Studying at home without tears

Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho feels it is a privilege to be on hand to guide her children, Natalie, eight, and Gabriel, 10, during home-based learning.
Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho feels it is a privilege to be on hand to guide her children, Natalie, eight, and Gabriel, 10, during home-based learning. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Tearing your hair out over home-based learning (HBL), which started on Wednesday and is set to continue till May 4?

Here are some suggestions from academic and parenting experts, who advise thinking outside the box and letting the teachers get on with their job, albeit remotely, while schools are closed.

Here is how parents can keep sane, while optimising this time to help their children make true learning gains.

More HBL resources for parents can also be found here.


It is a good time to help children develop self-directed learning abilities, says Dr Tan Seng Chee, an associate professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.

There are many reasons why it is not feasible for parents to take the place of teachers. Subject teachers may have specialised approaches, especially at higher grade levels, while parents working from home have other demands on their time and attention, he says.

But parents can help their child become more self-directed by allocating check-in times for their child to review his tasks; or by asking the child to list ways he can improve his own planning and learning.

Parents can also translate knowledge into real-life applications, which boost self-directed learning, Prof Tan says.

For instance, a parent can explain to the child how a camera works or seek the answers together with the child.


Prof Tan suggests leveraging the expertise of support groups such as teachers, many of whom have already set up WhatsApp groups with parents.

Better yet, form your own supportive community online. "Parents also need to recognise that many teachers are also parents, who need to take care of their children. With this understanding, parents with more capacity can step up to help other parents or children," he says.


Mr Andrew Kang, chief executive officer of Cherrr, an online learning platform that offers livestreamed tuition lessons, says that the atmosphere of the home is set and largely determined by parents. "Don't frustrate and exasperate your children. Many times at home, parents can get impatient with their kids," he says.

The father of four recommends that parents be "hands-on in observing, understanding and supporting" their child's HBL.

Mr Kang, who has 16 years' experience as a teacher, says: "HBL lessons are carefully planned by school teachers to ensure learning. So the HBL work is quite sufficient, if done properly.

"Develop empathy for your children's struggles at school as the subjects are difficult."


Ms Dawn Fung, a mother of three and the founder of Homeschool Singapore, a community of homeschoolers, says: "Have realistic expectations. When you first homeschool, you will find that the root of the frustration lies in your expectations about what your child should be like throughout the day.

"It will come as a shock to you that young children do not behave as you think they should, like sitting quietly for hours to do work."

Homeschooling is largely about parenting well, she says. If you are fixated on your children's ability to finish assignments on time before going back to school, you will end up frustrated.

"Focus instead on outcomes that make sense to the family. Is it time for the older children to reduce noise when the baby is asleep? Teach them to be mindful of one another so that everyone learns to be considerate. This will make it easier to cope with being indoors for a long time," she says.


Set up your home environment to work for you, suggests Ms Fung.

Use apps like Overdrive to borrow online books and choose online programs to help kids learn about the world. BrainPOP, which has short animated movies, quizzes and materials covering subjects like science, social studies, engineering and technology, health, and arts and music, is a good resource.

She suggests: Fill up the kitchen larder, but use the time to cook as an opportunity to bond and learn about maths (baking, measuring), science (heat, materials), languages (what the items are called, and the recipes you read).

"Now your entire home becomes a learning environment," she adds.


Ms Winny Lu, senior counsellor, Reach Community Services, cautions: "We may focus too much on HBL and neglect the bond between the parent and child."

Remember to communicate your love for your child and bond via family activities such as cooking, art and crafts, indoor gardening, reading together, watching sports, engaging in exercise and dancing, or watching movies.

Older children can be given new chores and responsibilities.

The initial stages of HBL are a time of adjustment for the child, so parents should consider easing the burden when it comes to online tuition sessions or additional assessment books, she says.

Parents should also set aside quality time for themselves and show appreciation to each other as they learn to adjust as well.

"This is not a time for you to dwell on hurts from the past. This is the time for you to bond as a strong team to manage challenges instead of function as individuals," she says.


Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, chief executive officer of Focus on the Family Singapore, advises using the time to build up resilience.

"If our children aren't talking to us but are feeling the similar effects of Covid-19 as the rest of the world, there might not be any healthy outlet for them to process their thoughts and manage their emotions," she says.

She suggests five areas where parents can engage their children in age-appropriate ways, such as talking about health and hygiene; fears and anxieties; how the country and government are responding; service and compassion for others; and life and death.

More ideas can be found here.

Think of fun family projects to do together, such as paying tribute to frontline workers with a simple social media post.

"Research has shown that helping others is a good way to help ourselves. That's one way to look beyond ourselves and not just survive, but thrive in this standstill," she says.

A time for mum to create memories with the kids

On Wednesday, the first day of home-based learning (HBL), eight-year-old Natalie Ho asked her mother: "Are you stressed? Have you had your coffee?"

Her mother, Ms Yvonne Kong-Ho, had sighed deeply while trying to get her own work done, alongside Natalie, who is in Primary 3, and her 10-year-old brother Gabriel, who is in Primary 5.

That moment of empathy from her daughter is part of a trove of family memories that Ms Kong-Ho is collecting during this month of school closure, as the family spends more time together.

Home-based learning for primary, secondary and junior college students will run till May 4.

Meanwhile, working from home is challenging for the assistant director at a local university in her mid-30s.

She sometimes works till 2am after the children sleep and finds it frustrating when her flow of thought is constantly interrupted.

Her husband goes to work daily as he is an essential worker in the petrochemical industry.

But she resolves to create good memories, rather than have her children remember how she lost her cool during the enforced stay-home period.

She is also using the time to ensure they pick up life skills.

Gabriel has learnt to cook Korean rice cakes with minced meat. Next, he will tackle pizza and fried rice.

"It's a good time to let them grow up," says Ms Kong-Ho.

She feels it is a privilege to be on hand to guide her children during HBL. Gabriel is learning about genetics in science, such as whether family members have the same physical characteristics like single or double eyelids. She encouraged him to watch YouTube videos to deepen his understanding of the topic.

"Now that we have the time, we can expand their learning. This is a precious time for me to journey with them. I am able to observe how they learn," she says.

She has become aware of little things she would have otherwise missed, like how Gabriel needs more movement breaks, brief interludes that enable students to move their bodies so they can continue to be engaged in their learning.

Watching her kids' teachers via lessons on video conference, she also steps in when her children need pointers in "conference etiquette".

She observed that some schoolmates' siblings walked in and out of the frame while others fidgeted and mumbled.

Working at the same table as her children engenders a sense of bonding.

"They would feel upset if I watched TV outside while they were working. We're in this together; it's teamwork," she says.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 12, 2020, with the headline Studying at home without tears . Subscribe