For the past several weeks we’ve been sharing our best advice to help you deal with the new normal of working from home – or more appropriately for most – trying to work while being at home. For many, this also means adding the job of teacher into the daily mix, so I’m so pleased this week to welcome my colleague (and one of several parents on the team) Angie Stapleton to the Intelligent Edge. In today’s article, Angie shares some great tips and advice for working and schooling at home. ~Helen
“So, we’re homeschooling now?”
This was the message that popped up in a group text of my mom friends a few weeks ago. In the span of a few days, most everyone on the text was making the transition of working in an office to working from home. On top of that, we were now making the transition of working full-time from home to also homeschooling children.
My guess is that some of you have recently found yourselves in a very similar group chat. Needless to say, the past few weeks have been an adjustment for us all.
Currently – four weeks out of the initial shock and into homeschooling – we’re beginning to find our rhythm. We’ve figured out a few things that have helped us to navigate the new normal.
Here are some things that have saved our house, and I hope will help your families too.
If you can, make your schedule work for you
Starting off, I’ll recognize that I’m in an incredible place of privilege because I have a job that is stable and can be done completed remotely – and for that, I am very grateful! Our company leadership is also generous in their acknowledgement that work/life balance matters. During this time, I am hoping that leadership everywhere will recognize this is a time when standard work hours may need to shift to allow for employee productivity.
For our family, I have found working longer hours but taking more breaks throughout the day allows me to get more work done and be available to my new “co-worker” for homeschooling questions (and hugs throughout the day). If your kids are older, maybe that looks like starting earlier and plowing through your day while your kids are completing virtual learning so you can end the day early. If you have littles, maybe that looks like working an hour or two after they go to sleep so you can really focus.
The important thing here is to be open and honest about what you need to create the most value for your company and your family in this season. Talk to your leadership, and this is important: go with a plan. Draft a schedule that works for you and your company and ensures that you’re meeting the deadlines that matter.
Give your new co-worker(s) a special work space
This suggestion came from my boss, Maureen. (Aren’t you ever so grateful for the veteran moms in your life?!)
Creating a special work space for your child helps them to feel valued, productive, and a part of the process. Making sure all the supplies they’ll need for the day are immediately available allows for more self-direction and less interruptions. Using only the “fun school supplies” helps kids to be excited about school and makes homeschool feel like a novel adventure. Basically, never underestimate the power of a fresh notebook and a new pack of multi-colored pens!
As I type this, my daughter is sharing half my desk. While it may seem counter-intuitive to have an inquisitive seven-year old next to you all day, having her space so near mine means I’m always there to answer a quick question. On the flip side, she can also see when I’m really focused on something and she needs to wait before asking.
Plan and when plans change, be flexible
Taking time over the weekend to create lesson plans for the week has been key! It allows me to make sure we have all the materials my daughter will need throughout the week printed, organized, and available so I’m not rushing around to print a worksheet minutes before a conference call.
If your teacher/school allows for it, let your children have a say in what they are learning. Part of planning over the weekend means my daughter can help me choose what she wants to learn. A biography or cultural site for social studies? Paint or clay for art? I love seeing what captivates her imagination. And selfishly, I also know she will stay focused for far longer on her tasks throughout the week if she is studying things that really matter to her.
Though we have a basic framework, plans change. New meetings are scheduled. Requests come in with short deadlines. So throughout the week, adjust. The overall goal here is to pair your child’s activity (based on how much of you it requires) to whatever work you have planned at that time.
Similarly, if plans change for your kiddos, adjust. In this time of physical distance, we’ll always shift to take a video call from a grandparent or a friend. We’re flexible if she needs more time to finish an art project or read “just one more chapter” before moving on to the next activity.
Schedules keep us organized, but flexibility keeps us sane.
A note on staying sane… There are a million wonderful free resources available right now. It’s amazing! And, it’s overwhelming. Look at the lists, ask your teachers, ask your mom friends, and then choose what’s right for your family and go with it. Please hear this: you don’t have to do it all.
Right now, I am feeling very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with several ed tech apps through my work with HBG’s education reform clients. Because I’m already familiar with them and trust the quality of the platforms, we’re primarily using the same five to 10 websites for my daughter’s daily studies. Also, that’s because that’s all the mental bandwidth I have to take on right now.
We’ll likely add new ones as we go, but for now, what we’re doing works. Everyone is happy – she’s learning and I’m able to focus on work throughout the day – and that’s what matters.
Incorporate the things that are important to you
One of the major benefits of homeschooling is that we get to include the subjects that excite us. For example, in addition to the core subjects taught at my daughter’s school, we’ve added in time for foreign language, coding, and projects intended to help cultivate a spirit of gratitude and self-confidence. We’ve tailored her social studies and science to create projects based on awesome female scientists. And, we definitely make sure there is ample time for art, music, and movement.
