Tabitha on Home School Zen
Home-schooling has never really been smooth sailing for me. I am a chronic over-sleeper and a moderate procrastinator too. I’d like to think I work pretty hard, but it’s hard to find the motivation when your desk is only 3 feet away from your bed. Plus, your phone’s right there and you might just check Instagram, and you know that there are cookies downstairs that you might just go and get, and… Now you’ve lost your train of thought. I’m guessing this is a somewhat familiar scenario for other people too. I can’t say I’ve beaten procrastination yet, but I’m certainly trying, and these are the things that have worked for me so far.
Different types of music work for different people. Some people swear by heavy metal to get their energy up, but I think classical is the best. I can’t listen to songs with lyrics while I’m working. The words get jumbled up in my head with the words I want to write, and everything takes SOOO much longer. If you don’t like classical, listen to a few songs and see, there might just be certain things you don’t like about it. To me, woodwind instruments like flutes sound irritating, so I always listen to piano and strings. (Note: My favourite is Nocturne and Tarantella op.28 by Karol Szymanowski.)
Clean your workspace
I can’t tell you how big of a difference a tidy workspace makes. I probably sound like your mum now, but honestly, having plenty of space is a must. If I’m surrounded by huge piles of papers on all sides with only a small corner to write it, it makes me feel even more confined and trapped in what I’m doing. This is particularly relevant to high school, as we do some subjects only because we don’t have a choice. If you can do anything to make yourself feel more in control of your work, it will help you stay focussed and be less resentful of doing things you don’t want to do.
Make it pretty
Obviously, you should also pay attention to the quality of your notes, but something as simple as making your notes look nice can considerably increase your enthusiasm. Use colourful highlighters, add washi tape, draw mind maps: do anything to inject that little bit of creativity into an academic task and make it more enjoyable.
Find things, to like about your subjects
At home, one of the hardest things to do is motivating yourself to work. Everyone, whether consciously or not, puts more effort into what they like. Therefore, to get through subjects you don’t like, you have to find things to like about them. For example, English isn’t my favourite subject, but there are a few things I like about it. I love reading, and I really appreciate pretty language, so whenever I’m working, I take time to notice little quotations that I like the sound of. It seems small, but it significantly takes the sting out of a dull task and makes learning quotes easier.
Some procrastination is okay
This may be controversial, but I think a little procrastination can actually be helpful. If you are writing a really long exam question, and you just keep getting distracted because your brain has had enough, just get up, do something else for half an hour and then come back. Get a head start on one of your other pieces of work, put the washing away, go and have a healthy snack, do something else useful, but that will give your brain a break. When you come back, chances are, it wasn’t as difficult as it first seemed.
Tabitha, 15, Leicester
Maryam on Home School Zen
I’m sure you’re sick and tired of hearing tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your home education from adults who have never been locked down indoors during a global pandemic and still expected to keep on top of their Maths homework. Never fear! Here’s some realistic advice on how to home school, from someone who did it before it was cool. I was ‘home schooled’ for the last two years of high school and it went pretty well, so I think I’m fairly qualified to give this advice.
The first thing to remember is that it’s perfectly normal to be struggling. None of us ever expected the circumstances we’re in, and we’re all coping as well as we can. It isn’t fair for anyone to expect you to be performing as well as you normally would be in school or anything else. As tired and overused this phrase it, it’s true – just do your best, nobody can ask for more than that. If you feel like you’re struggling far too much with your workload, contact your teachers! They won’t tell you to suck it up and deal with it – at least, I should hope not – because their job is to help you. They understand how difficult it is and I’m sure they will help you get back on track. Whether that’s giving you some extra time at the end of online lessons or an extension on a particularly difficult assignment, they have the ability to help. You just have to ask.
As I’m writing this, my eyes are flicking between my laptop screen and my phone. If I continue like this, in about half an hour I’ll have a splitting headache and won’t be able to get any other work done today. I mention this because it’s crucial that you take breaks. Staring at screens all day is terrible for your eyesight. After online lessons or a session of independent work, try to switch all electronics off. Read a book, make yourself a snack, pester your family members who are stuck at home with you. Short breaks are key, both for ensuring your eyes don’t get too strained and for preventing yourself from overworking. Your mental and physical health should always be your priority.
