March 27, 2020 10 min read
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I have a new appreciation for teachers, and I know I’m not the only one. Most of our schools are closed indefinitely and many of us working parents are expected to homeschool our kids while running our businesses and working. Although many schools have distributed online programs and learning packets, and we’re seeing an emergence of articles about how to homeschool, the majority of them don’t explain how to continue to work effectively while keeping your kids at home, and learning.
I’ve worked from home for 12 years, and although I’ve had nannies along the way, below are 10 tips to help make the time you spend with your kids productive, enjoyable and educational — all while keeping your business going.
1. Teach independence.
Kids need to know how to have a task and stick to it. They also need to understand that as parents, we have responsibilities and jobs and cannot be disturbed at certain times. How can you do this? Give your kids a timer (a standard egg timer works wonders) and tell them to read or play or work on a project for that given amount of time. If they are not accustomed to independence, begin with small increments of time such as 15 minutes, and over time, build in increments up to 60 minutes. This way you can set them up with a book, an online educational program (more on this later) or send them outside to play. The same goes for teaching them to make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when they are hungry. The most important part of teaching independence is to start with small tasks, give them praise and establish this independence as a daily habit for them.
2. Establish a specific schedule (but be flexible).
Kids are used to schedules and bells at schools, so take advantage of this and set a schedule that allows you to work and not home school all day. Although a high school kid might welcome downtime and independence to just read and relax more, younger kids will likely enjoy the novelty of a different routine.
My boys (9 and 11) thrive on structure and like seeing a very specific schedule written out for the day. It helps them understand times when they will work independently (on learning software or workbooks or with non-screen activities, such as art, puzzles, writing or building), as well as times when my husband or I actively teaches or plays. I schedule their reading and math (done via iPad and worksheets) in the morning, followed by snack and recess, which allows me a fairly solid three-hour work block to get priority work done. Then I do something where I physically teach them, such as a history lesson, a science experiment or a Spanish lesson, which tends to be enjoyable for all of us.
Another school activity to work into the agenda is what I call “Writer’s Workshop,” which I change up — from essays, to creative writing, to a surprise. Yesterday the “surprise” was to write two letters to a friend, teacher or family member to brighten their days during these scary times. Most kids miss their friends the most and care about that much more than a plummeting stock market or shortage of Clorox wipes, so schedule a FaceTime call with one of their friends at the end of the day as a reward for a good school day. Allow flexibility in the daily schedule — it’s OK to switch things around to plan around key calls and video meetings.
3. Teach them home economics.
Yes, that was once a true class. In addition to prioritizing academic subjects into our schedule, we build in educational games, puzzles, music and chores. Having kids at home all day means more laundry, more dishes, more meals and more non-work to-dos. Typically after lunch, we build 30 minutes into the schedule where kids do chores, but you can do this whenever it’s most convenient for you. Will the novelty of doing dreaded chores wear off? Likely yes, but remain consistent and praise or reward your child. This will help build good habits and allow you more work time.
4. Create a work environment for your kids.
We’re spending time making our office and workspaces organized, so do the same for your kids. Ensure the workplace is clear, free of distractions, toys and clutter and equip them with notebooks, pens, pencils and some noise-canceling headphones for when they’re working on computers or iPads (you’ll thank me later).
5. Technology is your friend.
Many of our kids are already learning online and might even be using iPads at school. Software available for homeschool learning is great, especially the smart programs that auto-adapt to their learning abilities. Most schools send an email with specific assignments each child needs to do that week. While these are great, it’s not enough work for our kids, so we take it up a notch. (And if you’re an Entrepreneur.com loyalist, you likely will, too.) At home, we use Zearn, DreamBox and Freckle for math and Raz-Kids, Sora and Newsela for reading and language arts. There are multitudes of great software out there, so ask your teachers and community for recommendations. Just ensure you set your child up at the right level and take time to sit with him or her for a lesson so that you feel comfortable with the level of challenge.
6. Take turns with your partner or trusted family members and friends.
If you have a specific deadline or time when you need to be on a call, take turns with your partner so that he or she is in charge of supervising the kids during that time. In our house, my husband teaches math and history, and my mother, who is an artist and lives nearby, works with them on art lessons or a project for an hour each day. I schedule a deep work block or take a walk and knock out a phone call during these times.
7. Look to Skype or FaceTime for extracurricular activities.
After-school activities are other times some of us used to work, even if it meant returning calls while on a field or catching up on emails during practice. (Don’t worry, we will get back to that at some point.) But with no baseball, no piano and no swimming, our workdays are shorter. Adults have increasingly adopted FaceTime, Zoom and Skype to communicate with our teams, so why not use them for music lessons with your kid’s instructors, live dance classes or sports activities? At home, we rely on apps like Simply Piano and set a time in the daily schedule for the kids to practice.
Although your kids won’t be able to play soccer with their teams, they can certainly watch videos to help them improve their skills and teach them how to practice at home. If you don’t have access to outdoor space, most apartment complexes have indoor gyms or hallways that can likely be used as long as we are sensitive to social distancing and respectful of our neighbors. If you have access to outdoor space, send your kids out and assign them drills or challenges. Get specific (shoot 30 hoops or run 10 sprints), and if you can, do some of it with them. Take advantage of the time you’re not driving them to activities to prioritize family and health.
8. Schedule time for recess.
This is a no-brainer, and we all need it. If your kids are happy playing and eating lunch on their own, you can capitalize on this time to work. But if you can afford to take a break, you’ll be surprised what 15 minutes of dodge ball, dancing or playing a board game will do for your own happiness and productivity. Working from home means you’re not commuting, so don’t feel the need to feel busy at all times. For our mental health, our bodies and our minds, we need this play and laughter time now more than ever.
9. Be firm as a teacher.
Kids are going to do things they believe they can get away with, like act out when they’re not interested in the topic you’re teaching. It’s important to be firm about school the same way you are about other rules. Help your children understand that these are incredibly unusual times and as parents, we need to get our work done so that we can continue to provide a house, meals, pay the bills, etc. Without frightening them (remember, this is difficult for them, too), help them understand the importance of prioritizing learning and work. Make sure they have input into the schedule, and offer some options for activities or subjects. Do you prefer biology or chemistry today? On a unique day, even ask them to teach you one of the lessons.
10. Reward your students.
As adults, we feel appreciated when our colleagues or superiors tell us that we are performing well or did a great job on a project. Find a time at the end of the day to regroup to talk about the day’s challenges and accomplishments. For us, this is dinnertime. We don’t allow television or video games during the week, but during these times, we might tell our kids that if they follow the schedule and have good days, they can watch 30 minutes of TV in the evening. And if for some reason you have more work to do and the kids get 60 minutes of TV, don’t beat yourself up over this. The biggest takeaway here is to encourage your children and show them that good students are rewarded.
Keep this all in perspective.
What we are going through is not normal, and we hope that in the near future we can look back on this remember how we survived this world crisis. There is no road map for working while having your kids at home, and it’s OK for things to change as you go. In our house, the motto is “Go with the flow.” Uncertainty and fear will challenge us as entrepreneurs, but that’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. It’s knowing how to react, adapt and make the smartest decisions for our work and lifestyles. Rest assured that we will learn things along this very bumpy journey, be it a new language, a new sport, a new business idea or most importantly, how to live a simpler life while being more connected to our families. Be compassionate to yourself and those around you, and stay as positive as you can.