How to make the best of learning at home – when you haven’t got online lessons

With the announcement that all schools are closing for X weeks, many secondary school students will be learning at home through online lessons. However, some schools still don't provide online lessons at all, and some only provide them part of the time.

Many students struggle with working through worksheets and work set without any interaction from their teachers. In this post I'm going to be giving some advice about how to make this work better for you. If you do have some online lessons, check out my tips about how to make the most of them. 

How to make the best of learning at home – when you haven't got online lessons

1. Set yourself a routine

One of the hardest things about not having to be in school, or log on to an online lesson at a specific time, is not having a routine or any kind of structure to your day.

While it's harder to stick to a routine that isn't imposed on you, it's really helpful to put some key touch points into your day. For example:

  • A set wake-up time
  • A time when you aim to start work
  • A morning break, snack or coffee time
  • Lunchtime
  • Afternoon break time – maybe to coincide with the end of the school day
  • Evening meal time
  • Bed time

Have a think about what would work for you and your family and do your best to stick to it. If it's not always 100% accurate it doesn't matter – but it at least gives a reliable shape to your day.

2. Create some systems to stay on top of your tasks

During the first coronavirus lockdown and school closures many students struggled with the way that work was being set. It felt like a constant stream of emails or notifications on systems like FireFly or Google Classroom and students who weren't used to managing this kind of influx of ‘to-dos' felt overwhelmed and lost in it.

Try using a system like a paper calendar or diary (you can print them off the internet if you haven't bought one, or even draw one on a piece of paper if you haven't got a printer).

Every time you get notified of a piece of work, write in on the date that it's due, or when you're expected to be doing it. You could create folders in your email account for work due this week, next week etc. and use things like the star in Gmail to show when you've moved a task to your calendar, and then move emails to a ‘finished' folder when you've done the task.

Check your notifications once per day at the same time e.g. 4 pm, to see what's come in and get your plan together for the next day.

You will need to create your own system based on the ways you're being set work and experiment with what works for you.

3. Create a pleasant workspace for learning at home

If you have the space in your house, make sure you've got a table and chair to work at, that preferably also has some natural light. You might like to have a plant or a picture of your happy place in your workspace as well.

Try to adjust your workspace so that you have a good posture. Having a good posture will help to keep you alert and focused, and it will also reduce fatigue – slouching puts stress on your body making you tired, and, in the long-term, giving you pain.

These are some tips on creating a good posture:

  • Your feet are flat on the floor
  • Your knees are almost at right-angles with your hips ever so slightly higher than your knees
  • Your back is straight
  • Your neck is straight so that you're not trying to look either up or down at your screen

4. Use timers and the Pomodoro method

It's very easy to get jaded and tired and de-motivated when you're working alone with no input from others all the time. Using timers, or the pomodoro technique, can be a way to counteract this.

The idea is that you set a timer for 25 minutes (you can flex this according to how long you're able to effectively concentrate for) and focus 100% until the timer goes off. You then have a short break.

Do three pomodoros before taking a longer break.

5. Get active in your breaks

Every time you take a break you should move, even if that's only to walk to the kettle to make a cup of tea. You can also stretch, jog on the spot or do some star jumps.

In longer breaks, go for a walk around the block or garden or do a quick yoga routine. At some point in the day, make sure you go outside to get some natural daylight and have a walk, run or cycle to properly get you moving.

6. Remove distractions

It's very easy to get distracted when you're working on your own. Do your best to minimise distractions by:

  • Leaving your phone in another room during a pomodoro session or when you're trying to focus – you can reward yourself with phone time in your breaks, so long as you move as well.
  • Manage siblings and pets – both of whom can be very distracting. For example, if you're working at the same table as a sibling, you could put up a barrier so you can't see each other.

7. Make sure you hand in work in the format your teachers asked for

Many of the automated systems teachers use for setting work online require students to submit their work in a specific way. So, if you need to hand it in through the system but email it instead, an email will be sent automatically to say it hasn't been handed in.

You will save yourself, your teachers and your parents a lot of time and grief if you follow the instructions accurately.

8. Reward yourself

At the end of a long day of learning at home make sure you treat yourself with something that you enjoy. It's tough staying disciplined to work on your own so make sure you've got something to look forward to at the end of every day.

Need more help getting your work done when you're learning at home?

If you'd like to see some friendly faces every morning and feel less alone when you're learning at home, we have daily 9 am accountability calls running in The Extraordinaries Club while schools are closed and there is the demand. These worked really well in the first lockdown and gave students who didn't have online lessons a place to come to get their day started in a productive way – and also gave them routine. We also have after school accountability calls running several times per week.

If this sounds like it would benefit your child, join The Extraordinaries Club here to take part.


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