Since we are a family of faith, we are setting aside time in the morning for a Lenten devotional and to pray for specific groups of people affected by the pandemic. This helps our family to see the bigger picture and give thanks for how lucky we are – but also allows us time to talk through any fears/anxieties my daughter has and to brainstorm ways we can be “helpers” or sources of encouragement to our community.
So, what matters to you? If you can find ways to incorporate your values into homeschool, it becomes a lot more than just lessons and certainly a lot more fun to manage.
Be Intentional About JOY
My first priority for this season is that my daughter remember this as a time filled with JOY. When so much of the world is filled with fear, anxiety, and a bit of panic, I want my daughter to be able to look back and know her home was a place of peace, joy, and lots and lots of laughter. That it was a place where she felt safe and loved.
Because we have unlimited together-time and I still have work to do, we had to set some boundaries. I intentionally built our schedule in 15/30/45 minute blocks of time. Arranging our schedule this way allows me to plan my work time accordingly. For example, I know I can check email in a 15 minute slot of time, make a call during a 30-minute slot, or really focus on a deliverable when I have 45 minute slots.
But, we were also intentional about scheduling specific times during the day for joy. For impromptu dance parties or finding a few pieces for the puzzle splashed across our dining room table. We created a “Social Distancing Bucket List” as well as a calendar of special nightly activities.
It can be hard, especially for littles and elementary age kids, to understand that you’re home but you aren’t necessarily available. With joy factored in, kids have something to look forward to when they are practicing a self-directed activity.
Lean into community (or at least lean within 6 ft. of community!)
During this time of physical distancing, social interaction is important. This is a great time to make sure the parents on your team feel supported. On our team, schedules are more fluid. Our Zoom chat has been filled with resources parents are using for homeschooling – in addition to our normal work-related banter. We expect to see children (and fur-babies!) on our team calls. My daughter has even become pen pals with a colleague’s daughter so they can pass the time together.
At the end of the day, challenges are always opportunities to strengthen relationships and to build trust on your team. This is no different. If handled well, we’ll come out a stronger team at the end.
Offer yourself (and your co-workers) some grace
This is hard. It’s ok to say that. It takes a lot of work and a lot of preparation, and you’re going to get it wrong some days. Shoot, I get something wrong pretty much every day.
During this season, I’m learning to ask myself two questions each evening:
- Did my clients get what they needed from me to do their jobs better and raise more money for their cause?
- Did my daughter feel loved and maybe learn something today?
If I can answer “yes” to both, then it was a good day. If I can’t, then I know what needs more of my attention tomorrow.
Our Work/Homeschool Schedule and Available Resources
For practicality, I’m sharing our homeschooling schedule which is geared towards elementary aged children, though a lot of the resources have activities for multiple age groups. As mentioned above, I really encourage you to find what works for your family and unique circumstances – but sometimes it just helps to know what others are doing too.
This schedule works for us because it provides enough self-directed time to allow for eight hours of work, which if we’re honest is (hopefully!) around 7 quality work hours after all the “Lois! Mom! Mom! Mommy! Mommy! Mama!” coming your way.
Here, I’m including the resources that we’re primarily using. For additional options, check with your local school district (ours has a list of recommended resources) and Amazing Educational Resources, which has compiled a list of hundreds of online learning companies and organizations currently offering free resources or services. For younger kids, check out this Google Doc for additional ideas.
|8:30-8:45||Set Daily Intentions||Family devotional, meditation or mindfulness practice|
|8:45-9:30||Math||IXL and/or Khan Academy|
|9:30-10:00||Reading||Check out your local library’s online offerings!|
|10:00-10:15||Family Time – Child’s Choice|
|10:15-11:00||Movement||Cosmic Kids Yoga or Koo Koo Kanga Roo|
|11:00-11:45||Creative Time||Crafts, cards, clay, painting, sewing, Legos, etc.|
|11:45-12:30||Lunch & Family Time|
|12:30-1:00||Afternoon Reset||Gratitude Jar, Big Life Journal (lots of free printables!)|
|1:00-1:45||Social Studies||BrainPop/BrainPop Jr. (click here for free access) or Museum Virtual Tours|
|1:45-2:30||Science||Scholastic, BrainPop/BrainPop Jr., or Zoo/Aquarium Live Cams|
|2:30-2:45||Foreign Language||Duolingo or IXL (Spanish only)|
|2:45-3:00||Family Time – Parent’s Choice|
|3:00-3:30||Music||Practice a musical instrument|
|3:30-4:30||Movement||Go outside and play!|
|5:00-6:00||Educational TV||Our favorites: Storybots, Magic School Bus, Wild Kratts, Disney Earth, Any National Geographic, MythBusters, NOVA|
*Note: Blue font indicates time spent with family and not working.
So, now I’d love to hear from you! For those of you homeschooling or taking care of littles while also trying to work, what has been most helpful for you? Do you have any resources you can share with our community? We’d love to hear them!