COVID-19 is the nonstop topic of discussion right now. Events are being canceled. Employees are being asked to work remote and schools are closing - leaving some parents with the challenging task of working 9 to 5 while educating their school-aged children (grades 1- 6) at home.
As a homeschool mom who works full time (remote), I’ve found myself an unexpected expert in the science and art of balancing work and homeschool. If not for Phase2’s remote culture and infrastructure, I wouldn’t have been able to homeschool my daughter and work full time the last two years and learn how to make it work.
With life being flipped upside down by this virus, I thought it would be helpful to share tips that have helped me so that parents can approach this intimidating experience with tools and confidence.
Create a Schedule and Block Your Work Calendar
So you just got a notification that your school district is closed for 1 or 2 weeks. Now what? Well the good news is that most school districts that are closing are sending students home with packets and books. You most likely will not have to lesson plan or structure your child’s learning.
What you will want to do is create a schedule so that everyone has a sense of how each day will flow from subject to subject, activity to activity. The purpose of the schedule is to create a rhythm so that you aren’t being interrupted during phone calls for work by a child who is bored, hungry or confused about what they’re supposed to be doing.
The schedule I use is based on time blocks. We homeschool in 1 hour blocks 2 or 3 times per day. Everyday is different based on my job’s responsibilities, but this is the general breakdown of the flow:
7 - 8 am: silent reading or quiet play
8 am: homeschool - History, Science, Latin
9 am: independent activities/play
10 am: Snack
Noon: lunch and homeschool - English/Writing
1 pm: silent reading or quiet play
4:30: Snack and homeschool - Math
I’ve blocked my calendar at work to have hard stops and heads down time for when I know I am not available for meetings. Those blocks allow me to work on reports and things that require focus. During that time I am available if my daughter needs my help while so that I’m not being interrupted while I’m on calls.
Encourage Age-Appropriate Independence
Most of the time, students in lower grades (1 - 4) can do their work in a few hours. What are they going to do when they're done? Good question. It’s a good idea to cover ground rules about activities they can do when they aren’t doing school work. The schedule you create will be essential so that your child knows what they should do after they finish a task.
Write the schedule down somewhere easy for everyone to see, review it as a family and allow your child to move from task to task on their own. Some children will get the hang of this faster. Trust your gut here, you know what will and won’t work for your family. But the point is that you don’t want to have to answer questions like “when is snack?” every 5 minutes. I’ve found that my daughter responds well to a predictable flow to the day and it allows her to manage herself and frees me from having to constantly monitor and direct her.
Activity baskets with workbooks, books, craft kits, journals and art supplies are great distractions for when your child is done with their work and looking for something to do (other than watch TV or be on a device). Don’t overthink this. Just toss some coloring books, worksheets, books and crafts in the basket and let your child explore.
Please keep in mind that your child will get bored - but they won’t die from boredom, I promise. It is ok for there to be gaps in the day where your child just plays, reads, stares out a window, or watches TV. You will drive yourself crazy if you try and do a full time job while constantly entertaining your child. So give yourself permission to let this ball drop.
Set up Your Work Space
If you don’t already work at home, you may not have a home office set up. Everyone’s home situation is different and so I am not going to suggest that you invest in tons of furniture and create a full office because of 2 week closure. For many that is just not possible. However, you can create a work zone. I’ve used a basket in smaller homes that we lived in, so that I could keep all of my work essentials in one place.
I find that having a dedicated space to work cuts down on my stress. It will seem really cool to work in your pjs, from your bed until that night when you can’t sleep because when you get into bed you start thinking about work. Segregate your living space from work as much as possible.
Having a segregated space for work will also help send the message to your family that when you are in that space you are working and should not be interrupted. My daughter and husband know that when I am in my office, or sitting at the counter top where I often work, I am busy.
Invest in Headphones
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to buy some good headphones. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive, just good audio quality and battery life (if they are wireless). I’ve found that headphones are essential for two reasons:
The sound quality is better when you use headphones, and
My daughter can’t hear anyone cussing when I use headphones.
If I had a conference "call cuss" jar I’d be a millionaire. Most of my colleagues and clients use all sorts of colorful language during calls. They assume they are only talking to adults, so I am not judging anyone. But unless you want to teach your 2nd grader how to swear, get some headphones.
Having school aged children at home while you work will be an adjustment. If possible, work with a spouse, friends or family to juggle the responsibilities. Both my husband and I work remote (he is in sales) and so we tag team activity drop offs and scheduling so that no one is left doing everything on their own, and that has made this manageable. I rely on a network of friends and family to provide childcare when I have meetings and we also use a tutoring service. I share all of this because I want to acknowledge just how difficult this can be, but also how much easier it can be with help.
Although I often find myself completely exhausted and overwhelmed by homeschooling and working full time, it has been a gratifying experience. I get to spend time with my daughter and she is front and center for the ins and outs of my day. So even though these closures are stressful and challenging they are providing an opportunity to connect with family and still get your work done. That is the silver lining.