This is hard, no doubt. But there are strategies we can use to make balancing our kids schoolwork with our work more manageable. Write down what works and what doesn’t as the week goes on. Keep the list close by to remind yourself when you feel like things are spinning out of control or you are getting particularly frustrated. We’ve certainly all had some time to figure out what isn’t working. I hope some of these tips to balance homeschooling with work are helpful to you!
Set Clear Goals for Success Each Day. Don’t be Overly Ambitious.
Know what your ideas for success are each day, not someone else’s. Don’t worry about making homemade bread and getting your garage cleaned out. Did your kids get their basic homework assignments done? Did you complete the priority task your boss was expecting by the end of the so called work day? I make my son a check-list in his school notebook every day with the teacher’s assignments. I also make myself a list of what has to be accomplished that day. I am literally taking it one day at a time, and sometimes one hour at a time to pace myself. I usually use a notebook to keep track of my tasks. At this point, I’m down to sticky notes on my computer, which I write for three days at a time, in order to pace myself with the days my husband will be able to offer some childcare coverage. I just keep telling myself, all you have to do is the tasks on the list for today. And I push the rest out of my mind. This is the only way to maintain my sanity. Just think how good we will be at time management when this is over. That will be the time to clean out the garage and bake home-made bread, when you are no longer homeschooling while working. You are already doing too much, don’t add more because of perceived outside expectations.
Divide Both Your Work and Your Kids’ Work Into Two Categories: Those That Require Your Focused Attention and Those That Do not
I know to give my 8 year-old a task, like watching his teacher on video, that doesn’t require me, while I work on writing with my 6 year-old or must take an important phone call. I’ll try to hold out that task until I need it. Because they aren’t really capable of working as independently as an older kid, I feed my kids the tasks I need them to do when I need them to do them.
If I have time to work with a kid, I’ll do a school task that requires my assistance and focused attention with him. If I have something to work on for myself that requires focused attention, I will try to give both kids assignments they can do independently at the same time to give myself the time I need.
If your kids are old enough you can use educational apps, these can help bridge the periods you have to work and can’t supervise them. Epic is an app with a ton of books that kids can read or have read to them, so it is good for kids just learning to read too, and they are offering it free for 30 days right now. They can also listen to books on Audible, which has some great books for free right now. The Libby app is connected to your local library and you can check out audio and online books for kids through it. Khan Academy Kids goal is to make learning engaging and fun for kids ages 2-7. My kindergartner is successfully learning math through this app. The regular Khan Academy goes up to age 18. We are using Duolingo to continue language. They have many languages to choose from. Our kids had Chinese once a week at school but are now getting a few hours a week on the app. They might go back in the fall fully speaking Mandarin!
Screens are not always the answer of course. You can get workbooks from your local toy or bookstore to support them during this time. My mom bought us these great paint by sticker books from Amazon that my kids have been loving. My older son went through the Lunchdoodles by Mo Willems series on You Tube (see picture above) like a madman. He had no interest in anything else school was giving him for art so I called that art class for the rest of the semester and we were done. The best part? Each video was 15-30 minutes that my kid didn’t need me. I’m even making a bound book of his art through Plum Print.
Don’t pressure yourself with the exact assignments for your younger kids. My little one was super resistant to some of his assignments. When I emailed his teacher, she was terrific about it and just told me what he needed to be practicing and some ideas of how. Now we aren’t fighting about his schoolwork and he is learning more. Done.
Do Not Be Attached To The Traditional Time Limits Of The Work And School Days
My new work week is whatever two days my husband is able to be home from work during the week and the two weekend days. Does it kind of suck not to ever have a day “off” or get to just hang out for the day with my kids and husband? Yes, but I’m an entrepreneur. Who are we kidding? I was never “just hanging out” before anyway. As the parent responsible for picking sick kids up from school and all doctor and dentist appointments, I was always making time up and trying to sneak client appointments in over the weekend. Working almost full days on the weekends is what I must do to make sure my business is still here when the quarantine is over. However, I make sure I take a break to go for a bike ride with them before dinner on the weekends.
If you have two people in the same household working full time at home, dividing the day up is the only way to go. The morning person gets 6:00am-12:00pm, and the other person 12:00pm-6pm, or whichever hours work best for your family. Adjustments can be made for conference calls. Six solid hours of work without interruption is probably more than the average office worker gets in a day. If you both have too many conference calls and online meetings to make a split schedule work, you might need to sit down together every evening or at 7:00am each morning to divide up the day by hour. And remember, weekends are days too! If either of you has concentrated work to get done that just didn’t happen during the week, use the weekends to catch up or get ahead. Again, divide and conquer.
Use Screen Time Strategically
Save the things your kids really love for the time you really need them to be quiet. I had to do a live chat with my friend and professional Organizer Kacy Paide a few weeks ago without childcare because it was scheduled on a day my husband was working and that was that. I saved a special movie for my kids to watch that day and started telling them a week before about how they couldn’t bother me, but were going to get to watch a movie in the middle of the school day. The chat ended up going 15 minutes over and for the last 5 minutes I’m holding up my arm, just off screen, keeping my 8 year-old from talking to me. Thankfully you can’t see it on the replay! Just to prove the point of how hard all of this is, even with the best plans in place, towards the end of my talk with Samantha Dong of Ally Shoes on The Working Mom’s Guide to Surviving the Covid-19 Quarantine, my 6 year-old burst in. Not only was there a movie on, but there was also another parent home who was supposed to be keeping an eye on him! The movie they were watching scared him, so who do you think he went looking for? M-O-M-M-Y.
Do you normally limit your kids’ screen time? Use TV and video games as a reward for finishing school work or being quiet during your conference call, or only pull them out when you need them to be quiet. Also, if you really need to give them more screen time than you are comfortable with, you can tell them they are only allowed to watch educational TV like the PBS app or put them on an educational app. Have a few of these in your arsenal that you can pull out when the boss calls unexpectedly. Then there is my favorite trick, virtual babysitting with the grandparents through FaceTime or Zoom. I’ve used this when I have an important call to make and I want another adult making sure they don’t bother me.
There Is Always Tomorrow
This is a really hard, stressful time. I’ve yelled at my kids. I’ve cried in front of them. We are all doing our best and that is the all we can do. If you have a bad day, the one thing I know for sure is that tomorrow will look just like today and you will have another chance to try again. Our kids are resilient and so are we. May this be the hardest experience of their childhoods. And remember, they learn through play too. Worst case scenario the schoolwork doesn’t get done exactly on time and you send them out to play. The picture above was taken in our playroom, which I am so grateful to have. I used to call it our “finished basement” as a joke, since we live in an apartment. Now I also call it the backyard!
For more tips on surviving the Covid-19 quarantine, I encourage you to read 5 Strategies to Connect With Your Community During Quarantine and The 5 Strategies Getting Me Through The Day. May the force be with you!
Lani Inlander is a personal stylist who has been working with clients who want to feel their best and look put-together every day for over 20 years. You can find her in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Learn how you can train with Lani and Kyle to become a personal stylist at The Stylist Studio.
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