Supporting each other at home

I write this post on the second day of official school closures in the UK following the Coronavirus outbreak.  There are a lot of supports already popping up for parents which is fantastic.  Common questions being asked about creating routine, so I wanted to provide some advice for home schooling during this time.  I include specific suggestions for home schooling children with autism as well.  Many of these will be helpful for children who don’t have any diagnosis as they relate to structure and routine.  At the end of the day structure and routine are helpful tools for everyone!

mother sitting at table with her children doing homework

Supporting each other at home

I write this post on the second day of official school closures in the UK following the Coronavirus outbreak.  There are a lot of supports already popping up for parents which is fantastic.  Common questions being asked about creating routine, so I wanted to provide some advice for home schooling during this time.  I include specific suggestions for home schooling children with autism as well.  Many of these will be helpful for children who don’t have any diagnosis as they relate to structure and routine.  At the end of the day structure and routine are helpful tools for everyone!

Before we begin, I have two disclaimers

Disclaimer 1

I am not a teacher, I am an occupational therapist.  Whilst I have a lot of experience working in schools and with children, I am not a trained educator.  This post is not designed to show you what to teach, it’s written to give you some ideas on how to structure your day.  There are also addition ideas to help to support parents who are home schooling children with autism.

Disclaimer 2

This is going to be hard.  It is really tricky to balance being parent and teacher, for your own child!  Most teachers I know would confirm that they find it much easier managing their own class at school, than they do their own children at home.  It is a completely different relationship with different expectations and boundaries.  You will need time to establish a new routine so please give yourself that.  The first few weeks will be hard, but please persevere, as it will get easier.  Also, give yourself the kindness and compassion that you would show to others when they are finding things hard.

Setting up a schedule for home schooling during Covid-19 school closures

Let’s start with a normal school day

In my experience most schools follow a pretty similar routine.  They will typically do learning in the morning, followed by break, more learning, and lunch.  After lunch, typically less intensive work is completed.  Usually, phonics, literacy and maths are completed in the morning.  Then, sciences, PE, geography, forest school, etc. are completed in the afternoon.  This varies from school to school but essentially most teachers aim to get the learning done in the morning!  Often the morning schedule is the same each day, and the afternoon schedule changes.

Implementing this schedule at home

This type of structure can easily be used at home.  Maths, phonics, writing and literacy can be completed in the morning.  Then, other more creative activities can be slotted into the afternoon.  I know the Body Coach is doing PE first thing.  This could be a great warm up for some children; however, it might be unsettling for others.  His videos are up left on his YouTube channel, so you can always complete them at 11 or in the afternoon if this is better scheduling for your family!

You will likely find having a visual schedule set up will help both you and the children.  You can write this on a whiteboard, or piece of paper.  Twinkle (see below for free access) have cards you can print off.  I have also included printable scheduling cards below.  This should be put in a place that everyone can see.  Usually in school the schedule is put up somewhere at the front of the classroom.  The work-box approach outlined below might also be a useful strategy for all children to help them get into a routine.

What might a day look like?

There are a lot of different daily timetables going around on social media.  Essentially, you need to find a schedule that works for you and your family.  Some parents are still working so that will also impact their availability for supporting learning.  It might be that you aren’t free until the afternoon due to morning meetings you need to work around.  Finding a routine that works for your family will likely take a few weeks.

As a general guide, it would be useful to break your day into learning and non-learning time.  Learning time can be further broken down into subjects or activities.  Whilst the resource below for structuring a day and setting up work-spaces are designed with autism in mind, they offer ideas which are suitable for all children.  Example timetables could include:

  • Breakfast
  • Read a book
  • Learning time – writing
  • Snack
  • Play time
  • Learning time – maths
  • Craft or fine motor activity (e.g. Fine Motor Activities with Kim)
  • Lunch
  • Learning time – screen based
  • Choosing time – non screen
  • Outside play / PE
  • Home school is finished
  • PE with Jo
  • Learning time – maths
  • Snack
  • Choosing time – non screen
  • Sensory movement break
  • Learning time – writing/literacy
  • Lunch
  • Play time (ideally including movement!)
  • Learning time – alternating subject each day e.g. history, geography, science, religion
  • Craft or fine motor activity
  • Chores
  • Home school is finished

How much learning should we be doing?

