Updated: Mar 16
I also thought about calling this article:
Help! Coronavirus just made me a stay at home working homeschool parent!
But reasoned that it would be better to stay closer to the practical rather than the sensational. We've got enough of that these days.
What You'll Get Out of This Article:
Ideas to build structure and routine into your day, where you will have to work, parent, and maybe do some homeschooling.
Tips for self care.
Strategies to talk about roles / responsibilities for sharing care and co-parenting.
The opportunity to connect in a live virtual meeting later this week via Zoom conference to talk strategy, share ideas, and trouble-shoot. Info at the end if you're interested in this.
Who This is For:
Parents who work outside the home, who are now teleworking, and their kids' schools have also closed.
Stay at home parents whose kids have been in school and a day to day routine with the kids hasn't been in play recently.
Single parents who are now teleworking who can take the ideas for structure even if they may not have a person to swap roles with all the time.
Folks looking for self-care tips during this transitional time. (My good friend let me know the self care section was one of her biggest takeaways from this article.)
Where I'm Coming From:
I run a small business and am also home with my kids solo-parenting 3 days a week. We also homeschool.
My husband is an RN (thank you, frontline health workers) and we take turns parenting / schooling depending on who is primarily home that day. We don't have extended family nor use a regular childcare service / school / or person. (Drop-in care on occasion, but not currently).
Prior to April 2018 we both worked full-time and our kids (then only 1 and 4 years old) were in full-time preschool and care.
We've done the transition to being primarily home based and wanted to share our experiences and resources with those who have shifted to it rapidly.
I was inspired to write it because a friend of mine in the Bay Area called me last week as she and her husband were sent home to telework and their kids (same age as mine) were also sent home from their preschool / school. As we talked, I realized I should probably write it out.
This is not about how to homeschool, this is focused on setting up a routine and structure for your day to day that you can then use to identify how best to homeschool with your young kids. I think these strategies are best suited to folks with younger kids, and wouldn't be sure if this could help with tweens or teens. (Though you never know, let me know if it does work for you!)
All right, let's go!
Roles and Responsibilities
First, set up a time to connect with your co-parenting partner about roles and responsibilities. Heck if you found this helpful, have them read it too and talk about it together.
Questions to consider:
Who prefers what responsibilities with the kids?
Who’s more interested in doing something guided / structured (a la art projects or games)?
Who’s more interested in getting outside to just run around and move their bodies?
Who’s better at prepping meals?
Who’s better at making the overall plan for the day?
Who loves doing dishes? ;)
Divide and conquer, honor your strengths and encourage stretching into growth if this is typically one person’s domain more than another.
Find what works best for your situation and give yourselves the gift of 15 minutes in the evening to check in on what worked and what didn’t, and sketch out your plan for the next day.
Flow of the day
As you know from weekends - your kids like to move it move it, but now you’re on point to manage them on your own for the next 7 - 14 (or 28?!) days or so. Fingers crossed the pandemic chills out.
Kids need structure (as you know) and it helps for us too. I know as a business owner the structure I used to have as an employee took me a few moments to self-create. This can help us all.
Get up like you do everyday and feed the family. Rotate this responsibility with your co-parent if that makes sense for you both.
After breakfast, have a centering “together” activity - maybe 15 - 20 minutes or a bit longer, planned for after breakfast with one parent, whoever decides to be “on point” first. Circle time works for us at home and I’ll read a couple short books, or a chapter or two from a book. This is also a good time to do a review for the day and what you’ll be doing.
Kids love knowing what’s coming next so that they can transition easier. You can write this out if your kids read, or make pictures if you’re feeling inclined to sketch things like a tree for going outside, or a sandwich for lunchtime. You get the idea.
Verbal overview is also fine, but something tactile to see and touch really helps the younger ones.
I just drew pictures (ages ago) on index cards. My son LOVED “planning the day” with them when he was 2-3 years old. You can also print some, just google "Preschool Daily Schedule Cards".
As you gear up to be home a lot, set up a couple stations in your home for the kids outside their rooms. Maybe you convert half the dining room table to an art and craft station, and get all the materials placed nearby in a few tubs, or move a shelf near there with easy to access crayons, paints, paper, scissors, etc.
Make a cozy reading nook with pillows and blankets.
Many of you will likely have these set up at home already, but if it's the case that school, preschool or daycare was more geared to it, let your house morph a little.
Younger kids might appreciate getting out the blocks, the magnatiles, the legos, and doing creative free play. Older kids might want to do school work, art projects, or a game.
One thing I want to mention: Play is educational!
If your kids are already elementary age, don't sweat the small stuff, the time to connect and be with your kids during all this change is so important to everyone's well being.
They'll learn to read, they'll learn addition, subtraction, their social studies and whatever subjects they're learning now, it's okay if it doesn't all happen in the next few weeks.
Building routine, structure and flow to build a sense of security during this time will be most beneficial.
Give yourself permission to not need to be a perfect early childhood educator, it's 100% okay to be a loving parent who works from home and does their best.
