Home sweet school

Planning to homeschool this fall? Look to seasoned homeschool educators

Learning at home, while a hot topic these days, isn’t unique to our current situation. Whether by choice or by circumstance, many children spend some of their elementary schooling learning at home – due to illness, family changes, teacher strikes, school closures, or extracurricular opportunities. This means that much is known about how to support children at home, so families unfamiliar with it can lean on a few best practices. By using some of these ideas, your family can rise to the challenge of learning at home – whenever it’s the best decision.


Create a space

When you’re selecting a space for children to do school work, you can work with whatever you have. Study success doesn’t depend on having the perfect setup. Instead, focus on comfort, flexibility, and the right amount of solitude to match the personality of the learner. If you have the space, keeping the learning area set up can help children settle into their routines more quickly, and it helps them to disengage when it’s time for other activities. However, you can also put the books or laptop in a dedicated box at the end of the day. If possible, let learners decorate and use colourful pens or notepads while working to lend an upbeat, personalized feel to their environment.


Build a routine

Children thrive on a solid daily routine, and learning time can easily become a part of that. Set clear expectations for the length of time learners will spend at each task. Add beginning- and end-of-day rituals to your routine to separate the learning time from other activities. Be sure to include breaks for healthy snacks to encourage the brain to rest and recharge. And think outside the school hours: if your family’s schedule allows, let children study at the times that suit their energy levels best (morning, afternoon, or evening).


Use paper

When a task requires memory or significant reading, it may be better to use paper. Some studies suggest that learners work at a slower pace on paper than using electronic media, and might therefore learn more. There are benefits to writing things down, too; because writing uses more areas of the brain, it’s thought to promote learning, and the tactile experience helps children build fine motor skills.


Remember physical activity and time outdoors

According to research by CHEO and Participaction, children need to accumulate 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity in addition to several hours of light activity every day to remain healthy. Choose learning activities that require some movement or standing whenever possible, and instruct children to be mindful of their bodies and to stretch and move around at least once every hour when reading or using technology. You can even add “phys ed” to your day with sports, dancing, or outdoor activity. Getting outside is a sure mood booster as well!


Encourage independence

Even in homes where children have a dedicated full-time caregiver, they need opportunities to be responsible for their own learning. The level of independence a learner can handle is dependent on their age, ability, and personality, but you can provide a supportive environment that encourages children to challenge themselves and learn from mistakes. When children struggle with a learning activity, ask questions about what strategies they’ve tried before providing a solution. If they can’t solve a problem on their own or they make a mistake, help them to reflect on the experience to make a decision about what to do differently. Give them some resources – contact information for educators, reliable research sources, or books – and teach them to find answers on their own. Resourcefulness and independence, while difficult to gain, are skills for life.


Reach out

For children registered in public schools and those following a more independent course of study, there are many resources for learning at home. For example, you can use the Ontario curriculum to decide what to learn about, or connect with homeschooling networks to learn about learning opportunities in your area. Programs that provide study support can also help you find new strategies to encourage children in home learning. Even your family doctor could have suggestions. Especially now, organizations and businesses are innovating to make sure children are still active, engaged, and healthy, so if you have questions, ask! You’re not alone.