WORKING FROM HOME WITH KIDS
Advice on preparing and scheduling your children’s day
By Christopher W. Cook
The COVID-19 stay-at-home orders began back in March, but as the country slowly opens back up, there are still several questions being asked. One of these revolves around reopening schools in the fall.
Many parents were forced into a new role as schoolteacher, as they found them-selves balancing among working from home, educating their kids and maintaining the household. Do any of you understand Common Core math yet?
While it’s currently summertime and there’s “no more homework, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks,” some parents might still be working remotely because of restrictions or company decisions. Daycares and summer camps might not be operating right now. How can someone still be productive working in the home while taking care of their children at the same time?
In this two-parter, we’ll share a few strategies for this scenario. But remember, everyone’s situation is different. Several factors are at play, like the number of kids, their ages, their needs, or if one or both parents are working from home.
“Younger children require much more supervision,” says Sarah Conway, executive director for the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s (IICF) Southeast Division, who’s working full time from home with her four- and two-year-old boys and is currently pregnant with baby boy number three. “At the start of a virtual meeting, I try to be up front with colleagues, apologizing in advance for interruptions and staying on mute where I can. To be honest, I often have my four-year-old working on writing his letters or drawing at the dining room table next to me.”
Conway and her husband, a construction project manager for a commercial development company, are both currently working eight to nine hours per day from home.
Dani Kimble, chief marketing officer at O’Neill Insurance (the November 2017 Rough Notes Agency of the Month) in Wadsworth, Ohio, is balancing working from home full time with her three kids—ages seven, five and three. Her husband works 10-hour shifts outside of the home.
“I wake up between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. most mornings to catchup on work before my children wake up, then I spend the majority of the morning with my kids,” she says. “I may hop on a meeting here and there, but I typically reserve that time to be with them.
“I’ve trusted Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Disney+ to help do the schooling for my 3-year-old while I homeschooled my older two while school was in session. Attention spans are different among the different ages, so that has been challenging to navigate. During any activity time, I try to give each child my undivided attention for a period of time.
“They have quiet time in the after-noon (sometimes nap time), and I will work then. I also work in the evenings as needed after my husband gets home.”
Some couples may have different approaches as the result of work schedules; for example, when one works days and the other is on the night shift.
“My husband is a law enforcement officer and works overnight, so on the days he works, he is sleeping during some of my working hours,” says Sandra Reitan, an account manager at the Brownyard Group in Bay Shore, New York. She’s working from home full time with her two boys, ages six and eight.
“Our summer plans are a little up in the air right now as New York state (to my knowledge) has not given the final say on camps. We hope our school-run camps will be open and, if so, would plan for our kids to go for part of the summer. If they will not be open, we will manage similarly to how we have been the last couple of months, with some experience behind us.”
A sales executive with Gallagher Benefits Services, Anthony Marzano is also working from home, along with his wife, and taking care of their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
While working hard for the company at home is critical, “it’s so important to make sure your kids are still getting the time and attention they deserve,” he says, adding that during this time his daughter’s daycare is closed.
Like our kids, the morning is a prime time for us to be focused and get tasks finished. The time can quickly slip away, however, as you feed the kids breakfast, get them ready for the day and assign their daily agendas (we’ll talk more about that later).
An effective strategy is to prepare what you can the night before. While some parents use this time to plan their children’s upcoming schedules, others use the nighttime to prepare for the following workday.
“Before every new business sales call, I am spending hours pre-call planning at night, so I am caught up with the business I am meeting with,” says Marzano. “I also make sure I have time when a call ends to accomplish what is needed for the next one.”
Kimble adds: “I always prepare a to-do list for the next morning so I can get up, tackle the day, and not lose sight of anything I’m working on. It helps make my morning sessions very productive.”
“Though it doesn’t happen every night, I try to lay out on paper what the next day should look like, or at least come up with a few activities for the kids,” says Conway. “During the school year, our school offered various Zoom activity opportunities. I would check what was happening for the next day and make sure to add it to my calendar.
“In our jobs, my husband and I are required to participate in a number of virtual meetings throughout the day,” she continues. “To manage this, we check our calendars together each night and try to coordinate a plan for taking care of the kids during those times. At first we tried a schedule of mom in the morning and dad in the afternoon, but we quickly concluded that that approach wasn’t a fit for us.”
An Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep (ECT) blog post suggests this strategy for households with two parents working at home, to provide each parent a block of time in which he or she can be productive with minimal interruptions. For example, one parent can be available before lunch to help the kids and the other after lunch. This strategy, however, may not be a fit for every family.
But it works for the Marzanos. “While my wife and I are taking shifts, we make sure to incorporate games and learning exercises for our daughter, like putting together puzzles, coloring or learning the ABCs with chalk outside,” he says.
Conway recommends that, regard-less of your situation, “it’s key to be proactive in planning the day, as well as being up front and honest with your co-workers and kids. Embracing the chaos instead of trying to hide it ended up relieving some of the stress that our whole family was feeling.”
Routine and scheduling
Kids thrive on routine, and creating a consistent schedule for them to follow throughout the day is a huge benefit for parents working from home. According to the Homeschooling During COVID-19 report written by Ann Dolin, M.Ed., president of ECT, “consistency will help you and your kids feel grounded in a season where everything seems unpredictable and up in the air.”
The report says to start with set times for waking up, eating each meal and going to bed. Keep in mind that kids focus best before lunchtime.
These schedules should be written down and posted where everyone can see them. Dolin states in the report that “when we simply tell kids a new schedule, they tend to take it ‘in one ear and out the other.’ When you have visual reminders of your routine in your home, however, kids will be far more likely to abide by the new rules and rhythms.”
When it comes to time management, some of us are more aware than others, according to an ECT blog post. People who are more time aware, also known as “loud clocks,” may know how long projects will take to finish or how much time is left before the next activity begins. For children who are loud clocks, create for them a more detailed, clear-cut routine, including specific tasks to be accomplished within tight-knit time frames.
“Quiet clocks” may have a harder time following a strict schedule and may prefer looser routines. For them, “create a routine with broader swaths of time, instead of strictly defined parameters,” the ECT report says. This might include hour-long blocks for activities like meals and two-hour blocks for schoolwork or free time. These generalized schedules might have no distinct details as far as goals to be accomplished during these time blocks.
Kimble’s children’s schedule begins with watching cartoons for half an hour before eating breakfast. The morning consists of a combination of schoolwork (when school is in session), household chores and exercise, with periods of playtime. A two-hour block of independent play or napping follows lunch, and then an additional two-hour block of activities and games.
Reitan enjoys eating lunch together every day as a family. “This gives us the quality time to sit together, chat and let the boys vent about anything they might need to,” she says.
Marzano agrees with the import-ance of sticking to a regimented calendar for eating, sleeping and play, noting that he wants to make sure his daughter has a similar routine to the one she was accustomed to at daycare.
Conway’s kids do yoga for 10 minutes every morning after breakfast. “Setting timed schedules helps all of us stay organized and lets my kids know what is coming next,” she says. “I use dry erase boards with my oldest son to help him complete certain tasks like unloading the dishwasher. We also use the boards to assign one or two letters of the alphabet each week so we can incorporate them into our activities.”
The ECT report echoes the use of whiteboards for to-do lists, stating that it “helps kids figure out weekly goals and translate them into daily objectives.”
A blog post on the ECT website informs us that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for creating a schedule, and it may take time to discover what works best. Take your personality and your child’s into account. A loud-clock parent and a quiet-clock child may clash at times, so consider shifting if needed. The opposite scenario (quiet-clock parent and loud-clock child) may result in a child who starts to wander without clear expectations.
Realistic expectations can help balance the structure and routine of each day. “Kids can only sustain their attention for so long, and it’s unrealistic to think they’ll be able to sit still for hours on end and power through a long list of assignments,” the ECT report says.
Dolin suggests using the Pomodoro Technique, a time management tool designed to assist with sustaining focus over longer periods of time, as a guide for creating manageable schedule blocks. For example, you can set a timer and work as hard as you can for 30 minutes, and this can be followed by a five-minute break.
“For most students, a few Pomodoros in a row is about right,” according to the ECT report. “The research on adults has found that attention tops out at four Pomodoros (four 25-minute chunks), so consider that maybe two or three in a row might be all your child can manage. If they’re able to sustain four Pomodoros, a longer break of at least a half hour is ideal.
“Younger students may need shorter stretches, and that’s fine. The important part is to maintain realistic expectations for how long your child can focus so they don’t get burned out on day one,” the report concludes.
We’ll pause here so you can check on the kids. To be continued …
For more information:
Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep