Making a schedule, sticking to a routine, keeping things fun and interesting.
Yeah, it all sounds good on paper, right?
But many parents had a rude awakening last week when, due to the closure of schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they were suddenly teachers and, simultaneously, trying to do their own work from home.
Enter: Gail Lovette, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development – who has three young children of her own at home.
“It is so hard to parent, teach and also work a full-time job,” said Lovette, who has an 8-, a 6- and a 4-year-old. “It’s virtually impossible, actually.
“I have two pieces of advice: The first is to lower your expectations for yourself and for your kids. The second is to triage your tasks and set a very strategic schedule for yourself and for them. The younger your kids are, the harder this going to be because, developmentally, they’re not able to work as independently.
“My 4-year-old said to me this morning, ‘If you’re my teacher, will you still be my mom?’ So it can be hard to cross boundaries in your relationships with your kids. I would say the more you talk to your kids ahead of time about the schedule and what needs to be accomplished, the better.”
Here are some tips for working from home with kids.
1. Set Realistic Goals
Lovette believes that if you don’t set realistic goals for both you and your kids, you’ll “crash and burn early.”
“Unlike a snow day, where it’s just a couple of days and you can make it work, this is going to go on for who knows how long,” she said.
“I would say use Alexa if you have one to take music and listening breaks and build in activity breaks for everyone. I’m used to putting my head down and writing for eight hours or working on a research project or teaching my class, but that’s just not going to be feasible anymore.
“Scheduling activity breaks for yourself and your kids so that you set realistic goals is so important. For a 4-year-old, you probably need to work in 20-minute increments. My second-grader, I can probably push for 45 minutes to an hour. But even in school classrooms, kids aren’t sitting for a very long amount of time. They’re getting up, walking around, transitioning – so it’s not realistic to expect them to sit at your dining room table for two hours.
“I’ve seen schedules floating around right now that are like hourlong blocks. That’s maybe realistic for fifth- or sixth-graders, but probably not for most younger kids.”
2. Structuring and Incentivizing
“For those of us who don’t really work on a set schedule and are used to being able to prioritize and strategize our day in a way that fits for us – we can’t do that anymore,” Lovette said. “Just like we’re going to sit down and schedule our kids, we’re also going to need to schedule our own most productive times, and then it’s like a game of Tetris where we have to plug it into work with them.
“You can also use a visual schedule, especially for younger kids or kids who benefit from more structure. That takes a lot of the unpredictability out of the day. Use pictures or post-it notes that you can move around with them in the morning to lay out the rest of your day. Giving them some forced-choice – like, ‘From 10 to 10:15. you can choose either reading, doing an art project, or playing with Legos’ – will help them to feel like they have some control in this situation.
“When you walk into any daycare facility or school, they will have their schedule posted and that gives kids the structure they need. My 4-year old told me today that I was doing it wrong because nap happens right after lunch.
“I would also think about using an ‘If-Then’ chart if your children are struggling with the new schedule. For example, if you do 20 minutes of reading, then you get 10 minutes of whatever activity. Build-in strong incentives for them to attend to the tasks on the schedule.”
Finally, things are likely to change on a daily basis, especially with young kids.
“Right now, I am scheduling on a day-by-day basis. With a 4-year-old, what worked yesterday will probably not work tomorrow. So, I am hoping to learn from each day to help me craft the next one with all three of my kids. Although there are some things that I will keep at the same time every day.”