Homeschooling is an option many families are looking at this year, particularly for health reasons. But, like working from home, homeschooling can be unsafe when it isn’t done carefully.
We mustn’t forget that the ergonomic and work-life balance principles – which guide successful and healthy remote workers – apply to children, too.
Homeschooling Success: Advice from an Ergonomist Parent
Our senior ergonomist Shane Hudson is making the switch to homeschooling this year with his three school-age kids.
Like most of us, Shane and his children started working from home as the COVID-19 pandemic took off this March.
“Setting my kids up for success is what my passion is. I don’t just set my kids up for success with the education that I’m providing them. I set them up for success with the environment that I’m providing them,” says Shane, who joined EWI Works three years ago.
“The environment you were thrust into when the pandemic hit, might not be the optimal environment for you to start a fresh year in.”
Arguably the most important thing you need for homeschooling success is a dedicated workspace. Shane and his family realized in March that to create a learning-centred environment, they needed a room dedicated to school.
“All three kids were trying to learn at the kitchen table. They’re all in different grades, have different learning needs, there’s two other kids in the house who aren’t in school yet, and lunch needs to be made,” he says.
“There were lots of factors going on around the kitchen table. It wasn’t a workable space.”
Shane dug into his seven years of experience in ergonomics and human factors to help create an optimal learning environment.
The first step was getting proper equipment – desks, chairs, and a computer workstation – that was appropriately sized for children.
“I was sent home with a proper ergonomic chair, a sit-stand workstation, and tools to enable me to do my job. My kids weren’t sent home with anything but a school login,” he adds.
“All we’re really doing is taking the experience that we have from years of working with office employees and applying the same principles to our children.”
Similar ergonomic principles hold for all age groups, Shane explains. The main difference is in how they are applied.
Unlike adults, kids’ dimensions change rapidly, meaning desk heights and equipment need more frequent adjusting.
Everyone remembers the days of feeling invincible as a child. And it’s true that the younger you are, the less likely you are to report or experience musculoskeletal discomfort.
But just because your kids feel fine, doesn’t mean they aren’t putting themselves at risk. Non-neutral static postures can affect physical development in young people.
“If you are holding static postures, your muscles will grow in the shape they are being held in,” says Shane. “This affects you later in life when your muscles are less tuneable.”
For example, a child who spends long periods using tablet devices may not develop pain as quickly as an adult doing the same. They may, however, develop a hunch that will stick with them for the rest of their life.
So aside from a dedicated homeschooling space complete with height-appropriate furniture – separate from where people play, eat, relax, or do their jobs – posture breaks and physical activity are critical.
Movement, Breaks, and Social Activities
Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise per week. Kids need 420 minutes, or at least an hour per day.
For office workers we recommend taking a couple minutes every hour for a movement break, whether it be a simple stretch or a short walk.
Shane and his family have worked out a homeschooling schedule that allows for some movement or a posture break every 30 minutes.
Of course, they’ll also have physical education, too, for blocks of more intense activity. Shane’s able to schedule his breaks at the same time, helping him to meet his movement needs with his kids.
But while they’ll have lots of opportunity for exercise, finding ways to learn team sports is more of a challenge.
Shane’s family isn’t the only one bringing the classroom home this year. Through Facebook and their local municipality, Shane and his wife have found numerous groups of families looking to connect with others who are homeschooling.
It’s his hope to capitalize on this for team sports and social activities, particularly as many community sports leagues won’t be running this fall.
The key, according to Shane, is adaptability. “Parents need take a deep breath and not panic if things don’t work,” he says, stressing the need to be reactive.
Particularly in the first few months, it’s critical to examine what’s working, what isn’t, and adapt accordingly.
He points out that a major source of stress for parents is teaching their kids subjects that they themselves aren’t too familiar with.
Luckily, the online world is awash with resources, such as the Kahn Academy, which offers free courses, learning materials, and guidance to kids, parents, and teachers on a variety of subjects, including math, science, and English.
For language learning, Shane plans to use platforms like Duolingo to supplement his kid’s learning; for music, they’ve already been doing classes online for several years.
Above all, a consistent schedule lies behind homeschooling success. Keep a regular class schedule, just as you would in public school, complete with regular breaks and meal times.
As is recommended for all kids (and adults), maintain the same bed and wake times, and establish a morning routine.
Shane and his kids are going to start the day by walking to school and work.
“There’s lots of evidence that shows a morning commute is really beneficial to get your mind into work and the same thing with school,” he says.
“So, how do you incorporate that same thing with kids? Well, you get up, eat breakfast, and you actually go for a walk outside around the block before you come to school, which is at your house. But you’ve got your mind physically engaged by disengaging from home and engaging it to school.”
Making Homeschooling Work for You
Homeschooling is new territory for most and, while it does come with a unique set of challenges, it comes with some advantages, too.
Each child (and adult) has their own interests and learning styles, which can’t always be catered to in group learning environments. If you are struggling to get something through to your child, reflect on their learning style and see if you can change your approach. If they’re getting bored, try to incorporate something they’re interested in into the lesson.
But, for homeschooling success, there’s something else you need to do before everything: take care of yourself first. On airplanes, we put our own oxygen mask on before helping others to ensure we are in a position to help them.
“You set up your space, make sure you’re getting the right sleep, getting the right nutrition and exercise, and build exercise breaks into your day,” says Shane.
“If you take care of you first, then you’re better able to take care of your kids.”
EWI Works offers many services that can improve your quality of life. We have developed several cost-effective remote services to help you transition to remote work. Find out more about our Online Training, Services, and Resources.