Tips from a home-schooling mum for keeping kids productive during lockdown


With the outbreak of Covid-19, parents and children will be spending a lot more time together than they’re used to.

This can prove quite challenging for parents who now have to balance both their own work and their children’s homework.

Children will look to their parents for entertainment. If it is up to them, that could even mean shared bathroom breaks too! 

As a parent, you can expect a difficult time at first as both you and your child will need to adjust to the amount of time you’ll be spending together.

It is very important to establish ground rules quickly and stick to them, even if there are tantrums and tears. 

Here are some tips I have found works best for our family

Waking up at a specific time

How the day starts usually has the greatest impact on the rest of the day.

While your children don’t have to wake up at the time they normally would for school, you still have to set a time when everyone has to be up, like 8am.

This is especially important for parents who have to work from home and need to get their own day started without having to check up on their children the whole time. 

You may think it helps to take it easy in the morning because you don’t have to arrive at school or work at a specific time, but I have found that the later my children get up, the less they are inclined to do and it usually ends up in a screaming match.

I have home-schooled my children for 18 years and, believe me, getting them to concentrate in the afternoon is basically impossible.

Do the more difficult tasks first and leave fun activities, like arts and crafts, for the afternoon. 

Allocating tasks

Be it schoolwork or chores, it is important to allocate tasks every day.

Children can finish their schoolwork a lot quicker at home than they would in class because there are less distractions.

This leaves enough time in the afternoon for your children to do what they want and can be used as an incentive to get work done efficiently. 

What I found helps a lot is a star chart with rewards. This teaches children that working hard is worth it, and also about the consequences of irresponsibility.

Mark off completed schoolwork and chores every day and offer a nice reward at the end of the week. Make sure that they understand what the reward is.

It is not necessary to have a punishment if their work isn’t done – if they are looking forward to the reward, losing out on it will be punishment enough. 

Set meal times

Having a meal together at a table, even if it’s just cereal, takes up quite a lot of time.

And while it might not be convenient for parents who have to work, it can break up the day for children so it doesn’t seem like a never-ending stretch until bedtime.

Spending that time together also makes it easier to allocate time during which they have to keep themselves busy while you are working. 

Meals are also a great way to alleviate boredom. Children can learn how to prepare their own meals and experiment with new flavours, like oats with cinnamon or peanut butter.

You can also turn mealtimes into a fun activity, where they have to critique the food they have prepared.

For example: Every day they have to come up with a different sandwich filling for lunch and at the end of the week decide which tasted the best.

Try to keep junk food and sweets as occasional treats or rewards, as you might be stuck with children with lots of pent up energy with nowhere to go. Have healthy snacks on hand, but still keep an eye on the amount they consume.

Like with meals, try have certain allocated times when they can snack, otherwise they will keep on interrupting activities to snack or complain of hunger when they are actually just bored. 

TV is a great babysitter

TV is not the evil monster some make it out to be. It can be a very useful tool, especially in this time of isolation.

Let your children watch educational programmes and give them tasks to do around them.

A great example is watching something about animals and then either making a poster with the animal’s life cycle or their own little booklet containing interesting facts about the animal.

They can also do arts and crafts activities, like drawing or making their own animals. TV-time doesn’t have to be limited to educational programmes either.

If you have something to do and really need them out of your hair for a while, let them watch a movie. You can even turn it into a learning experience by making them write a report about the movie, or to create their own movie the next day. 

You can also try to incorporate educational websites like South African History Online into their screen time. 

Embracing the outdoors

Being outside at least some of the time will be very necessary for everyone’s sanity and is something that has to be enforced if at all possible.

Some things your children can do outside: 

- MasterChef mud cake bake-off using things that can only be found in the garden. 

- Broomstick Hockey using a cardboard box for a goal and the broomstick to hit the ball. Start by trying to score a goal from one metre away and increasing the distance every time you score 10 goals in a row. See how far away you can get by the end of the week.

- Find small insects in the garden and do some research during school time the next day on why they were found in specific areas of the garden. Children can even capture some ants and try to make their own ant farm. 

- Build your own town in the garden using recycled material for buildings, toy cars, and sticks for people.

Parents can also turn this into an educational activity by teaching children the different types of buildings a town needs, like hospitals, fire stations, police stations and supermarkets.

Ask questions like: Why are they needed? Who works in each? 

Family game time

Playing board games or card games is a great way to spend time with your children while having fun. Most games also have a lot of educational value, for example:

- Monopoly teaches them about money

- Card games teach them numbers

- Chess teaches them about strategy

There is such a great variety of games available in store, but you can also play games with a piece of paper and pen or just their hands, like Tick-Tack-Toe or Rock-Paper-Scissors. 

Allowing them free time

Giving your children the time to do what they want to will make them less dependent on you to keep them busy.

This is especially easy in an era where technology has become the babysitter.

Your children can play electronic games, read, play with their toys, take naps or anything else they feel like when they’re on their break. 

Make bath time, fun time

Let your children play in the bath for as long as possible. They really have to use their imaginations, so allow some toys in the bath.

Even older children will be able to stretch out this time given a chance. 

Reading at bedtime

Most children who aren’t fond of reading on their own still love listening to stories. Read to them before bed to enforce a decent bedtime.

It can be either story or factual books. I choose a book and read only a limited number of pages before they have to go to sleep. If they haven’t finished their bed-time routine in time, they don’t get a story.

This works really well, especially if you ended on a cliff hanger the previous night. My children have never complained when I read informative books about the stars, animals or the world around us – as long as I am doing the reading.

You can also use audio books, but children respond better when you read to them.

Some of the books I read to my children are Imvubu the Happiest Hippo, Jungle Beat Goes Wild, Factopedia, Surfing Sally and Feeling Sheepish.

Find a variety of local stories here:

Discipline is key

The most important thing in times like these is to have strict discipline. Children who are allowed to do what they want, will do just that.

But remember that this will be some quality time you get to spend with your children and that you should make the most of it, even if it feels like stress and hard work. 

Chat back:

Share your story with Parent24. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

WhatsApp: Send messages and voicenotes to 066 010 0325

Email: Share your story with us via email at chatback @

Sign up for Parent24's newsletters.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 837 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 9621 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1124 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.