phd mama

from diapers to deconstruction

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Suddenly Homeschooling?

If you suddenly find yourself homeschooling and working from home and social distancing…it can feel pretty overwhelming! I’d like to offer some suggestions about what has worked for my family, where my husband and I have done some combination of working from home while homeschooling for the last decade. Of course the suggestions represent what works for our family, and each family and work situation is different.

  1. Try not to recreate school at home. The setting and context are different, which is why it helps us to think in terms of rhythms rather than routines. Both my husband and I are morning people; we do our best work before noon. That means we often don’t try to do hands-on things with our kids first thing in the day. They can sleep in, eat breakfast, read, play, etc.
  2. Pay attention to energy levels. This one is basically about finding the teaching window. If the timing is right (developmentally, and during the day), teaching our kids doesn’t feel torturous. If we’re tired, hungry, restless, squirrely, it’s probably not the time to introduce a new math concept. Take a break or play outside or get a snack. We typically give them their hardest school task (depends on the kid) right after a meal, and when that’s done, we encourage them to play or exercise. We also give them our full attention for that task; sometimes multi-tasking just takes longer.
  3. Expect basic chores. My kids (aged 7 and 10) do chores every day. They team up to change the trash and my older child takes out the recycling (as needed). They put away their own laundry and clear their own dishes. Both of them are capable of using rags, wipes, a dustpan, and my elder sweeps and vacuums. They can help with simple meal preparation (pouring milk, setting the table, making salads) and get their own snacks. They don’t do all of these things every day, and they haven’t always been able to do all of them (that’s a helpful part of kids getting older), but their competence in these areas means my husband and I are not always being interrupted to do little things for them that they can do for themselves.
  4. Designate a parent in charge. I realize this isn’t always possible, as there are not always two adults in the space. If it is possible, it’s huge. Kids tend to have a default parent (me, in our house) who gets asked all the questions even when both parents are present. It also helps a lot if the parent working uses a different space to avoid confusion and distraction for everyone.
  5. Set up for success. If the snacks available to the kids are the ones you’re OK with them eating, then they can’t really make a wrong choice. The same is true for activities. Surround them with things valued in your family. We are a low-screen-access family, so our kids do not have that technology available without supervision. They’re surrounded by books, board games, dolls, blocks, art supplies, etc., so they can always use those things. If you’re OK with more screens, then give them the access you’re OK with them having. The idea is to make it easy for kids to find things themselves that align with your family values, so parents aren’t wondering what they’re up to.
  6. Keep it simple. It’s easy to over-parent and over-teach, especially if we’re feeling overwhelmed. Kids can survive boredom—and even thrive! A lot of nights when I’m on my own making dinner or cleaning up the kitchen, I put on an audiobook we all enjoy while my kids color. It’s a way to be together and get things done that makes all of us happy and less stressed.
  7. Prioritize and categorize work. My husband and I are both academics. Neither one of us can write and research with distractions, so that is work we prioritize for times when we get focused alone time to work. We can grade papers and plan lessons with mild distractions, so we can do those things while also interacting with the kids. The tasks and priorities will depend on the kind of work, family dynamics, and time availability.
  8. Give kids some control and choice. We have a whiteboard schedule for the week on the refrigerator. For us, that strikes as great balance between responsibility and flexibility. We also all really like lists. Some days the kids knock out all their tasks first thing and spend the rest of the day doing what they want. The older they are, the more they can direct themselves and their own time—and this is a great skill to hone before heading off to college.
  9. Carve out alone time for the grownups. Honestly, some days the only alone time I get is a shower. Usually it’s more than that, but I have become very flexible about the times of day I’m willing to exercise in order to get that bit of time to myself. This is so much harder if you’re the only adult or your kids are little, but even a few minutes where you can take care of yourself exclusively is critical.
  10. Be thankful for each other. We try to do this when there’s not a global pandemic. We set aside time each day (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) for doing things and just being together. Maybe it’s watching a movie or baking something or playing a game. What matters is setting work and school aside to enjoy each other.