I write this from the front-line, as my 10 year old is twirling round the kitchen bouncing a slinky having finished his lesson plan early, my husband is on a conference call in the front room and my daughter has already broken down in tears over a chemistry task she couldn’t understand. Oh and the neighbours have decided today’s the day to install a new fence so drilling is my new constant companion! You couldn’t make it up.
So bearing in mind that before this point in our lives, all the advice, ever, was “don’t work with children and animals”, it’s important to remember that homeworking while home-schooling presents an unprecedented challenge and one that, let’s face it, no one in normal circumstances chooses as it’s such a hard task.
But here are some suggestions we hope may help you juggle this uniquely tricky situation.
1. Number one on this list of tips is to lower expectations of yourself and your kids. This may sound flippant but it’s not. Coming through this with your and their mental health intact is THE most important thing you can aim for. Setting expectations too high is a sure-fire way of creating extra anxiety and stress for everyone.
2. Accept that you will make mistakes in managing this – and, if your children are old enough to understand - own up to them. Discuss together at the end of each day what went well and what you can change to make things run more smoothly, it will help to make them feel part of the process.
3. Create a routine. Kids do feel safer if they have boundaries and routines. It will make it easier to manage to set out the parameters for getting up, school time, lunches, and after school early on.
4. Make a Schedule – to help with the routine ask your children to help you create this, that way they will be more likely to stick to it. Include things like wake-up times, free play, outside time, reading and snacks as well as schoolwork.
5. Teachers are learning too and many lesson plans (judging by the ones we’ve had so far) do not fill the whole lesson time, so have an agreed book, activity (or chore!) that’s not on tech-related for them to switch to if they finish early. If you have a trampoline, hula hoop, football etc use these as mini-breaks that they can switch themselves on to.
6. Prep healthy snacks in the morning. A big plate of raw veggies that can be accessed to keep them going till lunch.
7. Prepare a cold/easy lunch – sandwiches etc – that can be self-served by each child. This is especially important if you are juggling multiple kids with different lunch times.
8. Explain to them times that you cannot be disturbed – for example conference calls. If you have an office or private room that’s great, but if you’re all sharing spaces, create a signal system – a traffic lights or red/amber/green flags or create a visual sign that you can put up so they know when you can’t be disturbed and when you can be more flexible.
9. Consider flexitime – if your work will allow it, consider starting work earlier or picking up work in the evening. It may be that a call or meeting would work better once the kids have gone to bed rather than trying to juggle everything in the daytime.
10. Get out! It really will help everyone’s mental health and ability to stay calm to get out on a regular basis throughout the day. Consider a ‘fake walk’ to school, just to set the right tone, a walk at lunch and some activity like kicking a ball or gardening after school. If you don’t have private outside space (or we’ve gone into full lockdown), find any way you can to open a window or door where it’s safe and do star jumps or stretches while looking at the sky.
11. Talk to other parents about screen times. The world has changed overnight and so has our children’s need for remote access to friends. However, in the school day you should be wary of letting phones into the schedule. If parents can agree a strategy such as only at lunch time, not during breaks, it will make the rules easier for everyone to stick to.
12. If there are two adults at home, create a schedule for who will be on duty during what time of the day to enable you each to have periods of uninterrupted focus.
13. Don’t forget to switch off. Being at home with less defined parameters means we need to be stricter with tech-addiction. Create times when you are all off tech and can enjoy time together with a social activity like an evening meal followed by a puzzle, board game, book reading or music.
14. And finally, as the over-used phrase goes, “keep calm and carry on”. Remember that this period will end, so try to take each day as it comes, be kind to each other and don’t forget the kids are finding this as discombobulating as us adults, so we need to lead by example.