Many parents across America are facing the start of a school year in which they’re called upon to balance virtual schooling for their children and working from home. It’s a difficult thing to balance. We all want our children to have an excellent education, but also a safe one, while we have careers to attend to.
Many of the obvious strategies for solving this conundrum involve simply throwing money at the problem through things like hiring a tutor, but for many families, that’s not a sensible option.
8 ways to balance working from home and virtual school for kids
Have clear schedules and guidelines
It is incredibly useful for both children and parents to know at a glance what each child’s daily schedule is and what the parent’s working schedule is like as well. This minimizes interruptions at inconvenient times.
For older children, one way of doing this is to create a set of Google Calendars, one for each parent working at home and one for each child, and share them among everyone so that everyone can see everyone else’s calendars at a glance. This enables them to add things like test dates and other key events to the calendar, too.
Another option, particularly with younger children, is to simply use a big whiteboard to do the same thing. Fill it out each morning with everyone’s schedules and make it explicitly clear when the parent is free to be interrupted and when they are doing something important. Work with the child so that they know to look at that schedule board.
Designate clear workspaces for everyone
One of the most powerful advantages of going to school or going to a workplace is that those locations outside the home are distinct places where “work” or “school” happen. At home, the lines between work or school and life are blurred, and people tend to adopt a mindset of relaxing at home or doing personal chores.
The most effective way around this is to define workspaces for each person that will be at home. This should be a distinct place and environment where that person knows they’ll be doing schoolwork or professional work.
Many homes simply don’t have enough space for everyone to have their own designated workspace, so you’ll have to get creative. One way to do this is to have each person designate a particular table or portion of a table as their workspace. At the start of the day, each person sets up their “workspace” in a distinct way so that it’s clearly different from the normal conditions of that area. You might set up your laptop there. Your child might set up a laptop and a bunch of books. You may even want to buy some poster board and create dividers between the spaces that can be quickly put up and taken down, and allow each person to decorate their side of the dividers in a way that’s intended to help with focus and inspiration. This does not have to be fancy.
Another thing that works well is to have your children keep all of their notebooks and books in their backpack. When they get out their backpack at the start of the day, it becomes a cue that school is beginning. When they put it away at the end, that’s a cue that the school day is over.
Have blocks of focused time
There are going to be times throughout the day when both the parent and the children are going to need time to really focus on what they’re doing without interruption. Ideally, those times can line up, but that may not always work.
After reviewing your children’s schedules, you might have a 90-minute block and a 45-minute block where the children are all going to be doing pretty focused schoolwork. Those can be focus blocks. During those blocks everyone knows that interrupting each other should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Outside those blocks, everyone can do work that’s much more interruptible and be more laid back. In these times, have lunch together, for example, and help with your kids’ work if needed.
Become an early riser
Start waking up a couple of hours before your kids need to wake up and use that time to get some deep work done before the day even starts. This enables you to be more involved in your children’s studies during the day while still getting all of your stuff done.
This will take some adjustment for many people. For this to work, you have to start going to bed earlier, which means that staying up late to watch a show on Netflix probably won’t cut it anymore.
However, this simple step will keep you on top of your job while the children do their schooling because being completely unavailable simply won’t work. If you try to be entirely uninterruptible during the day, you’ll cause conflict and stress for both you and your child, and being an early riser will make you more available.
Have leftovers for lunch
One of the biggest advantages of working from home is that you’re saving money on eating out with coworkers. Instead, you can eat a simple meal at home. The same logic holds true when you’re at home with your children — they’re not buying school lunches and thus you can share a low-cost lunch at home with them.
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The most cost- and time-effective way of doing this is to simply eat leftovers for lunch most days. Make sure that you’re preparing enough food for dinner that there will be enough servings left over to serve as adequate lunches for everyone working or schooling from home. This may enable you to buy meal ingredients in bulk, which provides additional savings.
When it comes time to have lunch, it’s as easy as heating up the leftovers. Even younger children can heat up their leftovers for many meals, meaning that you don’t have to stop work for an extended period of time to deal with meal preparation.
Share strategies for individual focus with your children as equals
While there will definitely be times that you need to act as a parent to get your children to do particular school tasks, this is also a spectacular opportunity to help them — and help yourself — master some tactics for focusing and for getting things done. This is particularly important for older children.
Don’t come at this from the perspective of a parent telling a child what’s best, but rather a discussion among equals. In terms of needing to be able to focus at home and keep track of things, you’re in this together, and treating it as something where you’re all in this together is going to go much further than turning it into a parent-child discipline issue.
Rather than saying, “You need to use a planner,” you might show them how you use a planner to organize your tasks by priority and due date. Instead of telling them to focus more, you can show them how you focus by putting your phone away so it’s not a distraction.
Talk about what was learned and achieved each day
One incredibly valuable tool that many families learned during virtual schooling in the spring was the value of a debrief at the end of the day, where everyone involved spent some time — perhaps around the dinner table — simply talking about how it went. What did they learn today? What did they get done? What worked well and what didn’t?
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These might be academic topics. They might be things that are working well or not working well in terms of the mechanics of getting schoolwork done. Whatever they are, give them room to voice those thoughts, and make it a regular, comfortable thing, even if it’s critical.
Praise and reward children for effort — not results
This is going to be a school year when we’re all learning new processes and, to an extent, flying by the seat of our pants. That’s just reality.
Rather than focusing heavily on results during this time, focus instead on process. What are the things your kids are going to need to do to make this work? They will need focus. They will need concentration. They will need effort. They will need the ability to learn on their own more than they’re used to.
Those are the things you should watch for in your home, a little less than results. Don’t worry about the exact grades they’re getting, particularly at the start, as some of those numbers are going to be more reflective of teachers figuring out exactly how to grade students in these new conditions.
Instead, focus on praising and even rewarding signs of focus, concentration, and effort in your kids. Praise them not for getting an “A” on an online test, but on the fact that they spent an hour engaged with their math class and really focused on the homework. Praise them for doing 30 minutes of social studies reading on their own without being told to do so and without their phone nearby.
If they’re doing those things, good academic results will inevitably come, and they’ll also be learning skills that will help them self-learn for the rest of their lives. That’s one of the most valuable things your children will get out of this year.
Too long, didn’t read?
The challenge of balancing remote work and virtual schooling seems daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Taking simple steps such as identifying clear workspaces for everyone, minimizing distractions, eating leftovers for lunch, identifying time blocks for no interruption, and really focusing and rewarding the process of learning rather than the results will make this challenging period go much more smoothly.
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