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Working From Home With Children During COVID-19

20 lessons from the one-room schoolhouse and other old-fashioned sources.

Ray S/flickr
Source: Ray S/Flickr

It is a rare person who has both the skills and the mindset needed to combine full-time parenting with other work.

There are parents who home-school their kids while doing other work from home. But there are significant differences: You are doing this all at once and out of necessity, and all the usual activity options are closed.

You can’t arrange playdates. Museums, swimming pools, science centers, activity centers, sports, music classes, dance classes, everything that you might take your child out to do is closed. You can’t hire a babysitter without putting the family (and the sitter) at risk. Even the beaches and playgrounds are shutting down.

Here are some ideas for surviving this time, and perhaps even thriving:

1. Breathe. We’re all experiencing unusual stressors now. When you notice yourself getting irritable, focus on your breath. Stop what you’re doing and breathe.

2. Take good care of yourself. Sleep, nutrition, and self-care are more important now than ever.

3. Remember that everyone feels better when they’re accomplishing something. You may be frustrated because you can’t get your outside-of-home work done. Your child probably feels exactly the same. They will probably feel more fulfilled and happier if you build in some teaching/learning time every day, and also give them tasks to work on independently, whether printing the alphabet, doing math workbooks, or composing character studies and book reports.

4. Nurture your child’s independence and learning. My mother taught grades one through eight in a one-room country schoolhouse in the 1940s. She was the only teacher for 20 children, all learning at their own pace. She would get the kids working together in groups of equivalent skill levels, or mix up the ages so the older kids could help the younger. She’d get one child or group started on a learning task that was hard enough to be challenging, and easy enough the children could manage it, and then move on to the next, and the next.

While she was helping one child, the others would do their own work, knowing she would be back to help as needed. With fewer kids, you can build in some time in the sequence to work on your own stuff. Your child can learn to work independently while they acquire new skills, and you can get some work done.

5. Share the load. If there are two parents at home, this is much easier. Divide the day into segments. You can use the one-room schoolhouse idea for your designated-teacher time, but you will also get chunks of time to focus on your own work.

6. Take a walk. Unless you’re sick or confined to quarters, get outside with your child at least once a day. You need the fresh air, exercise, and change of scene as much as they do.

7. Create exercise breaks. Your child needs exercise now, at least as much as usual. It’s harder with so many of the usual outlets closed, so it will take some creativity and intention to make that happen. Ask your child for ideas.

8. Watch movies and nature shows together (sort of). Look for entertainment your child can watch that can act as background noise while you work on your laptop. You can be companionably together, doing separate things.

9. Have a designated reading or quiet time. Set aside time for your child to entertain themself quietly, during which you can get some work done.

10. Do some hopeful, happy art. Ask your child to draw, paint, or create sculptures or collages, expressing plans for the future, the beauty of nature, or good times in the past.

11. Suggest your child write a play and put it on. Record it, or they can perform it live for friends and extended family on Skype or Zoom.

12. Teach your child to cook. There are many useful skills involved in cooking and baking—following a recipe, measurement, fractions, nutrition, chemistry, and more. Your child will get a sense of satisfaction from creating the finished product and contributing to the family, and you’ll be getting some long-term help in the kitchen.

13. Teach your child to do household chores. Another win-win. If your child isn’t already involved in cleaning, laundry, organizing cupboards, and the rest of it, this is your chance to help them acquire these essential life skills. Even if they object or fight it, stick with it. They will not only learn important skills but will also gain a sense of satisfaction and self-confidence by contributing to the family’s well-being.

14. Create a COVID-19 journal. This is a historic time, and it might help your family maintain a healthy perspective if you commemorate it. What’s different about now? What’s better? What do you look forward to doing when it’s over? Include photos, drawings, activity descriptions, comments.

15. Listen. Everyone is feeling anxious now, and your child needs your reassurance. Make time to listen and talk about what’s going on.

16. Connect. It’s important to stay connected to friends and relatives, even though you can’t see them in person. Would your child enjoy a daily Skype or Zoom call with a grandparent or someone else?

17. Reach out. Are there people in the neighborhood who could use your help getting groceries, doing yard work, taking out the garbage, or something else? This is a good time to teach your child about contributing to the community.

18. Plan a trip. Nobody knows when this isolation period will end, but it will end. Talk about a trip you’d like to take and start planning now.

19. Ask your child about their hopes and dreams. Think about the near future, as well as your child’s hopes and dreams. Is there anything you can get started on now? The internet offers endless possibilities for exploration.

20. Be patient. You and your family are just learning how to do this. There will be fits and starts and disasters. That’s OK. Figure out what went wrong today, and how you’ll do it better tomorrow.