Let’s be honest, none of us knows exactly how this school year is going to shake out. That makes it difficult to figure out when we will find time to get our work done or how to set up a schedule for our kids. I hope this blog will help you formulate a plan and see the possibilities within your day. For information on how to organize your children’s space for home school, please see last week’s blog, Organize Your Time & Space for Home School Fall 2020: Part 1.
We don’t know how long school will be virtual or in-person before things change again. We don’t know how much time our kids are going to be engaged with a teacher and how much time they will be expected to work independently. More to the point, we don’t know how much time, or the exact times, they will or won’t need us.
The Good News
Ever the eternal optimist, I am going to go with the theory that the fall semester will be a lot better than the spring semester at home. The two big words I have heard thrown around a lot in the last few weeks are synchronous and asynchronous learning. Last semester was mostly asynchronous for a lot of public school students, leaving parents to constantly monitor whether or not their children had completed the assignments the teachers had posted, not to mention having to keep track of the random times the kids did need to jump on Zoom or Teams with their class. This situation did not lead to a lot of family harmony or great learning experiences. Some moms on my local list serve were left looking for tutors, not because their kids needed extra academic help, but because they didn’t want to be the ones hounding their kids to get their work done on time.
Our district has sent out a sample schedule along with the announcement that kids will be online with their teachers, who will be (gasp!) teaching them for 2-3 hours a day. The move to synchronous learning is not only going to give kids what they need, to be taught by a professional, but will hopefully give their parents time to work.
The Kids’ Schedule
First, let’s talk about the kids’ schedule, because kids need their own consistent schedule regardless of the parents’ schedule. When and how the parent gets to work is dependent upon the kid’s schedule. One of the elements that made things feel difficult for us last year was that every day just stretched ahead with a long list of tasks and not much time accountability. As someone who is not good at sticking to a schedule on my own, I struggled to stick to one without outside accountability, like an actual start and end time to the school day.
Sample Kids’ Home School Schedule-Fall 2020
The age of your kids will affect how independently they can operate during each of the above time blocks. However, I have specific suggestions to make certain time blocks as independent as possible for elementary school aged children. Let’s review each time block.
7am Morning Routine. I’m known to put out the cereal bowls, boxes, and a cup of milk for each kid before I sit down at my own desk at 7am. On days that I have more time, I take orders for eggs, toast and waffles. With breakfast already set out, my kids can find me in my office when they wake up. I can then stage manage their getting dressed, brushing teeth and eating breakfast from my desk. Better yet, give your kid a check list. These worked really well with school work this last semester. I like that a checklist isn’t tied to a specific schedule, even if it is in a predetermined order. Kids don’t always wake up at the same time every day!
8am Independent Reading/Play. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been attempting to instill in my kids that I am not here to entertain them. They must learn to entertain themselves. Five months in, we’ve made some progress! Max (8) will read while James (6) usually plays during this time. We have also started asking Max to read to James, which is super cute.
9am-12pm Virtual Learning. We had a sneak peek at what school “might” be like when our rising 3rd grader participated in a voluntary, week-long bridge program with about half of the kids in his grade. He was engaged from 9am to noon everyday with his teachers and classmates. It was glorious. I am crossing my fingers, praying, and wishing upon a star that our school year operates in a similar fashion.
12pm Lunch. This is a good time for everyone to take a break and reconnect. You can make sure your children are on track with their work for the day before it is too late. Lunch time is also a good hour to start dinner prep while hanging out with your kids in the kitchen. This will give you more time to work in the 5pm block.
1pm-3pm Independent Time (Play, Schoolwork or Screen Time). If your kid is too young for independent play, well then hopefully he/she will nap or have quiet time in their bedroom. Your kids may still be in online learning at this point, or expected to be doing independent work, but we are going with the most challenging scenario here. You can also reward them for being quiet during your morning conference call with video games or TV.
If you prefer more constructive screen time, consider signing them up for a class or just find tutorials on YouTube. Max loves to follow drawing videos online and has already surpassed my drawing ability. This could also be a good time for virtual babysitting. Have Grandma read to the kids over Zoom so you can get some work done, secure in the knowledge that they aren’t setting the house on fire while you work.
Max learned how to draw a Pizza Emoji on YouTube (but not how to spell it)
3pm-5pm Outside Play. One of my biggest struggles is getting the kids outside on a regular schedule. This is also going to be my biggest priority for the fall. Once the kids got the seriousness of social distancing, we started socially distanced play dates with a few of their friends. The difference in their demeanor has been remarkable. Children need friends. Cue sad face…
Max in the fresh air on his way to the beach in Maine last week. You can’t see very well through the grass, but even the horse is wearing a mask!
