- Category Advice Column, Education, Impaq, Parenting
The coronavirus and the national lockdown have certainly created new circumstances for all of us and, as parents, one of the most common cries we yell out when confronted with assisting our child with not only homework, but also schoolwork, is “help!”.
Our children are suddenly in a new situation where their home is now their school and their teacher is often their parent or another caregiver.
One of the important things that helps children manage schoolwork is the very structure of school itself. It is not their home and, by definition, it is a place of learning with structures in place and direct, instructional teaching.
Home is home, which means it’s where our kids often get to relax and unwind and play, even if it is after doing homework. Suddenly, they are confronted with a double challenge – home and school are the same thing, and this is difficult to navigate.
So, how can we, as parents, help our children concentrate on their studies?
The study space
Firstly, we need to make sure that they have a study area that is quiet, that the door to the study area can be closed, and that the actual desk/table that they are working on is clutter-free with only the necessary stationery and books in place. It is beneficial if the room is light and well-ventilated with lots of fresh air circulating, as this helps the child to concentrate and stay focused for longer periods.
If your child has a phone, they need to put it away as cellphones are a huge source of distraction and many of our children are working using technology already. Ensure that any technology that needs to be used to assist with studies, like laptops and tablets, have only the necessary material downloaded and that no games or internet browsers are open.
Let your child choose their study area and let them set it up in a way that works best for them. Naturally, this depends on the age of the child – only older children should be given more freedom as they know what is conducive to their own concentration, and what is not. However, if they get to choose, they are more likely to be cooperative.
For more tips on how to create a good study space, read: tips for studying from home during lockdown.
Study time structure
Some children are able to study independently but if your child struggles to concentrate, then either the parent, a tutor or another caregiver can assist by structuring study sessions for the child. Let the child choose which subject they would like to begin with so that they feel more motivated. Having the “teacher” offer different types of input is very helpful for the learner. Sometimes input is just about being there because the learner feels more supported when there is another presence, sometimes it’s about giving words of encouragement or an explanation, and other times it’s about more concentrated input. This last point is seen more often in children with learning or concentration problems.
If your child does have difficulties with concentrating and studying, try these ideas:
Break the work down into chunks so that it becomes more manageable. We can “chunk work” according to time periods or goals, e.g., ”Let’s do this maths for 10 more minutes and then we can take a short break” or ”Complete 5 maths sums and then we can take a break”. A break is a wonderful reward for the child and improves their motivation because they know there is something to look forward to, which enhances concentration.
Letting them take a break to stand up from their work, doing some deep breathing, stretching, or doing a little bit of exercise are all great ways to enhance concentration. This is because all of these activities increase our oxygen intake, and the more oxygen we have in our blood, the better our organs can function – including the brain!
It’s a good idea to vary study techniques so that studying is not always about sitting at a desk. Working outside in fresh air for a change, letting the child move around while doing work that doesn’t require writing (such as spelling words, mental maths, etc.) as well as changing the method of learning are all great ways to enhance studying and concentration.
For instance, letting your child teach you the work by using a white board can be fun, having your child use a computer to Google a concept that they don’t understand to make it more visual and real for them, writing sums on the driveway using chalk, or writing on the windows using window markers are all wonderful, creative ways of enhancing studying and concentration.
For more tips on how to structure study time and make studying fun, read: studying from home: Impaq learners and parents share their tips (part 2)
Watch your child and see how they absorb information. We all have different learning styles and when we learn in those ways, information is far better understood and absorbed. There are four main learning styles – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic and reading/writing (there is often overlap between them especially the visual and auditory ones and many learners thrive by making us of all four learning styles).
Visual learners like to see the information they are learning. They often like to highlight words in different colours so important facts can stand out, and they like to use charts, diagrams, videos or mind maps to understand the work in more depth.
Auditory learners learn best through hearing the work, so reading the work aloud in an expressive voice, making up songs or rhymes based on the material, and even recording the work and listening to the recording later are all helpful ways of learning in an auditory fashion.
Kinaesthetic learners like to engage with the work physically – these are the children who want to conduct the science experiment, build the model, and get hands on with their learning.
The last type of learning style: reading/writing is for children who like to read and write down their work to help remember and understand it better. These are the children who benefit by doing summaries, rewriting the work, or reading it many times over.
If you have a sense of how your child best absorbs and integrates information, you can use these different methods to assist them or suggest to them in their learning journey.
Above all, recognise that this is a challenging time for our children and our attitude towards their work is paramount. If we are complaining about it, it gives them space to do the same. Recognise how they are feeling, but simultaneously try and inject a positive dose of good attitude and fun to make the learning experience going forward a positive one.
For more tips on how to make your home conducive to studying, check out: studying from home: Impaq learners and parents share their tips.
by Lorian Phillips – Clinical Psychologist