Do you work from home and now also have to supervise your children’s school work? Are you a homeschooler who also works part-time from home? Have you experienced the double whammy of switching to remote work at the same time your children have been sent home full-time? Whether formally homeschooling or simply being required to oversee your children’s education for a few months, you’re faced with fitting more into each day and juggling often conflicting demands. How can you not just cope but ensure that the needs of adults and children, workplace and school, are met? It’s not easy, but it is possible. After homeschooling my children and working part-time from home for nearly twenty years, I offer the following four-step directions for doing this homeschool shuffle.
First, be collaborative. Our country’s laws dictate that school-aged children must be taught. Our bills dictate we must work. If we’re to do both simultaneously, it will take the commitment and focus of everyone in the household. We have new opportunities to work together as families in this situation. Parents will need to devote extra time–or more intensely focused time, if already homeschooling–to work with their children academically. Children will need to develop patience and show respect for their parents when Mom or Dad is busy in their specified work time and place. Older siblings will need to help younger siblings, whether with school work, tying a shoe, or making a sandwich at lunch. The end is to promote the welfare of the entire family. The means to that end is unity and teamwork, with everyone helping each other as needed.
Gather as a family to set some basic guidelines. A general daily schedule will be helpful. Some days will be productive, while others may veer wildly off course. But having that schedule, and returning to it even after rough days, will keep expectations consistent and establish a helpful routine. Post a “Who’s in Charge” chart. This can include Mom, Dad, and even older siblings. (If an older sibling is in charge for a time, expectations and limitations should be clearly outlined with all kids present.)
Set up a dedicated adult work area with a door that closes, and come up with a way to clearly communicate if you’re available for interruptions. Door closed? Do not disturb. Door ajar? May interrupt if something can’t wait. Door open? Mom or Dad is available. Clear, realistic guidelines will both minimize frustration and boost productivity.
It can be helpful, and motivating, in our efforts to collaborate if we set a family reward for the end of the school year. In my family, our end-of-school year tradition has always been a simple visit to our favorite ice cream parlor for ice cream sundaes. But some homeschooling friends have regularly planned a vacation, or a less extravagant staycation. In either case, plan something special, and involve the kids in the planning. An outing or celebration that can be enjoyed by both adults and children will give each family member something to look forward to and work toward. As the COVID-era slogan goes, “We’re all in this together.”
Have you ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”? Strategic planning and multi-tasking can dramatically lower your family’s stress levels during these already challenging days. When it comes to planning, make full use of built-in time constraints. For example, block out time for your work after the kids have gone to bed, when your spouse can oversee them, or during a regular nap/rest time. Look at focused time with different children in the same way. Does your kindergartener need one-on-one time while learning to read or write? Do this after you’ve started older kids on independent assignments or during the baby’s nap time.
Since grocery shopping and meal preparation take hours out of each week, plan meals for at least a week at a time and a week ahead. This will save you time each day and money each month, as it minimizes last-minute take-out orders. A little planning in this area will ensure that you have the correct ingredients on hand, avoiding the “What’s for dinner?” panic as you dig frantically through your refrigerator or stare blank-faced into your freezer.
Multi-tasking should also be utilized in realistic ways. Run a load of laundry each morning while you work or supervise school, then fold it after lunch each day. Do you have a toddler? Work on potty training in between checking older kids’ lessons. Do you have an infant? Call kids for literature or history read-aloud times while you sit to feed the baby. In the area of food, make extra of tonight’s dinner and freeze the leftovers to reheat for a meal next week. Finally, use your Instant Pot or slow cooker so meals can be cooking while you’re getting work or schooling done. Being strategic, through more planning or intentional multi-tasking, can help de-stress your day in these stressful times.
Be a savvy parent. Challenging times like these demand we be practical and perceptive, exercising common sense and good judgment. In other words, try to keep expectations realistic. If left unattended to color for an hour, your four-year-old will likely move from coloring in her books to coloring on your walls and furniture. (I speak from personal experience.) Have an older child work in the same space as the little one, and make sure the parent in charge is at least available for a “What should Jennie do next?” question.
Simplify. With both kids and parents at home each day, simplify your wardrobe. Enjoy living in jeans and t-shirts. You can forego those fancier clothes or school uniforms that require hand-washing, ironing, or dry cleaning. Simplify your menu as well. Choose different sandwiches for weekday lunches and a specific food, or type of food, for each dinner of the week. For example, enjoy Mexican-themed food on Taco Tuesday, and continue the healthy eating with Fish Friday.
Share. This is the perfect opportunity to expand your children’s skill sets. If your school-age kids are now home all day, assign them daily tasks that will lighten your load. If you’re up early to get some uninterrupted work done, have them prepare their own simple breakfast of cereal, toast, yogurt or fruit. Designate a daily lunch “chef” or team who will make sandwiches for the family and pull out prepared vegetables and fruits. Kids can sweep after meals, wash dishes, and learn to do their own laundry at an earlier age than many of us think. They may grumble at first, but they just might also develop a sense of their own abilities and valuable contribution to the family’s well-being. The savvy parent will teach their children appropriate life skills and, in turn, enjoy a more manageable chore load.
While detailed planning helps us successfully navigate busy days, flexibility is key to our emotional survival. Is there a new baby at home? Is the family about to move? If you homeschool, you can simply continue the school work into the summer. The local school’s schedule is just that, and your schedule can look different. If your kids attend school outside of the home and you must finish by a specific date, you still have some flexibility. Are your kids enjoying the extra sleep-in time since they’re not rushing off to school at 8? Start their school day at 10. This allows you to get some focused work done even before they wake up.
Is that biology lesson losing your kids’ interest? Put down the books, pick up some buckets and nets, and walk to that nearby pond in search of tadpoles, fish, turtles and Spring Peepers. Take a walk around your neighborhood and try to identify the flowering trees and bushes. Name the birds you spy in your back yard. Have they built nests in your trees or bushes? Research what their young look like and when you might start seeing them.
Being flexible will look different for different families. For most, additional screen time will be hard to fight. If this is the only option for kids at certain times, direct what shows they can watch and what computer programs they can use. Look for educational and creative offerings that will teach history (like the Liberty’s Kids series) or challenge your child to build (like Minecraft). Set up a family reading club, like public libraries offer each summer. Once you pull together some age-appropriate books at home, your students can read through their list to earn a reward.
If you reach a point where everyone needs a break—you from work and school supervision and the kids from their book work–plan a family staycation. It’s just like an expanded homeschool unit study. Set aside a weekend to watch a kid-friendly movie or two that shows a country (or place) you’d like to visit. As a family, learn some basic words and numbers in that language. Virtually visit some of the famous sites in that country and together research some of the history. Plan meals and make treats that are popular in that country. Have a contest to see who in the family can dress closest to the country’s national costume using only what you have in your closets. You could also find a craft to do together that reflects that country’s artistic traditions (like origami for Japan). The country’s literature, music, and famous sons and daughters are other areas that can be explored in creative ways as a family.
According to the familiar proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” As many of us are forced to combine formerly separate areas of our lives and required to fit more into each 24-hour period, life can feel overwhelming. Some days, or even weeks, will undoubtedly be rough. But I challenge you to consider the positive–we have an amazing opportunity to reconnect as families. I challenge you to get creative–there are incredible resources available to help us through this time. Be collaborative. Be strategic. Be savvy. Be flexible. Whether you’re a long-time homeschool family or a working parent helping your kids finish their school year at home, you can develop your own unique version of the homeschool shuffle. And it can be a beautiful thing.
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