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How to Study as a Full-Time Parent

Often, a task as life-changing as raising a child can get us thinking about our own direction in life and where we’re going. 

For many of us that means thinking about one of the things that we spend the most amount of time in our life on: our careers.

Of course, for many improving their career means improving their skills through study. If you’re a full-time parent or carer and you want to improve your career, going back to school to study a new qualification is something that’s just impossible.

It doesn’t have to be though. Here’s our guide to how you can study as a full-time parent, gain a professional qualification and improve your career in the process. 

1. Choose online study over physical study

In the past, you had two options for gaining a professional qualification: you could either attend a course in a physical classroom, or you could opt for distance-learning, where the physical course materials would be posted to you (post, remember that?!) and you’d work through things at your own pace.

Attending a physical course in a school or college a set amount each month is quite a challenge for people with caring responsibility: after all, you never know what your responsibilities will throw at you. Distance learning in the past through post too didn’t leave much to the imagination and could often feel isolating unless you were incredibly focused on your course.

The pandemic has completely changed the way that we think about professional development and study though. Online courses, that you complete at your own speed digitally, without needing to attend a classroom, have skyrocketed in popularity, as technology has improved. Elements of social interaction have been added to online distance courses making them much friendlier things to complete these days. 

Online study allows you to take control of your own learning schedule, choosing when and where you study. Its inherent flexibility and ability to be easily adapted to your needs makes it great for people like parents who don’t have much free time and need to adapt to changing situations. 

A woman working at a laptop whilst being hugged by a child

2. Snatch small moments, often

As a parent, you’ll have an in-depth understanding of that precious commodity that people without kids have in abundance and never seem to really appreciate: free time. 

When you’re raising kids, every minute of your day can feel like it’s scripted, leaving not much time for anything else, especially if you have young children under the age of four or five who need pretty much constant supervision. 

That obviously doesn’t leave much time for study. 

One of the best strategies that you can use to find the time to complete your course is to take advantage of those small moments of free time that come fleetingly. Basically, the trick here is to use small pockets of time, productively. The technical term given to this way of approaching studying is microlearning. 

Microlearning is essentially a form of study that sees a learner dealing with information in short, bite-sized chunks in 3 to 5 minutes sections. As this great article by eduMe explores, microlearning aims to mimic the way that we engage with social media: processing information in short chunks in short sessions. 

For example, if you’ve got an infant and they have a pretty regular nap schedule, using that time to study can be a useful way to keep on top of your studies. Likewise, if your child has a fairly predictable bedtime, you can use some of the time available after that to study your course. 

With research suggesting that there is a widespread perception that attention spans are shortening, due in part to the way that we engage with digital media, microlearning can be a practical way to complete your learning if you find it hard to engage with large amounts of information at once. 

3. Build a support network

There’s a famous African proverb that says ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. In other words, it takes the input of the entire community for a child to be raised in a loving, safe and nurturing environment. Networks of care are absolutely essential when it comes to raising children, helping to share some of the labour of being a parent and giving caregivers a chance to rest and recover. 

Building a support network can really help you grab that dedicated independent time you’ll need to really make the most out of your study.  Usually, support systems like these take the form of family networks, like grandparents or your siblings helping out with childcare, but sometimes they take the form of extended families and friends lending a hand too. They are people that you can call on to give you some help with childcare when you need it. 

Having a strong, informal support network that you can call on for practical support and advice is a lifeline to many families up and down the country – particularly when it comes to combining study with raising a family. 

As a parent, there’s a strong likelihood that one of the reasons you’re wanting to study a professional qualification is to improve your overall quality of life, and by extension, the life of your child. Asking others to help you realise this goal isn’t something that you should feel awkward about. Usually, most people will be glad to help out.

A woman studying on a bed with a laptop whilst her toddler plays next to her

4. Create a clear study routine…

When you’re attempting self-guided study, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the seeming immensity of the task before you. After all, there’s lots of moving parts to juggle when you’re studying a self-guided course and you’re completely responsible for most of them. 

The best way to stave off feeling overwhelmed is to come up with a dedicated study plan and weekly study routine. 

Cultivating a routine has been shown to have a range of positive benefits when it comes to your productivity, mental health and the overall quality of your learning. Studies suggest that routines help our brains to save energy when it comes to completing tasks, giving us more cognitive power for difficult tasks. In the context of learning and making your way through course materials, having a greater level of productivity like this can obviously be a major advantage to your study practice, helping improve how much information you can process. 

5. ..but be flexible

A clear study routine is really important but it can be easily undone by the challenges that life and our families throw at us. You never know when your little one might need more attention from you, like when they come down with a bad cold, don’t get a good night’s sleep, are in a bad mood etc. As a result you’ll find that a study routine that’s too rigid will become easily disrupted by the challenges of day-to-day childcare. There’s a solution to this though: build flexibility into your routine!

Flexibility will give you the strength to adapt to a range of situations. Instead of being incredibly specific about the logistics of studying, like setting strict expectations on how many hours a week study you need to do, trying setting looser short-term and long-term goals. This approach sees you focus more on the quality of the learning that you manage to put in, rather than the quantity of it. 

6. Prioritise 

One of the key skills that you need for studying a online course – particularly if it’s a self-guided one – is time management and the ability to prioritise tasks. 

Prioritisation involves you thinking carefully about the tasks that you need to complete and their order of importance, or urgency. The reason so many people swear by prioritising tasks is because the practice helps to create a reliable logic to completing tasks that brings order to a process that can feel pretty overwhelming sometimes. Prioritising tasks can also help to improve the efficiency of your study, give you a sense of control over your learning journey and enhance your focus and your productivity. 

This blog by the Open University and Unison has some useful tips that you can use to help manage your time more effectively when studying. To summarise their approach to prioritisation, they suggest:

  • Creating a physical ‘To-do’ list to help you visually plot and order the tasks that you need to complete
  • Breaking large tasks down into smaller tasks to make them manageable and easier to complete
  • Organise the tasks according to urgency as well as whether they need to be completed in the short-term, medium-term or long-term. 

Enhance your career whilst still being a full time parent

There are many ways that you can combine being a parent with studying and developing your career. With a bit of careful planning, you should be able to find some space for studying in even the busiest schedules. 

We hope you’ve found this article useful and that it’s got you thinking about how developing your career is still possible, even if you’re a parent with caring responsibilities. 

Enhance your career with a 100% online professional qualification that you can study from anywhere. Download your free course guide today and get started.