Most parents/carers were never expecting to have to be teachers for their children. It takes years to learn how to be an educator, and whilst we know our children well, being a teacher, working from home and managing a household is lot for anyone to manage!
In this COVID-19 world however we have all had to adapt to change and new responsibility, and for many parents/carers there has been nothing more stressful than homeschooling!
- Setting up learning space
Establishing a set space where school work is done is key for mental focus. Keeping a sense of difference between where school work is done vs where we play / have free time is important. You need to take into consideration each child’s individual needs. Some children need space to move around, others need a quiet space. Do your best to create a space that can accommodate you child’s needs and remember it’s not always possible with multiple children in the house.
- Preparation for the parents
Familiarise yourself with the online platform and materials ahead of time to ensure things run as smoothly as possible when it’s time for ‘school’. This will reduce stress for you and the child and allow you to focus on the work when the time comes.
- Creating structure in the day
Routines are important for everyone! How you make them depends on what works for your family. A visual schedule in the kitchen, a calendar on an app you all share… it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s accessible and it works for your family. Make sure you include time for breaks and play throughout the day, rather than at one end only.
- Manage your expectations
Children/teens aren’t engaged for 6hrs a day at school so it’s unfair to expect them to be engaged for 6hrs at home! Getting even one thing done well is an achievement, so set up realistic expectations for both yourself and your children. These are strange and unfamiliar times for all of us, and we need to be patient and realistic.
- Allow for flexibility
Sounds like a contradiction to the setting structure right? No. It’s important we allow flexibility. Not everything will always go to plan, and that’s ok. We adapt, we adjust and we keep going. Think about how you are modelling for your kids. It’s a great way to show them how to adapt and manage change in a calm way.
- Set ground rules for the family
Establish some basic rules around things that will help make the day easier for your family. What are the rules around technology? How do we ask for breaks? Where is each member of the family working? How do we ask for help? Having a check in at the end of each week and adjusting these rules where needed will help reduce anxiety and ensure things run as smoothly as possible.
- Establish reward systems
Yes they work! Positive reinforcement is important, not just for individuals with autism, but for all the children in your family. They should be individualised for each child, depending on their interests, age and level of functioning. Remember, reward systems are only successful if they are genuinely rewarding for that individual.
- Teach throughout the day
Learning does not just happen at ‘school’, in front of the laptop or via a worksheet. Doing everyday things around the house like cooking, packing the dishwasher, doing the washing or working in the garage are all learning opportunities… and they can be fun! They use analytical skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, executive functioning… and these are all incredibly important. It’s a great way to also facilitate sensory needs and incorporate special interests.
- Allow time for fun!
Allow time for breaks, play, reading, board games, exercise. Build them into the schedule to ensure they are planned for during the day. It’s really important to allow for these things throughout the day, and allocate some time to spend as a family just relaxing and doing things that you all enjoy.
- Start thinking about the transition back to school
With most states already starting a gradual transition back to school for students, it’s vital that we as adults are prepared, and that we prepare children/teens. Think about the strategies you would normally implement when transition from school holidays to the return of school term, and adapt these to returning to classroom learning. Whether it’s a social story, school meeting, comic strip learning or simply lots of conversations you need to start sooner rather than later to help children/teens prepare for the transition.
As parents/carers it’s important you also ensure that the way in which your child transitions back to school works for them. If 1 day a week is going to be too hard, then perhaps it’s worth considering keeping them at home until full time schooling is an option. There’s no right or wrong, it’s all about what works for your family.