The Next Normal - Working from Home with Kids
As the months unfold, we continue to learn more about how the coronavirus pandemic will change the way we live and work.
Many working parents are facing a significant challenge: working from home while schools are operating remotely or are in-person only part of the week, childcare is difficult to find, or traditional daycares are operating on a reduced schedule or not at all.
This guide contains suggestions for how to remain productive while working remotely with children in the home.
Stick to a schedule.
Maintaining a routine when everyone is at home together for weeks, or even months on end, can be a challenge for adults and children alike. To remain productive, consider recreating a sense of structure in your home by scheduling your family’s daily or weekly activities.
Your family schedule may include specific times that are blocked out for sleep, family meals, chores, solitary work or study, exercise and/or time outdoors, and family activities. Be sure to schedule a time to eat and move! This can be especially important for busy parents working remotely, who often forget to care for their own bodies while they attend to other responsibilities. It’s also helpful to set specific start and end times to your workday since many children find it easier to give you “space” if there is a clear end-point in sight.
Consider working with your child to create the household schedule. Then, post it somewhere highly visible, and have him or her check off each item or activity as it is completed.
If you have a young child or a child who is non-verbal, visual schedules may be preferable to written ones. A morning checklist, bedtime checklist, or “if, then” board can help you build more predictable routines.
Get organized the night before.
Evenings can be a busy time for working families. But many parents find that they can reduce daytime interruptions by “prepping” a few key items the night before.
For instance, you can cut down on requests for food by preparing morning or afternoon snacks and storing them in containers that children can easily grab themselves the next day. Place child-proof cups where they can reach them whenever they need a drink. Consider having lunches ready or even packed in a lunch box as if they were going to school in person.
Similarly, prevent boredom by setting up activity stations around your home for them to discover. Jigsaw puzzles, new coloring books, clay, watercolor paints, or age-appropriate building materials (like blocks or Legos) may keep your child entertained between school assignments or while you work on a project.
Alternatively, if your child is participating in remote learning, help your child “prep” for his or her online classes the night before by organizing learning materials the night before. Make sure class schedules and classroom/meeting passwords are posted where both you and your child can spot them easily!
Determine your most productive time of the day.
Some parents find that it’s easier to get difficult tasks done at a time of day when their children may routinely need less attention. For example, if you have older children or teens, try addressing work that requires deep concentration before they wake up or when they are attending a class online. Alternatively, if you have young children, save the toughest items on your to-do list for naptime or after the kids fall asleep in the evening, if possible.
Tasks that may require less concentration, such as responding to emails, can often be completed when your children are in the room with you, especially if they are engaged in schoolwork or high-interest activities.
Tag-team with a spouse or other loved ones.
If there is another adult in the house who is also working from home, consider trading childcare responsibilities throughout the day so that each of you gets at least a few hours of uninterrupted work time.
If you plan to flex your schedule, be sure to discuss this arrangement with your manager first to ensure that it works well for your employer or team.
Need help from someone outside the home?
If Grandma or Grandpa still can’t visit in person due to social distancing recommendations, consider asking him or her to set up regular video chats with your child during the week. This solution has the added bonus of alleviating loneliness or isolation in older loved ones due to the pandemic.
Reduce interruptions by setting boundaries.
No matter how flexible you are able to make your daily routine, there are going to be times when you need to work relatively undisturbed: during a tight deadline, a conference or online call, or a project that requires deep focus, for example.
If your child is older, has the ability to safely direct his or her own activities for a while, or has the supervision of another parent or older sibling, you might try addressing this need by having your child make a “do not disturb” sign to hang on your office door or near your work area. Explain gently that when this sign is visible, you should not be interrupted, except under certain conditions (and help your child understand what those conditions might be).
Before going into “do not disturb mode,” check-in with your child to explain when and why you won’t be available and ask if s/he needs anything before the sign goes up. Also, be sure to specify when you will next check in with him or her.
If you are on a call or in a virtual meeting, it can also be useful to put the call on speakerphone. The sound of your coworkers’ voices may serve as a reminder that you are unavailable.
Keep in mind that despite everyone’s best intentions you may need to remind your child of the boundaries you’ve set quite often. Be patient and kind. Children learn through repetition and support (usually a lot of both).
Find online learning and enrichment activities.
With fewer recreational opportunities, consider some of the many resources available for kids to experience virtual visits to museums, learning support, and enrichment activities.
- Discovery Education – Provides 190,000 resources and ready-to-use digital lessons and activities for K-12 students in social studies, science, math, and technology.
- Khan Academy – Free online lessons and activities in a wide variety of subjects.
- Learn at Home by Scholastic – Provides online courses and day-to-day projects for students.
- HippoCampus – Offers over 7,000 videos in 13 subject areas for students in middle school, high school, and college.
- TED-Ed – Allows you to build a lesson around any TED talk, TED-Ed resource, or YouTube video. Access pre-existing lessons on a variety of topics.
- K12 – Online curriculum and learning programs with teacher-led courses for grades pre-K–12.
- Clickschooling – Get one free, web-based curriculum idea every day, Monday through Saturday. The service covers math, science, language arts, social sciences, music, art, and foreign languages.
- The PBS Kids Newsletter – Sent out daily, every issue includes tips for parents and suggested projects or activities to help kids learn at home.
- XtraMath – Free videos, lessons, and activities that can be used for in-depth standalone work or homework supplements across age groups. Provides progress reports for parents and teachers.
- Google Arts & Culture – Makes it possible to view art collections from over 500 museums around the world.
- Mystery Science– Offers easy science projects that elementary school children can perform at home. Projects are broken down by grade level.
- Smithsonian– Offers a 3D look at some of the museum’s most fascinating treasures. Additionally, the Smithsonian Learning Lab is a free, interactive platform that gives children access to millions of digital resources and projects.
Relax your expectations.
These are not typical times. Consequently, we can’t necessarily hang on to our usual expectations without causing ourselves and our children undue stress. Now is not the time to expect perfection.
The house might be messier than it usually is. Your child might use much more screen time than you’d normally allow (note: now is a great time to review and set the parental controls on your child’s device). You might struggle to balance parenting or the care of loved ones with your work; some days you’ll feel more competent in one of these areas than you will in another.
Like everyone else right now, you’re doing the best that you can. And the best that you can is good enough.
If you find yourself running on empty sooner than usual, practicing mindfulness or scheduling a little restorative time daily may help.
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