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An introduction to the principles of home-based learning

Designing home learning tasks for children can be a challenge. Where do you start? While there is a lot to think about, these six simple principles are a good place to start. 

Principle 1: Design tasks with purpose

Every learning task or activity should be designed for a reason or to achieve a specific goal, and must be engaging for children. Engaging activities are purposeful, authentic, novel, and moderately complex. They draw on students’ interests while providing opportunities to learn new material. Learning tasks should last on average 20-30 minutes for primary and intermediate school children and 30 – 45 minutes for those of secondary school age. Tasks that are too long can lead to disengagement, distraction and reduced productivity. Also be aware that when learning remotely, students typically will get through less work than they would in a classroom.

Principle 2: Be clear and consistent

It is important to be clear and consistent in the design, delivery and assessment of all home learning tasks. Inconsistent instructions or expectations can make students less engaged, limit their learning, and lead to feelings of frustration and confusion.

Principle 3: Play to your strengths

When designing home learning tasks, select topics that are inherently interesting and familiar. This will make the entire process of designing, delivery and evaluating student work easier and more fun! It may also provide students with insights into who you are as a person. This can be particularly important when students are learning from a distance and may feel disconnected from the content and experience of learning in a classroom and from their teacher.

Principle 4: Prioritise social connection

This is arguably one of the most important home-based learning principles. Students may be experiencing considerable loneliness, feelings of isolation and anxiety as they grapple with living and learning in social isolation. Many students will be missing the social relationships, contacts and interactions of school. Therefore, it is particularly important that all home-based learning includes opportunities for students to actively engage in meaningful social exchanges with others. This can include students talking about their work with someone at home, sharing it via a digital medium or by phone, or recording it and sharing it on a safe social platform.

Principle 5: Embrace the environment

Learning from home provides a unique opportunity for children to learn more about and from their local environment. Where possible, encourage children to spend time out of doors, exploring both the natural and ‘built’ features of the local community while staying close to home. Everyone benefits from regular fresh air and daily opportunities to engage with the natural environment.

Principle 6: Celebrate specific successes

It is important that students receive clear, specific, constructive, and accurate feedback on their home-learning tasks from trusted adults. The feedback can be written or verbal. Most importantly, it must be provided in a way that the student can understand and act upon. When students act on feedback and successfully complete a task, they should be recognised for their efforts. It is important that children know why they are being praised or acknowledged. Generic feedback and general praise are rarely effective for improving learning, motivation or engagement.

By Rachel Williamson-Dean


Rachel Williamson-Dean

Rachel Williamson-Dean is an experienced secondary school teacher, who has lived and taught in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. She has a Master of Public and Population Health Degree (MPH – Dist) and a PhD in Health Education. Over the past ten years Rachel has worked with students and school leaders across New Zealand, including leading the digital literacy programme, The Summer Learning Journey, for which she received the NEXT Woman of the Year in Education 2018 award. 

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