It's looking increasingly likely that schools and workplaces here in the US will be affected by the spread of COVID-19. That leaves many parents and kids in a new situation: how can we work from home AND watch (or even educate?) our kids?
I've been working from home for most of my career. Before kids, this generally consisted of quiet days spent working productively and occasionally wandering off down the street for a walk. I could sip tea when it was still warm, my schedule was predictable, and I was pretty thrilled with my work/life balance.
These long quiet days obviously changed once my son came into the picture, but my productivity did not go down. In fact, my quest over the years to work smarter, not harder, has colored my parenting and career experience in ways I could not have imagined. After muddling through the hard days and figuring it out as I went, I have some words of wisdom for anyone who is suddenly working from home without childcare:
You may be sleep deprived and wondering how you can possibly get anything done while you are caring for a little one, but there is a way!
Babywearing was key for me. I had a ring sling that was a lifesaver for this mama of a cluster feeder. When my son wasn't in the mood to be cuddled so closely in the sling, I sat on the couch and held him with one hand and a supportive pillow while I typed with the other (see next point). Ergonomics definitely took a backseat to getting anything done while nursing, but with some regular stretching and strengthening practices I can say my spine survived.
A wireless keyboard and mouse combo was essential. I could hold baby with one hand and type/mouse with the other. To be clear, I'm not advocating this type of multitasking all the time. Sometimes you need to focus 100% on your babe. Other times that focus needs to be purely on work. In reality, the two will need to blend sometimes. That's where the wireless keyboard and mouse come in. Whatever position you need to assume to keep your kid soothed and happy, this hardware will help you keep typing.
A baby-proof space is ideal. I had the benefit of planning, so we had a whole room that essentially functioned as a crib. I could set him in there for a nap, close the door, and know he would be safe and happy. If he wasn't into sleeping (a frequent occurrence), he could happily explore while I had some baby-free time for that aforementioned focus that is fundamental to a healthy work environment. If you don't have a whole room prepared, try cordoning off a space in your house. A playpen will work in a pinch, but I found my little guy immediately sensed any kind of "baby jail" and was not happy. Your mileage may vary.
When mobility and verbal skills are still low, handling kids while working is mostly a matter of physically juggling space. Once they're chatty, bouncing balls of energy... things get more challenging!
Planned activities are key. There is no magic wand that will make your kids sit quietly while you clean out your inbox. However, there is a whole place on the internet where you can find an unlimited number of activities that appeal to your kiddo's interests and abilities. The activities that kept my kiddo busy (and quiet) for the longest period of time were sorting activites and practical life skills. I guarantee you that your house contains a treasure trove of "Montessori" materials if you get creative! I found that having 4-6 activities ready to go was best. Bonus points if your kid likes cleaning... mine still does a great job on the baseboards.
Movement is key. Seriously. When you sense a meltdown coming (theirs or yours), get everyone moving. Jumping jacks contests, yoga for kids, and my favorite "Let's see how many times you can run around the outside of the house" are all great for discharging extra energy. Get them moving, and get up and move with them. Everyone's frustration level will decrease, guaranteed. Tire them out and then send 'em up for a nap.
When in doubt, add water. This actually goes for all of the age groups, but I found was especially important for 3-6. Day going sideways? Thrilling Threes got you down? Get some water involved. A water setup like this is great for indoors. When it gets warmer, setting up a water table outside is amazing. My son is almost 8 and still asks us to drag out his water table every once in awhile. You may have a soaked kiddo when all is said and done, but they will be happy and occupied!
Elementary & Up
Things get a little easier here. Their attention spans are longer, the offerings online get much better, and they are more able to entertain themselves.
Education is still possible. If school is closed and your district does not offer any online options, there are amazing resources available online. Check out Khan Academy and Newsela, two of our favorites. Googling will bring up a host of paid and free options that can work for your family. We love to find topics to discuss and research together. Kiddle is a good place to send your young researcher without worrying about little eyes wandering into questionable content areas. There are so many comprehensive and piecemeal options out there. Don't be afraid to experiment.
Screen time is not going to rot your kid's brain. We have a healthy balance between learning "on screens" (Khan Academy and other guided materials) and more traditional ways of learning with texts and hands on experiences. If you have access to your local library online, you may be surprised at how many resources are available to you without leaving your home. Youtube is also great, but Youtube Kids definitely leaves something to be desired if you are looking for educational materials. We find that a curated list of "allowed" channels on a family Google account works best for us.
Unschooling is not as radical as it sounds. Maybe you can take this opportunity to let your kid discover what they love. We try to keep some regularity in the fundamentals, especially math and reading time. Then let your imagination run wild! What are your child's passions? Do you know? Do they? See if you can help them discover what makes their heart sing. Once you have subject, you will be amazed at the number of resources you can find online. With a little space, learning opposition may quickly dissolve.
As more employers discover the benefits of remote work, this temporary digital transition for us will likely be a daily reality for our kids when they are adults. The sooner we get them used to finding their own ways to work and stay focused without the rigors and rules of a traditional classroom, the better! With the flexibility to tailor our schedule and content while still making sure we cover the basics and then some, my son loves learning (most days!) and is ahead by a grade level or more in all subjects.
This too shall pass! In the meantime, I hope that our example will show other families that we choose to live this way all the time... and it works beautifully for us. Not every day is perfect, and some days we need to throw in the towel and start again tomorrow. At every age level, that is 100% acceptable. Give yourself and your kids some space to adjust to the new routine, and hopefully you will find some joy in it as we hunker down to ride this out.
Stay tuned - we are coming out with remote working courses to help guide you through the coming weeks as we all change our routines. We will have a limited number of pay-as-you-can spots. Get on the list today!