Snack time and getting outside - a time for bodies to move their energy around, gross motor skill stuff (good for everyone at this time, really).
The hour and a half before lunch is great for a light snack and getting in some movement. Take advantage of working from home!
Did you answer all the emails for now?
Swap with the other parent, let them answer emails and get your running shoes on to play at the park go for a bike ride or a walk.
I personally love to just make a quick list on a piece of paper of things we might see on a walk in the neighborhood, give it to my oldest, and announce we’re going on a scavenger hunt.
(We actually did this the other evening, I just wrote down a bunch of colors, and we brought a little bag to find something in nature that is each of the colors - with springtime we found a lot of flowers and beautifully colored buds on trees that fit the profile, along with some moss, bark, and lichen.)
My kids always love this and it’s more motivating for them than just “let’s go on a walk!” Which they’ll balk at for 10 minutes or more.
When we got home from that recent walk, my oldest, who can be a bit of a stubborn one on going for walks, told me that evening's walk was pretty much the best ever. (He seriously said that!) Gotta love it.
Bring it back in for grub, keep it simple, and I will say, it is NICE to be able to make a hot lunch. My go-to’s tend to be pasta with veggies but you know what your kids eat and what you have patience for, do what works. (I know mine would love it if we did corn dogs and mac and cheese daily but I haven’t caved in to it yet.)
Post-lunch quiet time
We’re shifting out of this a bit, but I know it would benefit my three-year old if we could do it a bit longer. After lunch is what we call “quiet activities” - it used to be nap time for my youngest.
During this time my oldest and I would sit and read books together, work on an art project or play a game, or it would be a time for him to just sit and read / look at books. Depending on your kids ages (at least up to 5 or so) I think some set quiet time after lunch is great and really helpful.
This can also be a good time for parents to switch who’s on point if it’s just been one parent up until now.
This works well for my husband and I when I’m not going to work a full day. Usually the first day he’s home after his shifts he needs a little time to catch up with himself, go for a run, or just have some quiet non-work non-family time, and so I’ll still do parenting until lunch or a little after, and then I’ll do my work and he’ll take over parenting / homeschooling.
This is another ideal snack and get outside and move the bodies around time. Simple, heading to the park, and given the abundance of closures - that is probably going to be the only option. I’d often tie this in with a walk to the library, or maybe pop down to the climbing gym with the kids if it’s raining, but you gotta make do with what you’ve got.
Late-afternoon / evening
Time to get ready for dinner!
We don’t do much screen time at our house (though I’ll be real, some days are better than others), and if you’re down with kids watching something I find the time when I need to make dinner to be the best time to allow them to have a bit of screen time.
They have had a full day and while I know my three year old loves to help (and still often wants to anyway), sometimes it’s just WAY easier to do all the things on my own.
My husband is better at sharing the kitchen with the kids and letting them help - I tend to get distracted and forget what is in the oven or on the stove while working with a kid to mix batter - so I prefer alone time there. Just a preference. The other night the kids helped make really good homemade pizzas with my husband while I slugged away in the home office.
I probably don’t need to say much here because you’ve probably got this part down - it will hopefully feel nice that you didn’t have to do the drop-off / pick-up / commute slog, yay!
I know that was the BEST thing about my new normal after I started to work for myself. Evenings might suddenly be way more relaxed and more enjoyable!
All right - now - for those of you looking for ideas for things to do with the kids - I’m gonna let you hit pinterest and the interwebs on your own.
So, to start off here, planning IS self-care.
When you set yourself up for what the next day will be like, you put into motion the energy to get it done. Here's the trick - don't add too much to this list.
Pick three main things you want to accomplish. Anything you might get done beyond that is a win, and getting three main things done is a big accomplishment when you're navigating a new normal.
Also? Breaks are a worthy goal. More on that below.
But while I'm talking about planning as self-care, I mean it. Because if you have a few ideas tucked in your back pocket from the night before, or project ready to go (simple projects), it is REALLY helpful to not have to problem solve it in the moment when a three year old is having a tantrum and your older kid is upset about something else.
When you have something set up for them to walk up to, chances are they’ll engage with it and forget that they wanted to watch 10 episodes of Octonauts or Magic School Bus or whatever just because school’s out. Maybe not always, but you definitely mitigate the risk.
And the planning with your co-parent is essential. An evening check-in with your co-parent / partner gives the space to be real when you need a hand, be cool asking for help and support, and talk through how to help one another, address something that happened earlier, or just take a time out to netflix and chill.
There are days where I really do need the screen to babysit for an hour or so, so I can take a phone call, or knuckle down on a deadline. While it’s not ideal for us, that hour I can focus and square away my project work gives me the mental freedom when I’m done to really be present with my kids with whatever we do next.
I always know that the worst interactions / times I have with my kids are when I’m not present, I’m thinking about work, and they can tell that I don’t want to focus with them on what they are interested in. (Put the phones away, it helps.)
