Experts weigh in on how to work efficiently while managing children’s learning at home.
Home has become the new central location for work and school, thanks to COVID-19, and the transition hasn’t been easy for everyone. “My 5-year-old just started her first day of kindergarten online,” says Tina Yuen, a senior planner at ChangeLab Solutions. “This wasn’t exactly what we’d hoped for, but we’re going to handle it like champs and support her throughout this new educational journey.”
Yuen, who also has a toddler at home, is working full-time alongside her husband. “It gets a little crazy sometimes, I’m not going to lie, and it takes a lot of time management and discipline to get through each day,” she says. Like many other parents, Yuen is often exhausted by the end of the day.
“This is not easy. We’re all learning as we go, and we’re doing our best to improve along the way,” says Caitlin Madison, executive director of communications at the International Leadership of Texas, a K-12 charter school in Texas. “Throughout all of this, communicate with your school. We are on your team and want to support you in any way we can.”
With fall semester well underway for many students in the U.S., experts share some of their best practices and advice on how parents can avoid burning the candle at both ends.
Establish mental and physical boundaries
Rachel Clark, business coach instructor for Mendocino’s Small Business Development Center and Women’s Business Center, says it’s imperative for parents to prioritize their own needs so they can better take care of their child or children. “You have to figure out how to put your oxygen mask on first, so you understand how to put your child’s mask on correctly, in a way that complements the needs of your household, your work and, of course, your child’s education,” Clark explains.
Having a designated area reserved for work encourages mental resets and routines. “Physical space is so important for the working parent because it creates a visible boundary that helps separate their time between children, chores and work,” says Morgan Shook, a special education teacher at Brookside Elementary School. Maintaining the constant presence of a desk, computer or a laptop and an organized workspace can also help children recognize and respect those boundaries as well.
“People who have high schoolers or even middle schoolers can physically disconnect in different ways, but it’s a little more difficult for someone like myself who has a kindergartner requiring supervision,” says Clark.
Create a master schedule
Both Clark and Shook agree that time management is key to running things smoothly in the household. “We’re not just talking about a work schedule here,” says Clark. “This is a master schedule that incorporates your work accountabilities, children’s classes, bill payments, appointments, meal plans etc.”
Having everything visible in one calendar can help parents get organized for the day. Yuen, for example, was simply sharing a Google calendar before the pandemic hit but is now using an organizational app called Cozi to help track everything from school events to grocery lists. “Having a master schedule is part of a cohesive self-management system, and I’ll tell you that organization and time management doesn’t happen in our heads—not productively, at least,” says Clark.
Having the right tools and systems to help establish healthy routines can provide a sense of control while living in an uncertain world. “Have you thought about how your work schedule can complement your new family needs?” asks Shook. “You have a very visceral understanding of what you’re dealing with, and if you can organize yourself and also work in some flexibility that brings compromise for what your children also need, that would be ideal.”
From a school perspective, Madison believes that parents should find or create a program that works for them. “Each school system is taking their own approach to education, and what works for one family may not work for another,” she says. “Be open to change, if it means finding a solution that’s best for your family. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”
Understand what your time is worth
With today’s high level of uncertainty, it comes as no surprise that parents are attempting to take on every task. But that approach can backfire, experts say. Rather than trying to take on all roles at once, Shook encourages parents to be selective with how their time and skillsets can be best used for their children.
“We’ve all been given a couple extra hats to wear this year, and they look kind of silly, but I do think you have to approach each hat from the standpoint of honesty,” says Shook. “Honestly, are you properly equipped to play the role of a teacher?”
Hiring a personal tutor may make sense because your time at work may be worth more than what it costs to hire a tutor. “You have to connect with your budget and recognize what your time is worth,” says Clark. “When you recognize that and where it’s going to be most valuable from a fiscal standpoint, you can understand what makes sense in terms of how to supplement it.” Shook adds that “children also need various socialization touchpoints, so it can be beneficial to have someone come in to work with the children and help break up the monotony.”
“We spent a lot of time working with our teachers, from hours of training sessions, to investments in technology,” says Madison. “Our teachers are comfortable with these new digital tools, and they keep our students in a safe learning environment. Some of the initial feedback we received from parents was that their students were spending too much time in front of screens, so we’ve tried to incorporate other activities to diversify the curriculum.” International Leadership of Texas also created a helpdesk to support the needs of parents, students and staff in managing school materials and tasks.
Have fun with it
“It doesn’t have to be stressful working and learning from home all the time,” says Shook. In fact, finding ways to gamify certain situations can make the task more fun.
“For example, if you want to motivate your child to finish reading a book, try and create an incentive. Set a timer and challenge them to see if they can read the next 10 pages within the set time limit. Have a reward for when they hit that goal,” says Shook. Even menial tasks when combined with a goal can be fun. “I had a race with my daughter to see who could spray and wipe down the most grocery items and had my husband judge the quality of sanitation to make it more fun,” says Yuen.
There are also many sites, blogs, apps and influencers who help parents come up with fresh ideas on how to engage with their children. Code.org and NASA STEM offer a variety of STEM-related videos and activities for K-12 students. Educational gaming sites like Seussville have everything from printable crafts to recipes that can engage children in playful learning.
“And don’t forget the outdoors,” reminds Shook. “You can still social distance and do things like go on a hike with a journal to identify the bugs and plants you come across with your kids. Or go fly a kite and teach them techniques on how to read the wind and control a flying object.” Staying open, creative and positive will take quarantine time with your children much further.