As social distancing and work-from-home policies have become the new norm, working parents are adjusting to working from home … with kids. Although there is a good chance you’ve established somewhat of a routine through trial and error, you might be ready to try something new. We spoke with educational experts and parents to bring you advice and resources for getting work done with children in the house.
If you have personal advice to share with other working parents about how you effectively work remotely while managing your newly acquired teaching duties, join the conversation in the business.com community. Share how you’re managing your time, and include any useful resources that work for you and your children.
Advice for working from home with kids
Working from home with children can be difficult, especially since schools have closed, forcing parents to teach their kids while continuing to do their own jobs. We reached out to educational experts to learn the top five strategies that every mompreneur and remote worker can implement to increase their productivity.
1. Communicate with your employer, employees and clients.
Communication is key in these unprecedented times. At this point, everyone is aware of the drastic measures taken by businesses around the globe, so employers, employees and clients are likely to be sensitive to the transitions others may be making.
“Set a call up between you and your employer to express that, while you’re working from home, you do have children, and while you’re doing your best, there may be a time where your child may need you,” said Cynthia Thayer, global CMO of Yowie Group. “During this crisis, employers need to be supportive of their employees and understand that we are all in this together and doing the best we can, given the circumstances.”
You can also communicate with your clients to let them know you are still taking on work, but that you may need to limit the number of time-sensitive projects you take on.
2. Set a schedule and stick to it.
Creating a schedule for your family is a great way to manage your time and ensure your workload is achievable. If you share parenting duties with your significant other, create a schedule that gives each of you a designated block of uninterrupted time for important work.
“Designate specific timeframes when Mom or Dad have to focus on work without interruptions, as well as times when the kids can count on Mom or Dad for undivided attention,” said Thayer. “Keeping blocks of scheduled times short will make the kids feel a lot better – and easier to manage – knowing that attention will be focused on them throughout the day without fail.”
Regardless of how you schedule activities throughout the day, find a routine that works for your family and stick to it. If you already had a weekly routine before the coronavirus pandemic, try to follow it as much as possible. This will help with the transition back to normal life when the pandemic is over.
3. Prepare for the day ahead of time.
You can ease your transition into a new normal of remote work and parenting by preparing for the day ahead of you. Prep lunches and self-service snacks (apples, peeled oranges, crackers, etc.) the night before so your children don’t bother you for food throughout the day.
“If you have young children and their schools sent home e-learning resources, look at those resources at least a day in advance,” said Anna Chin, founder of GOFBA. “Know what your child needs for that lesson plan, how long they will be ‘in school’ and when their breaks will be. This will help you plan around your schedule.”
4. Establish boundaries and expectations.
Children tend to be more cooperative when they have structure. Sarah Steinhauer, K-4 art teacher at East Pennsboro Elementary School in Enola, Pennsylvania, said that parents can create boundaries and expectations by first identifying the things that disrupt productivity and attending to the children’s needs.
“If you think carefully about the different needs kids have, you will find that (depending on their ages) the majority of them are not needs, but wants,” said Steinhauer. “This is a problem that can easily be solved by establishing boundaries and expectations and consistently ensuring that they are met.”
To help parents with this process, Steinhauer created a list of specific examples that parents can use to navigate these expectations.
5. Explain the consequences.
Alongside establishing boundaries and expectations, it is important to create a clear outline of the consequences of breaking those boundaries. For example, if you have a clear “do not disturb” sign, make sure your children understand what will happen if they cross you during that time. When outlining boundaries and consequences, explain to your children the “why” behind them. Children are more likely to follow rules if they understand the reasoning behind them.
Online resources to keep your children busy
Technology is one of the main factors that has allowed so many businesses and employees to continue operations during the COVID-19 outbreak. You can take advantage of digital resources to keep your children busy as well.
Although there are many great online resources to help children play and learn, it’s best to use them somewhat sparingly, if possible, so you can use them as leverage when you really need it.
We reached out to parents and educational experts to learn what online resources they recommend for keeping children occupied while you attend that important conference call.
- Common Sense Media created a resource for families who want to access learning at home and homework help.
- Educational Insights has compiled its favorite at-home activities that kids can enjoy on their own or with you.
- Hand2mind offers daily lessons and activities for students K-5. Lessons are created by the company’s staff educators and real teachers.
- Learning Resources has hundreds of free learning-at-home essentials, like games, puzzles and workbooks. You can choose between grades and subjects to find the educational resources you need.
Art and cooking
- The Kennedy Center has resources that are both educational and creative, including the interactive Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. Children can take their art one step further by tagging their artwork on social media with #MoLunchDoodles.
- Raddish Kids is a child-friendly cooking club with culinary lessons for kids of all ages. If you don’t want to pay for a subscription, you can still access its many free materials, including recipes, cooking videos, lesson plans, musical playlists and parent resources.
- KidNuz is a daily news podcast for kids that can keep your children informed of current events in a way that is both entertaining and age-appropriate.
- Audible Stories lets children listen to hundreds of Audible titles across six languages – English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Japanese.
- Google Docs is not just for adults. Children can use free document-sharing programs like Google Docs to create stories with their friends while they’re apart. This allows them to get creative and stay connected.
- Stay Home Kiddos provides daily prompts for conversation-starters, reading, writing, creativity, fitness, nutrition and wellness. Parents can sign up for a daily mailing list with new activities each day.
- Storyline Online is a great resource to keep children entertained while learning. Each storybook is read by an actor and includes an activity guide that has questions and enrichment activities that you can use to discuss the story with your children.
- NEO Kids is a great way for your kids to stay active with exercise and fitness videos. Classes are broken into three age groups (4-6, 7-9 and 10-12 years old), so you can feel comfortable knowing that your children are accessing age-appropriate activities.
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)
- Kodable lets kids learn core programming concepts through engaging games.
- Prodigy is a curriculum-aligned math game used to educate children in grades 1-8. Parents can access a free account to set goals, monitor progress and give rewards.
- Red Sox Home Fun is perfect for young sports lovers. They can access sports-themed learning activities like math and science worksheets, coloring pages, games, puzzles, comic books, videos, and recipes. For an additional challenge, kids can register for the Red Sox Summer Slugger program to play weekly games, compete in challenges and earn prizes.
- Yowie World teaches kids about endangered species, sustainability and the natural world through free activities like games, quizzes, cartoons and crafts.
Steinhauer said there are multiple free and inexpensive technologies that you can use to keep kids engaged. For example, you can use video platforms like FaceTime, Google Hangouts or Zoom to connect your children with relatives, friends and teachers. This can keep them busy, allowing you to focus on your work. Steinhauer also recommends using music to keep your children engaged while they do other tasks.
“I have found that my kids will stay much more focused on a chore or playing if they have some of their favorite music in the background,” she said. “Simply make them a playlist and cast it to a Bluetooth speaker nearby.” Regardless of what technology you use, make sure that it is safe and secure for your children to use. With the increase in hackers and phishing schemes, your children may fall victim to cyberattacks or find themselves on inappropriate sites. You should always put parental controls on the devices they use, and you can use secure search engines, like GOFBA, to make sure your children are browsing safely.
“Safe browsers ensure that there are multiple walls of protection that will keep your information secure, keep hackers out and inappropriate websites hidden,” said Chin. “Let’s face it – children are more bored than ever, so their internet use will show that. It’s important to keep them and our family networks safe.”
Screenless activities to keep your children busy
Although it is easy to defer to screen time to preoccupy your children, there are a few screenless indoor activities you can take advantage of as well.
Hamna Amjad, content marketing executive at Indoor Champ and mother of two school-age kids, recommends the following:
- Artistic activities (e.g., painting, coloring, writing and reading)
- Creative toys (e.g., Legos, play dough and puzzles)
- Board games (e.g., Monopoly, Scrabble and Ludo)
- Physical activities (e.g., exercise programs like The Body Coach TV and Cosmic Kids yoga)
Thayer said parents can also keep their children busy with homework and chores during the day instead of waiting until the evening.
“This, of course, is dependent upon age and the length of their attention span,” said Thayer. “Activities could include reading assignments, doing online research related to a school project, [and] many at-home chores as well, such as folding the laundry, cleaning under their bed, washing their bicycle for a ride later, and free playtime, of course.”
Tips for staying sane when working from home with children
Working from home while also taking care of children is not an easy task. It is important to remember to take care of yourself. Be flexible and forgiving with yourself. Steinhauer said that making your physical, mental and emotional health a priority can help you make more confident decisions and contribute more meaningfully at work and home.
One way you can prioritize your mental health is by practicing meditation, or something similar that dedicates some quiet time to yourself. This can be in the morning before your children wake up, or in the evening after they go to sleep.
“You may be surprised at how restorative it is to spend even a few minutes sitting on your front porch steps or enjoying the view from a fully open window in your apartment,” said Thayer. “Taking those few moments to appreciate the fresh spring air and nature starting to awake from winter can make a big difference in helping you stay sane for the remainder of the day.”
If your home allows, Amjad recommends remote workers set up a dedicated space to work away from distractions. Throughout the day, you can practice the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks up your day into short-focus sessions followed by frequent breaks.
“Instead of constantly worrying about your kids, you can work with full focus for, say, 30 minutes and then take a 10-minute break to check on your kids, give snacks to them, or assign them new tasks,” said Amjad.
Regardless of what hobbies or techniques you use to stay sane, practice self-care. Keep open lines of communication with your colleagues and family to ensure that everyone is on the same page about what you can realistically accomplish.