You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned anything about actual school work. At the end of the day, only you know what kind of studying works for you. Practice exam questions, flashcards, reading notes – you’ve heard it all before. However, I want to focus on everything around the ‘education’ part of home education. Of course, school is important, but it isn’t everything. Your teachers will provide you with everything you need to get the grades you’re aiming for, but the line is often drawn there. The purpose of this post is to remind you about all the other parts of your life that you may be neglecting because of how stressed you are about school.
So, what’s the magic answer? How do you get the most out of your home education? In my humble opinion, the answer is simple – do less of it! Very controversial, I know. Don’t tell your teachers. What I mean by this is you should spend less time worrying about school. From my own experience, I’m constantly thinking about college even when I’m supposed to be taking a break. Of course, still try to keep on top of your work and do as much work as you can handle, but in a healthy dose. It’s like bananas – eating a few is good for you, but too many can be fatal. Your education is important and valuable, but it should be taken in manageable doses. This will ensure you’re always focused when you’re working, and thus will improve your performance. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do some knitting.
Maryam, 17, Leicester
Chiara on Home School Zen
Education is a gift to be grateful for and, to me, it seems our duty to try to make the best of extenuating and unconventional methods of education, because they are still a gift. Though current circumstances for students aren’t ideal and may be a heavy burden to bear, for many of us, we’re still given the opportunity to learn when past generations wouldn’t have (at least without the technology now available). Let’s all help one another to thrive through a new kind of learning, encouraging one another to try to do the best we can and be the best versions of ourselves, amidst this crisis.
Anecdotally and statistically, I’ve found lack of motivation can be an inevitable obstacle to thriving in home learning. According to the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, which intended to analyse home learning in the UK from April to June 2020, over half of parents with school-aged children had voiced their child’s struggle to continue their education from home – with 3 out of 4 of such parents blaming lack of motivation as one of the reasons. To thrive and receive the best results your education can provide for you, working hard is key, and getting started could be the lock for the key to fit into – or rather the other way around. Once you’ve taken action, work often flows out of that first action as a result – or, as Noah Scalin puts it, “a little action often spurs a lot of momentum”.
First of all, the little action can be produced by a simple ‘step-by-step’ mindset. Taking life moment by moment, step by step, can help students struggling on both sides of the spectrum – those who lack motivation, as well as those with a tendency for burnout (though some of us likely fall into both depending on the situation). Larger, more overwhelming work can be broken down into less intimidating, more manageable tasks (until the momentum has been built for more difficult ones), which will need to be prioritised. Priorities can easily be set, by the adopting of lists for everyday tasks. St Francis of Assisi summarises the concept in telling you to “start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible”, particularly good advice for some more ambitious readers.
We can compel ourselves to take the first step through different methods. Mel Robbins recommends the ‘5 second rule’, by which the individual counts down (5 4 3 2 1) and once they have reached the 1, whatever action they want to take (e.g. getting out of bed, putting pen to paper or raising their hand – digitally – in class) must have been done. The mechanism behind it is that an impulse you have may only manifest if you act on it in a short period of time, otherwise it remains a concept inside of your head instead of an action.
Personally, I see, studying and school as an opportunity for discipline and growth having long-term benefits. It builds on some ideas of (clinical psychologist and University of Toronto psychology professor) Jordan Peterson’s, that encourage the listener to imagine an idealised version of themselves, at their highest potential. Realising your own potential for goodness leaves you thinking that you might be capable of that kind of growth, but also how far away you are from it, providing you with the motivation to take steps to get closer. The stimulus for such growth can be small steps, as discussed earlier – small steps toward a better version of yourself. Stepping outside of your comfort zone may be one of those steps and, due to the current situation, many have already been pushed out of your comfort zone instead of stepping out of it. We can collectively take these difficult times as an opportunity to grow in ways that generations before us haven’t had the chance to. Participating vocally in online lessons could offer a large opportunity of growth for some people, whereas social extroverts might struggle with the lack of contact and find their opportunity for growth in spending time alone with themselves.
