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Getting the balance right – how much school work is realistic?


This article has been written by parenting blogger and co-author of Create Your Own Happy and Be Happy Be You Becky Goddard-Hill.

How long should school work take?

As a rule of thumb your children are expected to complete the lessons sent to them in the time specified by the school.  In most cases this will probably be a little short of a school days’ worth.

Schools have recognised the stress and uncertainty of the present situation and the unfamiliarity of working from home that makes school work trickier. Most have lightened the load in response to that.  

It is important to get the balance between school work and free time right.

So how do we support kids whose school work is taking over and causing them (and us) stress, and how do we help unmotivated kids put in enough time and get their school work done.

Kids who are coping easily

Some children will make light work of their set school work they aren’t distracted by other people, assemblies, etc. They might find they get through it much more quickly and have lots of play and free time on their hands.

Positively reinforce this and don’t be tempted to fill this up with more learning; let them exercise, relax, and be creative. A good balance is brilliant for their emotional wellbeing and every child needs that, especially right now.

Those who miss being taught

For many other children though, the lack of a teacher present can be tricky. They might struggle to focus without an adult present and need direction and their questions answering.

This is a great opportunity for kids to become more independent learners but they might find it tough at first.

It may also cause you stress as you spend hours answering their questions, looking at everything they have done and giving feedback. If you are trying to work at home yourself, this can feel too demanding.

What helps?

Being sure they fully understand the task given before they start is really helpful. Encouraging them to ask questions at the start should also mean they can work more easily unaided. Using timers, setting up their workstation and having a clear timetable for the day will help keep them on track.

Do give them feedback and encouragement and do look at their work in slots throughout the day but not all the time and all day or they will not learn to rely on their own judgement (and you will be exhausted!).

Kids who find the work too hard

If your child finds the set work too confusing, even after you have given support, then STOP. You are not a teacher and maybe the work IS too hard for them. Let their teacher know and ask them to adjust it if possible or just let that piece go. No one needs additional stress right now.

Perfectionist kids

At school the bell goes for break and the lesson is ended and whatever work has been completed for that lesson is finished. At home kids can keep going on and on till they get it absolutely the way they want it and for the perfectionist child this can cause huge problems. They might find their work is dragging into the evenings and that it is never done.

They need time to exercise, rest, create and have fun as well as family time, so this perfectionist approach to schoolwork needs to be nipped in the bud.

The best way to help perfectionist kids is to explain that teachers want to know what they can do in the time given not in endless time. They need to have allotted breaks and lunchtimes and they need to put their work away at a certain time.  After a while of sticking to this, it will become a habit and they will ease up on their exacting standards.

If they don’t and insist on carrying on, have their teacher drop them a line reinforcing that the school day ends at a set time.

Unmotivated kids

Some kids will absolutely feel unmotivated about school work at this time. There could be a myriad of reasons for this, they might be anxious about the virus, have a head full of worries, or they might just be having too much fun with all this free time.

Try to find out what is really going on and give them space to talk and lot of reassurance. Emotional wellbeing has to come first.

A good way to motivate kids who are struggling is to have clear expectations. A daily routine is really helpful and expectations for when they should be up and dressed and working need to be CLEAR. It is a good idea to plan their day with them and they can factor in all the fun things they are going to do WHEN the school day is finished. This can be a huge motivator.

Some kids study better after exercise as they are then all fired up and ready to go and their physical energy has been released. Perhaps you could try a Joe Wicks 9 am workout before the day begins?

When to contact school

If, despite their best attempts, your child’s work is still taking a lot longer than an average school day, you need to step in. You can contact the school and let them know they are setting too much work and could they please take a look at it. They will, most likely, be pleased to get this feedback and adjust accordingly.

It is not the end of the world if your child leaves things incomplete due to time limitations or if they just have a day when they really aren’t coping and do very little. Everyone knows these are strange and stressful times and school will understand, but it does help them if you keep them informed.