Home learning: Developing a structure for your day

Schools are well-known for running on a strict timetable, complete with bells to let you know when it’s time to move on to the next lesson. For schools trying to design remote learning for their students, or parents trying to support their children’s learning (often while also continuing to navigate their own work), it can be tricky to know how to structure a day. 

While the research base is rather limited on structuring a day for home learning, there are some underlying principles based on research about effective learning and human behaviour, that might be useful.

Create a (relatively) consistent routine

Humans love routine (even if we also sometimes love a break from them!). Think about how you can develop a consistent routine for weekdays, allocating particular time periods for learning in different curriculum areas as well as time for meals, physical activity, and free time.

Organise learning into small chunks with breaks in between

Our memory can only take so much new information at one time. This means that learning is most effective when it is organised into small chunks that build on each other sequentially. Furthermore, practising  skills or learning new content is most effective when it is spaced out over time and revisited on a regular basis rather than crammed into a single session.

Play, social connection and physical activity are essential every day

It is vital that  a daily routine  builds in lots of time for other activities alongside schoolwork. There is a wealth of research demonstrating the importance of play – both structured and unstructured – for enhancing physical and mental wellbeing, academic and cognitive performance, and social and emotional skills. Similarly, social connection – engaging with  family members or friends (via technology while under lockdown) – and physical activity are closely connected to enhanced wellbeing.

Make the school day  shorter than it normally would be

This is particularly true for primary school students. For many children who are learning remotely, their day will likely be shorter than a typical school day and organised slightly differently. This is because maintaining concentration and motivation is much harder when working remotely. Having more frequent breaks and prioritising the learning that is most valued can be useful.

How to develop a daily routine for home learning

Determine what time children will start their school work each day and from there, organise your day into chunks. For children in primary school, these might be half hour slots for learning broken up with half hour breaks in between for free time, play and physical activity, with a longer break for lunch. For older children, each learning slot might be 45 to 60 minutes. Again, make sure that children have regular breaks in their learning.   

Identify the subjects or key learning that children need to cover each day. In primary school these  are likely to be reading, writing, maths, and then a combination of science, social studies, art,  music and technology which you could alternate on different days of the week. In secondary school, the subjects and the amount of time dedicated to them each week is more likely to match the school’s regular timetable.

A sample remote learning timetable for primary school children

Success Academy, a network of high achieving charter schools in New York City, have released the timetables that they’re using with their students at different levels of the education system. We’ve provided adapted versions below as they may provide both parents and teachers with ideas for how to structure a school day when learning from home. Please note that these are just a guide and are by no means a definitive model.

Years 0-6

Time Activity
09.00-09.30 PE / physical activity
09.30-10.00 Reading
10.00-11.00 Break
11.00-11.30 Writing
11.30-12.00 Maths
12.00-13.00 Lunch
13.00-13.30 Science / social studies
14.00-14.30 Art / drama / reading
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Nina Hood

Nina is responsible for the strategic direction and day-to-day operations of The Education Hub. She is a trained secondary school teacher, and taught at Epsom Girls Grammar and Mt Roskill Grammar in Auckland. She undertook an MSc (with distinction) in learning and technology, and a DPhil in Education at the University of Oxford. Since returning to New Zealand in mid-2015, Nina has been employed as a lecturer at the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland, where she specialises in new technologies in education.