The amount of learning time will depend on the age of your child as well.  Homeschooling during Coronavirus is going to be different to learning at school.  However, here is a general rule of thumb of learning expectations for each age group.

The early years

Early Years (under 4 years) classes usually have a free flow play structure set up. There are different activity stations which the children can move between.  There is usually a set time for break and lunch.  Often there is story time and circle time as well.  Typically there are a few learning activities set up within stations (e.g. matching numbers, identifying letter sounds).  There is also usually a story time during the day.

First years of school

The first year of school (i.e. UK: Reception, Aust: Foundation/Preschool, US: Kindergarten) is a mix between structure and free flow.  Typically children aren’t expected to learn independently for more than 5-10 minutes.  There is a lot of guided learning and group activities include alongside free play/choosing time.  As the year progresses the learning time increases in preparation for the next year.  In the second year of school there is more structured learning and free play/choosing time.  By the end of these years children are expected to be able to work independently on tasks for 20 minutes or so.

As children move through primary school

There is a big jump for children moving into this stage of schooling.  In the UK this is the transition into Key Stage 2, in the US it’s middle school and in other countries it’s Year 3.  By this time children are expected to be able to work independently.  There will be 40-60 minute learning slots, with input at the start and then an activity for children to continue with.  Again, the amount of time children are expected to work independently increases over these years.

Secondary

Most of us will remember secondary school more than our primary years.  Now, there is much more of a focus on independently learning.  Each school has different timetables, they usually range from 50 minutes – 1.5 hour classes.  You can use the amount of homework your child receives as an indicator of the work they are completing.

Ideas for getting organised when you’re homeschooling during coronavirus

Explaining to the children

This is a really helpful video for younger children and children who might not really understand what’s going on.  And this illustrated story book is also lovely.

This page from South Yorkshire Futures also gives some extra resources for talking to children about Coronavirus.

Set up a homeschooling work space during Covid-19

Ideally you should set up a designated space to complete your learning.  Some ideas for setting up a work space

  • Make it a completely separate desk / space where work is done.
  • If you don’t have the luxury of having the space, use a table cloth or a sign to indicate that it’s school time.  Find something that will clearly show that the table is now being used for work.  If you don’t have a table cloth a bed sheet is a great substitute!
  • Aim for it to be distraction free.

Next it’s helpful to indicate it’s ‘school time’

School is incredibly bound by routine.  There are bells, uniforms, clear timings and even specific books.  It may be helpful to bring some of this structure into the house.  Ways that you can do this include:

  • Considering putting on your school uniforms in the morning.  This might sound like a strange suggestion at first, but it will firstly create a routine.  Secondly, it gives a clear visual indicator that it’s school time rather than play time.  I have seen this as a suggestion for working from home.  Some people suggest they put on their work clothes and then go for a drive around the block to indicate they are ‘going to work.’  They go for another drive at the end of the day to indicate they are ‘going home.’  This might seem extreme but it’s a clear way to create structure
  • Setting specific times for break / lunch
  • Following the same structure each day
  • Having a school bell which you ring to start learning, break, learning, and lunch.  You could find a specific ring tone on your phone.  And for those who easily lose track of time setting alarms might be an easy work around
  • As a family you might also want to create home school rules.  Most teachers create ‘classroom rules’ at the start of each year as a way to set their expectations for the class.

How to indicate you’re now the ‘teacher’ not the ‘parent’

As I mentioned at the beginning switching between roles is really hard.  This is normal! Just think about how hard it can sometimes be to get homework done.  A few ideas I can think of include:

  • Set clear boundaries for ‘school time’ at home
  • Come up with a ‘teacher name’ for your children to call you during school time
  • Wear something that indicates you are now in ‘teacher’ mode not ‘parent’ mode.  For simplicity, choose something that you can easily take on and off.  It could be a hat, lanyard, name badge or tie.  Find something that is obvious but easy to put on each day.