Different people will find different things motivating, so trial and error with different motivation methods can be useful. Surrounding oneself with good influences and achieving momentum from other people’s productivity – be it through friends or simple ‘study with me’ vlogs on YouTube – may help some. Others could benefit more from a small-scale reward system in which the desirable activity can only follow if the task has been completed – for instance, I’ve been holding off on watching some newly released anime episodes until I feel I’ve earned my share. Some may need to look the part on the outside, getting ready in the mornings as they would for a school day, allowing the external clothing to affect the internal mindset to work.
Motivation can be a challenging subject for many of us now plunged into online learning, but I sincerely hope that taking life step by step will help us to turn the key and open the door to achieving our educational and academic aspirations in life.
Chiara, 17, Northampton
Ellie on Home School Zen
Once again, an inevitable situation places a demanding responsibility on students around the UK. We’re confined to our houses, locked up in our rooms, and forced to continue on as normal, with the additional pressure of the quality of our work contributing to final grades. So, when life is a tornado of worksheets spiralling around us, how do we find our home school zen?
When I say that keeping a healthy sleep schedule will be your saving grace, I mean it. When everything is distorted and out of shape, keeping a consistent eight hours of rest each night will help you feel in control of your situation. Getting an adequate amount of sleep has also been shown to improve your attention span and concentration, which will aid you in conquering the pile of work waiting for you on your desk.
If you’re not already into meditation, now is the perfect time to close Instagram or TikTok and relax with a meditation playlist. With the stress of keeping on top of the news, work and staying in contact with friends, it’s important to make sure self-care is a part of your daily routine. Meditation can help to sooth your mind in many different ways; taking 15 minutes out of your day to practice breathing exercises and mindfulness can, in my experience, relieve anxiety and promote emotional health. If at night you’re like me, unable to sleep with the thoughts that begin to race through your mind, sleep meditation can help to clear your head and allow you to drift off.
A final but significant factor in keeping sane during these difficult days is having fun. After completing your days’ worth of work, make sure to finish your night doing something you truly enjoy. Whether that’s finally getting the chance to pick up the dusty guitar standing beside your bed, filling a few pages of your painfully empty sketchbook, or losing yourself in that book you haven’t had a chance to start. Doing different activities that you enjoy will ensure your days don’t become dreary and repetitive, a trap they can easily start to fall into while we’re all stuck inside.
Though this situation only enforces our hopeless thoughts that lockdowns will be never-ending, we can only do our best to stay safe and cope until normality returns. Remember that this is for the safety of those you hold dear, and that lockdown is not a complete limitation of your freedom but instead a perfect chance to take some time for yourself.
Ellie, 16, Leicester
Beth on Home School Zen
What is ‘Zen’? A feeling of peace and calm.
It has been a very stressful year for us all and I really need some zen!
During the uncertain time in the past two weeks, students have not known what was happening with their exams. We still don’t know for sure how we will be assessed for A-levels.
If you are in a home where other children are studying, for example, and a parent is sitting in the kitchen talking at the top of their voice during a Zoom work meeting (like my father) finding that ‘Zen’ can be tricky!
Personally, I find it helps to do a detailed revision plan which I have stuck on my bedroom wall. It makes me feel more in control of working at home.
I also have made my bedroom really cosy so it is a space that I feel comfortable in and I can retreat to and work in. It’s where I can have some personal time though I know that not everybody is lucky enough to have their own room. Make your environment as nice as you can. It doesn’t matter where you work as long as you feel comfortable and your work gets done. I often work in my bedroom, listening to music, as music is calming for me. I listen to it all the time; Spotify is my saviour.
It is hard to get into a routine when there is not that push to get up for school. I have a teenage body clock and can struggle to sleep so I set 10 alarms. It’s the only way! At least you don’t have to waste time getting ready for school.
Don’t forget your healthy snacks – or unhealthy crisps and chocolate if it cheers you up!
Good luck with work.
Beth, 17, Leicester