Returning to study after kids

Returning to study after having kids or taking a break from the workforce can feel terrifying. It may be years or decades since you’ve last studied and you may feel anxious about if you’ll be able to manage and how you’re going to fit everything in. However you’re feeling – you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably better equipped for a return to study than you realise.

Tens of thousands of students have returned to higher education later in life. The good news is that the skills you’ve gained as a parent can be exceptionally useful when juggling the demands of study with those of a family, work and life in general. Online study, in particular, is a fantastic way to integrate study into your life and make it work for you. 

In this guide, we’ll help you make going back to study a rewarding experience that will help you grow your skills, rejoin the workforce, advance your career and follow your passion.


Keep your end goal in mind

Get really clear with yourself about what you want to achieve by returning to study. Common motivators for mature-age students include:

  • Rejoining the workforce
  • Changing careers
  • Upskilling
  • Pursuing an interest

Without a clear goal, it can be easy to lose focus. Effective goal setting puts you in the driver’s seat with the opportunity to transform your own life into whatever direction you desire. 

Your end goal will inform all the sub-goals and tasks that will help you get where you want to go. When you begin study, write down your learning goals and break them down into months and weeks. You can use these to work out how much time per week you have available for study and how quickly you can get through your units. When you get your assignment or exam schedule, note all important dates in your planner to give yourself plenty of time to complete deadlines.

Create your own support network

Learn to ask for help and share the load. One of your biggest supporters is likely your partner or co-parent. But you may also receive help from relatives, friends, neighbours, parents from school, childcare educators or after-school programs. If you have teenagers or young adults, you may discover that they are your biggest champions and are happy to give you a precious hour or two to yourself in the evenings. 

Whoever your support people are, get them on board and set up specific times each week that they can commit to helping you so that you can plan your study. If you have a friend in the same situation, you could organise a weekly swap. Don’t be afraid to use your support network for other things too like discussing assessments, bouncing off ideas or having a good rant.

Your online student portal, discussion boards, LinkedIn and Facebook groups and sessions with learning coaches can provide you with additional study support. A personal learning plan and the support of an experienced facilitator will offer regular feedback to help keep you on track to meet your goals. Knowing you have this guidance can provide added motivation and focus when you return to study.

It’s also a good idea to create backup solutions for those days when illness, childcare problems or emergencies affect your plans. This can be anything from calling in a reserve support person to plonking your child in front of a screen for an hour. Whatever will take the pressure off you and work with your lifestyle.

Block study in your calendar

Time management becomes essential when you return to study. You may find it works to visually ‘map out’ your week or month to maximise what you can get done in the time you have. This can be done with a calendar, day planner, app or the back of a receipt.  

Remember that study doesn’t have to be a long period of time for it to pay dividends. Learning Coach Di Pierce recommends that students block out 45 minutes, three times a week. You may discover natural blocks of time like your commute to work or the nights when your kids are at basketball practice or guitar lessons. As long as you’re disciplined about sticking to a regular studying time and turning off distractions for those 45 minutes, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get done.

Set up your study environment

Setting up a specific study area will help you quickly get into the right frame of mind. This can be a room, a corner, or if it’s too hard to concentrate at home, a local café or a library. Wherever your study space is, make sure you have a good WiFi connection, a charged laptop, and as few distractions as possible. 

Many apps and software programs can help you make studying easier:

  • Tools like Freedom and Do Not Disturb minimise outside distractions.
  • Timers can help you focus for a specific period of time.
  • Trello and planners help you track important deadlines and projects.

If any questions come up during your study period, write them down and move on. When the timer sounds, you can Google the answer or reach out to a learning coach to discuss it further. 

Self-care and study are not mutually exclusive

Be realistic and above everything else – kind to yourself. One of the golden rules of being a student is that you get out of it what you put in. 

Things you can do to put yourself first are:

  • Eat well and stay hydrated.
  • Get roughly the same amount of sleep (at the same time) every night.
  • Aim high and understand that it may take some time to get back into study. There are no fails here – only competent and not yet competent.
  • Stay positive. You can improve your mood by getting out in the sunshine, taking the dog for a walk, going to the gym, or calling a friend for ten minutes. 
  • Ask for support early and often. Book coaching calls as often as you need them – you can even pre-book a weekly or fortnightly session to ensure you stay on top of things.
  • If you enjoy a sport, keep playing it, even if you can’t play as often. A healthy body means a healthy mind, which you’ll need when you return to study.
  • Encourage your friends to drop in now and then for a coffee so you don’t isolate yourself. The relationships you’ve spent years building deserve to keep thriving alongside your new commitments. 
  • Give yourself time to ‘switch off’, even if only for a short period.

Adding study to your already busy life will challenge you. However, you can do it and it’s worth the effort. Soon the day will arrive when you’re successfully qualified and ready for your new life chapter. We’ll be here for you throughout your learning journey.

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