For many of us, working from home used to be a respite. It was a way to get a lot done with little interruption, or a way for us to care for a sick child. Now it’s become something so much bigger than that. It’s become a way of life that we can’t avoid. With our entire family stuck at home together, balance can be hard to find. We are now expected to be so many things all at once as we readjust to a new lifestyle.
One of the top priorities for many parents is to figure out how to prevent the COVID-19 slide from setting our kids too far back. Thankfully, teachers have been there to help us navigate these hard times. From teaching calls to work packets, they are doing everything they can to keep our kids engaged and learning. But it doesn’t feel as structured as schooling, and engaging our kids is hard when we’re also working full time. We’re expected to become teachers ourselves, so we can help our kids keep on top of their schooling. How do we keep kids learning, even as we try to work full time from home? How do we balance this new schedule?
While our first wish might be to clone ourselves, sadly, the technology just isn’t there yet. Instead, we are forced to be everything, all at once—worker, parent, housekeeper, peacekeeper, IT person, and so much more.
The first step is to take a few deep breaths.
Remember, this upheaval is as big to your kids as it is to you. It’s confusing. It may feel like we’re alone, but we can still connect. We’re going to have to take each day as it comes. But for now, here are some tips and resources to help make the adjustment a little easier.
Setting a Schedule
The first step is redefining your schedule. It’s important to make a routine to help everyone adapt to our new lifestyle. This means setting aside some time to just be present with your kids. They always know when they don’t have 100% of your attention. Do your best to create a learning schedule for them. Let them know when they are expected to be learning, and what the topic will be. It can be hard to keep them on it—every child from K–12 can be distracted, especially when at home, but routine will help to get them into the habit.
If you can, focus your meetings to a specific block of time so you have a set time when your kids know you can’t be bothered. While it can be hard to get your coworkers on board, if you practice this, it will become normalized for you. If you’re able, try to offset your dedicated meeting hours from your partner. Outside of your block, you will be able to focus better on helping with IT woes, homework, and solve conflicts. There will always be exceptions where we must hop into a meeting outside of our block, but this will happen less often as people become used to the schedule.
You may need to talk to your boss about schedule flexibility. If you need to parent in the middle of the day, make sure you have that conversation. We’re all trying to figure this out, and your boss should be able to help you make this unprecedented situation work.
If figuring out a schedule on your own is a little overwhelming, Khan Academy, a free online learning platform, has done a great job creating learning schedules by age group. They offer links, ideas for offline learning, and create structure. While their outlines might not work for every family, it’s a great place to start.
An Opportunity to Teach and Grow: Free Teaching Resource List
In the age of the Internet there are a lot of free learning resources at our fingertips. Many schools are working to implement online learning and are sending out packets to keep kids moving forward, but it might not feel like enough. You might be looking for new ways for your kids to keep focused and growing. If you want to offer more, here are some free options to supplement their learning:
- If your kids are younger, you should check out Fun Brain. They offer courses for Pre-K to eighth grade and have a variety of learning styles. You can find games, books, and other content. Some of it is for fun, while others are more learning focused, so you will want to look through and choose what you want to have them access.
- I talked about Khan Academy’s schedules above, but they have so much more to offer than just scheduling. The website offers free education for anyone who wants it, and they have a lot of credibility in the learning space. They are doing what they can to help the crisis, and on top of their schedules, they have created a guide on how to best use their website during school closures. Even Disney has programing on Khan Academy. Your children can take a course on storytelling from the Imagineers.
- For teens, there are plenty of colleges and universities that offer free online courses. You can access courses from Harvard, Cornell, and Duke, for instance, completely for free. The range of courses offered is vast, and you can work with your teen to decide which classes will be best for their learning goals.
- Codecademy is another great resource. They aim to teach everyone how to code for free. You can take all their basic courses free of charge by signing up, and if you get a pro membership, you can also gain access to deeper content—though that likely won’t be as useful for your kids. If your teen is interested in learning to code, this is a great place to start and is very hands on. It can help get them interested in STEM as they begin their coding journey.
- PBS has been a learning resource for ages. From Sesame Street to investigative reporting, they’ve been helping us grow. In addition to their familiar slate of television programming, they offer full courses online to help teach about the world around us. They do a great job of showing the suggested grade levels on each lesson, so you will know if it is too hard for your kids. They have a huge database, so it’s here to access if you’re looking for full courses or just videos.
- You can help your kids learn a new language by downloading the Duolingo app. They offer 35 languages for English speakers—some more practical than others (I’m looking at you, Klingon), but the learning style is fun and well designed. It is freemium, so you have some limits on the amount of times they can retry each lesson, but if they do a practice session, you can gain back tries.
- Some learning platforms are offering extended trials while schools are closed. The Great Courses Plus, for instance, is offering a 30-day free trial. They offer a wide variety of courses, but they are primarily focused on high school and up. So if your kids are younger, you might want to look at some of the other options instead.
A Documentary a Day
Okay, one a day might be a bit extreme, but adding documentaries into your home teaching schedule can be helpful and requires a very low lift. I do caution you to ensure the documentary is kid-friendly before you start it. A quick search of the Internet can often help you with this. But there are many documentaries on the various streaming services that you can track down and set up for your kids.
Documentaries offer a good place to start a conversation and are something you can do together. You can pick ones that focus on any number of subjects and really dig into them with your kids.
A Fieldtrip from Home
It’s hard to stay cooped up and not go places, especially as the weather is getting nicer. The good news is you can take outings from the comfort of your home. While you can’t fly out and see some of the most impressive collections in the world, some of them can come to you. For instance, the Louvre has several of its galleries available online. Or you can take your family to the Sistine Chapel to view the beauty of its frescoes.
If you want more art in your life, you can tour the Van Gogh Museum and explore his life and works. Or if you’re looking for a more modern experience, you can check out the Modern Museum of Art, and “walk” through their galleries. Google has made many famous art museums available online, which can really ease the tedium as we look for new ways to entertain ourselves.
For a more outdoorsy family, places like Yosemite National Park offer virtual tours, with sound included, to help make the experience more immersive. Yellowstone also offers virtual tours, if you want to view more of America while you are housebound.
The zoo nearby might be closed, but San Diego Zoo has live cams of many of its residents, so you can spend time watching the animals there too. Many zoos are doing this during their closures, so check in with your local zoo and consider donating if you have the means.
A quick Internet search will offer up even more places you can tour from home. Virtual field trips make for a great activity, either on the weekend or during the day. It can help combat some of the isolation by giving you access to the world beyond.
Remember – This Won’t Be Forever
Take that slow breath, make some coffee or some tea (or something stronger if it’s after five), and remember you won’t have to do this forever. Right now, we’re all just coping with the world as it is. Times are strange and confusing. Hopefully, these resources will help you to find balance between being a teacher, worker, homemaker, chef, and all the other hats you’re wearing right now. I believe in you, and we’ll all get through this, one day at a time.