Managing screen time when homeschooling

Screens are really hard to manage.  The easiest work around I have found is software.  Tools like Screen Time Parent Control and OurPact allow you to block off access to certain apps at different times of the day and also to set daily limits for screen time.  There are many of these tools on the market, if you have one that you prefer please let me know and I will add it to the list.  Most of them have a small fee, but they also allow you to remove many arguments.  If you have multiple devices it might be that children can use ‘mum’s ipad’ for learning and then their iPad for games.  Or potentially using the desktop computer for learning could also be a way to separate the two.

For older children, you could also consider a screen time contract which shows the times they are allowed to be on their screens.  Or you could have a token / reward system of sorts that they can work towards.  Each family is different and their solutions will vary.

What activities can we do?

A big question that is being asked is ‘What do we do each day when we are homeschooling during coronavirus?’  Listening to parents and teachers already, there seems to be a lot of variance between the resources parents are receiving.  Hopefully this will become more organised over time.  Secondary schools seem to be more organised with online learning.  Some schools have sent home learning packs.  Other schools are providing support through online learning portals to support parents at home.  In addition, there are many apps that help to support reading, writing and maths.

Free daily learning supports

Please note all times are GMT but most of the sites leave the content up so you can catch up at any time.

Worksheets that support learning

  • Twinkl has free resources and a month free trial if you use the code CVDTWINKLHELPS (see this video for a guide)
  • TTS is offering free workbooks

A few SEN specific resources

  • Cricksoft is providing free home access to their programme Clicker8 during this period
  • Please see below for social stories and tips for supporting children with Autism (these tips could likely help most children)

Online content to watch

For reading and stories

If you’re looking for timetable cards

  • Twinkl
  • GriffinOT Timetable Cards

Other online resources

There are a number of websites listing out resources.  Chatterpack has a large list and they are updating this frequently.

If you’re looking for some training for yourself

Structure and work box – tips for autism (and others!)

In my experience when working with children with autism, routine, consistency and clear expectations are key.  However, this advice is the same for schooling any child.  The clearer you are with your plan and expectation the easier it will be for them to understand what they need to do.  A visual timetable will be really helpful.  One approach that can be great for establishing structure and routine is TEACCH.  The approach sets up a clear timetable and also workstations.  This video gives a great overview.

The timetable, finished box and workstation concepts can easily translate into the home environment.  Whilst the core idea of the workstation is that children will be working independently in the long term.  You can also use the structure at home for work that they need help with.  The ‘work’ and ‘finished’ boxes give all children a great visual indicator of how much they need to do.

To set up work boxes you will need boxes and folders.  You can use any box, you just need to make sure it’s clear one is work and one is finished.  Often a different colour is used for each to help to clearly identify them.  For the folders you could use plastic sleeves if you have them, but zip lock bags will work just as well!

What do I put in the work box?

This will be very individual for each child.  Initially the goal is to set up the routine.  So, choose easy quick activities that the child can do.  Spend the first week or two week or as long as you need setting the structure.  It’s work time, you sit, you do each activity until it’s finished, then you move to the next thing on your schedule.  Some easy activities include threading, puzzles, matching numbers, tracing over numbers and colouring in.Once the routine is established you can then start to change the items in the box.

The beauty of the ‘work’ and ‘finished’ box structure is that you can increase the amount of work over time.  I had one child who initially could manage about 2 minutes with a lot of adult support be able to do 25 minutes almost independently over time.

This system gives you the flexibility over the work children are doing. If you’re receiving work from school this would be a perfect additional to the work box. You can make the work harder.  You can add in more things.  If you can see they are unwell that day then you can put easier things into the box.  If you know that you need to be finished earlier to make a call then you can put less in.  The main thing is that you keep the structure/format the same.

What about social stories during coronavirus?

The first thing that is usually suggested to help to support children with autism with change are social stories.  These can be useful to help children understand change.  There are a number of social stories circulating explaining corona virus.  It may also be helpful to explain why children can’t see their friends/family, the plan for working at home and how to keep a safe space.

A useful book for social distancing

Social stories for back to school

Social stories explaining Coronavirus /Covid-19 for children with autism

Stories explaining why you can’t see your friends

Stories explaining working from home

Finally….

This is going to be a very different time for everyone.  If you find other resources that you think should be added to this page please let me know (Twitter: @Griffin_OT or via email [email protected]).  Stay safe, stay and home and continue to follow health and government advice.

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