By: Robyn D. Shulman, M.Ed.
For over a month now, the Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we know it. Overnight, families across the U.S. have been forced into an unrecognizable life. Due to quarantine orders, many parents are working from home today. (Check out our previous blog post for some tips on that.) Since most schools have also closed for the year, parents are doing their best to balance working remotely, while figuring out how to help their children keep learning with or without any e-learning programs from school. Some students don't have access to distance-learning resources, which can make this new challenge even more difficult.
Simple trips to the grocery store can feel overwhelming, the anxiety of the unknown is running high, and economic worries can take a significant toll. This temporary life that we're calling a "new normal" can feel almost paralyzing. One of the most important things you can do as a parent right now is to try your best to keep your stress levels as low as possible, so you don't run your immune system down.
You will get through this difficult time.
I've been working from home since 2006, and when my daughter was young, she was a large part of my work life. Given my personal experience as a teacher and a working mom, here are some tips to help you get through these challenging days.
Give yourself a break. If you have never homeschooled, and if you're not a certified teacher, you may feel overwhelmed, confused, or lost when it comes to the work your child is doing in school. For example, the way you learned math is probably different from the way your child is learning math today. When you come across work that's just too much, put it to the side for the moment and address it later.
Nobody should expect you to be a perfect teacher. Remember, there is only so much of you to go around, and you must take care of your physical and mental health to be there for your family. Your child needs to feel safe during these unusual days, and right now, that is more important than academics. If you look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we are currently in the "Safety" tier. Learning doesn't fare well under these circumstances, so keep in mind that your best is good enough.
Communication is critical. If you are dealing with serious issues that relate to illness, financial concerns, and the basic wellbeing of your family, let your child's teachers know immediately. If they don't see your student checking in daily, they might assume they are ditching class, and will most likely mark your child absent.. If your child's teachers are not aware that the pandemic is significantly affecting your family, they won't know how to accommodate your child best. By maintaining open lines of communication, teachers should be able to assist you with any needs as they arise, and you'll find yourself in a much better place when school returns.
Be transparent at work. If you are comfortable enough to chat with your boss, it’s best to let them know your current situation. Every household is going through something different. Most people who have never worked from home are still trying to figure out how to successfully manage their workload, use distance communication tools, and help their child maintain some academic success. If your leadership team doesn't know about specific problems you may be facing, your work life can become too stressful. Since your colleagues can't see you or read your body language, they probably don't know what you're going through. Now is a time for grace, compassion, patience, and understanding.
If you don't feel comfortable with your boss, this might be the right time to consider looking for something new. Nobody should be uncomfortable with transparency, especially during this storm. Good leaders understand that we're living life minute-to-minute, and we are all facing different obstacles.
However, if you are not experiencing illness or financial concerns right now, here are some further tips to best help you play the role of teacher while working.
Let your child work with you. If your child is around preschool age, and doesn't have much to do, there are endless opportunities for them to learn while they participate in your workday. For example, when I was running graduate programs at home for a private university, my daughter (who was preschool age at the time) used to sit with me when I worked. She would listen, copy me, and “play office.”
I gave her some official letterhead, pencils, her own little typewriter, and a pretend phone. She followed a great deal of my workday, and she was learning at the same time. Academic areas such as writing, communication, collaboration, and problem-solving were all in front of her young eyes and ears. Our time working at home brought us closer together, and we made many special memories during those years.
Create a routine that works for your family. Having a schedule that works for everyone in the family gives you a much better chance of getting your work done. You can also set up timers to help keep the family on track. If you have a spouse who is also working from home, try to take turns scheduling the time you work with your kids, so you two can rotate throughout the day. Routines can help mitigate the loss of safety many kids are feeling due to the sudden change in their everyday environment. Learning in itself doesn't have to happen between certain hours.
You may have to create different schedules depending on your children's age and grade-level. If you have a young child at home, try to complete your most important work at night if they go to sleep early. If you have older kids, such as a high school or college students, let them sleep in when you do your most critical work.
Encourage independent learners. Now is also a time when you can encourage your child to become more independent in his or her own learning experience. Kids may find this path to be a challenge at first, but if you can provide enough time and resources, you'll be surprised to see how much your child can learn.
For example, if you're making a daily schedule, ask your kid to provide input, and problem-solve the best way to manage your new plans. As long as your child is old enough and is in a safe space, it’s okay to deal with boredom. Boredom can lead to growing imaginations that can bloom into significant innovations.
Create an activity bin: If you have younger children, create a bin filled with a list of activities and resources that are always available, especially if you can't attend to your child on demand. If your child begins to whine about being bored while you are working, point them over to the activity box.
Place all of their art supplies, blocks, puzzles, blocks, board games, and books in one place, and leave them to discover and explore on their own.
Be honest about your workload. If you have a teenager at home, be honest with them regarding the work you need to complete, and when you need quiet time in your house for meetings and calls. At this age, teenagers are aware that the world is changing faster than we can keep up. They know your job and family finances can help lead them to the life they want, and the career they deserve.
Help your kids (and yourself) stay connected. I can't stress too much the importance of encouraging your child to stay in touch with their friends every day. As students cannot see their peers in person at the moment, try to ensure they are chatting or playing games with their friends online. If using the Internet for communication is new to your child, be sure to talk about online behavior, and keep an eye on what they're doing and watching.
While your family is home all day, your kids are still learning critical life skills. If they are old enough, ask them to help you with cooking, cleaning, and basic household chores. Show them how you pay bills, take a trip to your laundry room, and teach them how to wash their clothes. Everything you do at home has a lesson in it, and can be tied back to a curriculum.
This sudden virus is a scary change in routine for the whole family. Being in the right frame of mind and showing up is half the battle. Working from home with kids can blur various lines. Connect with other parents in your neighborhood, so you can help each other out, and vent when you need someone to listen. Be proud of the work you've done so far with your child; even the smallest thing you can do right now is an accomplishment.
You will survive, and the kids will be okay.
Thanks for sharing!