5pm-6pm Independent Time (Play, Schoolwork or Screen Time). If you didn’t give your kids screen time earlier or they didn’t finish their homework, this is a good time for those activities so that you can get dinner together or frantically finish any important work. I usually intend to start dinner at 5pm. Instead, I often work till 5:30pm, prompting me to run into the kitchen in a panic. My kids are going to have Hebrew School at 5pm a few days a week beginning in October so for us this hour is going to be fluid and require my supervision. Sometimes I also use this hour to make my kids shower if they have gotten really gross while playing outside.
6pm Dinner. Family Dinner! This is now a thing we can do every night. How exciting is that? Mr. Real Life Style can’t make it every evening, and I am still practicing getting all the food on the table at once so that we can actually eat together. I’m too used to acting like a short-order-cook while my hungry monsters eat three courses! What can I say? It is a work-in-progress but we are light years ahead of where we were in February.
Family Dinner on vacation
7pm Bedtime Routine. This is the time we just hang out with our kids and try to give them our undivided attention. To be clear, this time didn’t exist before quarantine. Of course, I read to them before bed, but everything always felt so rushed. Now that I am not picking them up at 6pm, we have time for multiple activities, like reading and playing a game, after dinner.
8pm Bedtime/Reading in Room Alone. Parents, be strong! We have to get our kids to bed on time, for their health and ours. James needs to be in bed by 8pm to get enough sleep. A lot of times I spend the 8pm hour reading and playing with Max alone in his room, which can be his only one-on-one time with me during the day. However, I only go to bed on time myself if I am strong and have Max spend this hour reading and playing by himself. He is now so responsible with his bedtime that I sometimes just tell him what time he has to turn out the light, tuck him in, and leave!
The Parents’ Schedule: 5 Pockets in the Day to Get Work Done
Which of the five blocks you choose depends upon a number of factors, including how early you are willing to wake up, how independent your kids are (or how much screen time you are willing to tolerate), and your support system.
There is a difference between work time and concentrated work time. I talked about how to be strategic with this in the blog, 5 Strategies to Balance Homeschooling with Work.
You could hire a babysitter to take your children outside every afternoon for a few hours (socially distanced of course). This would give them much needed fresh air and you concentrated work time. Alternatively, you could take turns having socially distanced play dates with another family. If there are four parents between two families, only one parent has to cover more than one afternoon each week.
Taking Shifts with a Partner
Some of you are lucky enough to have another partner also working at home and so can split shifts. I think Laura Vanderkam’s theory on this is the best, so I am not going to try and improve upon it. Her blog, The 30-hour workweek schedule (with a 50-50 split) details how a couple could each get in 30 hours of concentrated work during normal work hours. Split shifts again on a weekend day and add in a weekday night, and you can get yourself to 40 hours. I would reckon though that most employers would be happy to get 30 hours of quality work out of any employee right now. This is how much most people actually work in a normal office when you take off wasted time in meetings and chats in the hallway.
My Personal Plan
I have been home with my kids solo Wed-Thu-Fri since quarantine began. Therefore, my personal work days have been Sat-Sun-Mon-Tues. Shout out to Mr. Real Life Style for his dedication and support! In reality this results in my working 7 days per week; I still have timely work in the pockets I can find on the days I am with the kids. As people slowly go back to work though, I will be looking at only one completely free day during the week. My goal is to get in 30 hours of work during the regular work/school week so that I can take one weekend day off completely to go on adventures with my family. If my kids each have two hours of virtual learning daily in which I do not have to participate, I can find a babysitter to take them out for 2 hours a day, and I give them an hour of screen time, I should be able to get 5 hours of concentrated work in every day. That is my goal.
Ways to Take a Break
We all need a break from the relentlessness of pandemic life. Plan adventures. If there is one thing I realized while on vacation last week, it was that although there is a lot we can’t do right now, there is a lot we can do. I’m going to start a list of adventures we can have and put them on the calendar. The kids aren’t the only ones who need something to look forward to! Has anyone been to Glenstone in Potomac, MD lately? Let me know in the comments. That is first on my list.
This blog is going out later than normal because I did not work on it at all during my vacation. I actually took a break! This is very unlike me, but I knew it was necessary this year—and not just for me. I need to show my kids that they are more important than whatever is going on in my office, because they are.
A different perspective on vacation last week
I recognize that going on vacation is a huge luxury, and I don’t know the next time we will take one. You don’t have to go away to get a break though. Trade off childcare with your spouse. Start with two hours on a weekend and work up to what feels comfortable. Sometimes the things we enjoy are not that hard to get, we just have to commit to making them happen. So call your friend who lives far away on the phone tonight instead of scrolling through Instagram and check in. Make a weekly walking date with someone local. Have an at-home date night with your partner. Put the kids to bed on time, order takeout and watch a good movie.
Here are resources which might be helpful! We can do this!