A note on dishes. It's my least favorite thing. There are going to be SO MANY MORE while you're home-based. Get them done through the day, run the washer when you need to, and maybe delegate the other parent to take a quick break from work to do them while one parent is a bit more kid-focused at the moment. Or whoever did not cook/meal prep does dishes. Seriously - a kitchen that gets cleaned up after each meal somehow makes the whole day go better, but is a hard thing to wrangle. Do what you can.
Because a trip to the gym or yoga studio and drop-in childcare may not be an easy outlet in this new reality, you'll need to collaborate with your co-parent (or friends and neighbors) on breaks.
You each deserve and should get one. Plan it into your day. Honor it. Let nothing move it.
Getting outside without kids or responsibility for each parent for 30-minutes or an hour each day is a lifesaver. I'm saying it again, I know, but make a daily break one of your goals.
For working out - thankfully Amazon Prime Video and YouTube have great workout videos. (I personally love PopSugar Fitness videos on YouTube, and the varieties of barre videos - not as great as the classes in person - but good for home use on Amazon.)
Because my husband and I share so much of the parenting when the other is working, and even in this he will still be going in for his shifts at the hospital, we find that we need to literally book time on our calendars for both of us to connect. Evenings are great but we're too zonked usually for a good discussion.
We've put a standing appointment on our calendar for two-hours in the morning, once a week (or every other week as it happens sometimes), for a date to talk about all the stuff that we don't have time for in passing.
Budgets, strategies for the kids, etc., that's where we do it. Before all this we would drop them off at a drop-in care place and go out to coffee to do it. With limitations on those, you might plop the kids down for a movie (like we will) while you make this time for you.
Collaborating with others:
In our regular lives, we're also supported a lot by neighbors. I can't speak to doing this during COVID-19 and you'll have to assess best for you. But often great opportunities for breaks (in lieu of screen time at dinner) are with kids coming over to play, or our kids going next door to play. In normal times this is probably how I get dinner done without interruption about 60% of the time. You'll have to make decisions here with social distancing.
A note for mama and "not-the-mama":
Maybe your family is different, but if my kids have a choice of one parent over the other, it's me, the one who carried them for their first 9-months of development.
That said, this is a time for exercising and lovingly explaining something I like to call BOUNDARIES. When it's time for the parent who the kids love to demand to do ALL THE THINGS with to step behind the office door and work, allow that parent to escape and tell the kids that you'll be back later, but you're off to work right now.
While I typically work out of a co-working space (because of this very issue), or am onsite with clients, the days when I do work from home (like the past few days and the more to come) and I'm tucked away behind a closed door I gently and firmly remind the kids that I'm going to work and it's best to pretend I'm not home.
The key is having an activity, meal, or outside time prepped at this transition time and allowing the other parent to fully step into being in charge. This really helps kids "let go" of mama so they can move on with their day. Then while the kids are refocused, it might help to have earplugs or headphones in, because you'll still hear things you may want to participate or intervene in, but when it's the other parent's time to shine, you let it.
For example, I just sat down to do a few edits to this article, and my kids just went out the door with their Dad to play in the snow (SNOW! It's snowing in Portland!). I have coffee, I'm in my pajamas, but I'm neglecting no one (that's the personal mom-guilt I can experience showing up, name it to tame it friends!) and can focus.
And of course - this is all a lot. There will be days when nothing goes to plan.
Remember that letting go of rigid expectations or being "perfect" at this can help defuse inner and outer conflict.
We are all learning here. No one is an expert, so even if you're an expert at work and sought after for advice in your field, let yourself be new at this. When we're new, it's all about practice, not perfection.
Lastly, it's nice to remember we are all fellow travelers on this road.
Sometimes the best thing is to look up, above the mess, see the people, then maybe take a nap.
You've got this.
While we experience this crazy quarantined time I really hope you do also get some good, super fun quality time with your kids and as a family in ways that weren’t likely going to happen during a regular run of the mill week.
I've enjoyed walks in our neighborhood today, both one on my own and one with the family, and just noticing just how much more other folks smile, wave and make eye contact. We even walked by a house with a family inside at dinner, I noticed them see us walk by, they smiled and waved, all of them, and we did the same back.
While the reasons we're here are tough, I love finding that we still want to connect, and that there are ways to see warmth amidst the upheaval. We have this time where we are forced to slow down and assess, and be friendlier even with strangers across the road. I look toward these things as a balm during uncertainty.
Lastly - I'm thinking of setting up a Zoom conference meeting toward the end of this week (week of 3/15). If you'd be interested in joining a meeting to trouble shoot challenges working / schooling from home, please send me an email to get on a list when I announce a time for the meeting. I'll send a link with it so everyone who's interested can join. You could be a fly on the wall, or send in questions, the format allows for voice and chat communication both ways. I can record it as well for folks who can't join live.
If you're interested in the Zoom meeting, sign up here, I'll notify folks when it's scheduled.
Ok! Wishing you clean hands, clear hearts, and good health.
Janet Lansbury - resource on toddlers and young childhood: https://www.janetlansbury.com/podcast-audio/
Cool graphic based on the book The Whole Brain Child to support parenting strategies: https://www.themontessorinotebook.com/summary-of-the-whole-brain-child/
Preschool schedule cards