this remains true even if you are trying to recreate something like the routine of a school day in this period. If you are trying to get your children into the habit of working at a desk, here is a rough outline of how this might be approached in a primary school:
Children in this year group might sit for only 10-15 minutes, with an adult, a few times in a day. Speaking and listening, as a means to develop their communication skills, are as key as content at this point. The rest of the day, children would generally be moving between activities and tasks every 10-20 minutes.
- Years 1 & 2
Children in these year groups might not be expected to sit in one place for much longer than 20 minutes and will frequently move between their desk and the carpet.
- Years 3,4,5 & 6
Students would not generally work on one task for more than 40 minutes. During a prolonged task they might pause several times to discuss their work and share ideas.
Children should be able to be self-sufficient for a period but be realistic. Movement breaks and brain breaks are key and keep the day interesting by having a range of activities and tasks. Just a few ideas of how learning can take place away from a desk for younger children include: phonics bingo, a family game of scrabble, or online maths games.
All of the above advice essentially comes down to creating structure but also being fair to yourself or your child. Everyone has different learning styles, different energy levels and different interests. Studying at home successfully, especially in these particularly anxious times, is a balance of self-discipline and self-care.