I don’t know what your day looks like, and neither do your children. Each morning, sit with them and share the parts of your day that make you unavailable to them.
Tell them when your meetings are and how long they will be. Set a timer if you think it will help - particularly for children who are obsessed with numbers or can read the time.
If you are in the same room as them whilst you are in the meeting, establish some boundaries. Create a “meeting space” even if that is just a corner of the table. Ask them not to be in that space whilst you have a meeting. If your children need a little reassurance or have difficulty with the boundaries you have set and keep interrupting your meetings, you could try asking them to touch your shoulder to let you know they need something. This is new to them, having you in working mode at home. They want to know you are still available to them as their parent because they are in their home environment and that is their usual expectation.
If you’re asking younger children to play independently, because of a meeting or because you need to focus on another child a little more; open-ended toys are amazing. They don’t feel like there’s a “right” way to play and they get on with it.
Here’s a list of our favourite open-ended toys. You probably have one or more at home already.
- wooden blocks
- play mags (or magnetic tiles)
If you have any washi tape or masking tape at home, you can make a track for cars which will also keep them confined to a safe space and be a bit of a novelty. My children love this. Save it for the big meeting!
If you do not have any of the above toys, you can always go down the loose parts route. It saves a trip to the shop when you might not be able to, and uses daily items around your home. That’s a whole other post in itself but you’ll find lots of ideas via Google or Pinterest to get you started.
Photo by Simon McClive
At this juncture, I must say that my children are four, three and less than a year old. We do not have older children in our home yet. However, I do spend every day with my children and our lifestyle accommodates working from home regularly for my husband; We live, work, learn and love in this house.
What I have listed below is in direct response to some parents who knew that we learn at home all day. These are some of the coping mechanisms we employ to help everyone have a good day.
It’s worth remembering that there will be a lot more to your children’s day at school than the content of any worksheets sent home. Maybe you don’t even have a worksheet to spring off. Ask two simple questions;
- What are you learning about at school?
- What is your favourite thing to learn about?
Hopefully, something will stand out. If you have any books on that subject, gather them together into one space and leave them for your children to explore. I like a basket, but a pile does the job just as well. We do not discriminate between children’s fact books and adult fact books either. If the content is factual and appropriate, in it goes. As do any relevant story books and library books.
Your older children are used to a lot more structure in their school day. That doesn’t mean they are used to it at home. If they have been sent home with a lot of worksheets, it might be helpful to find a home for them. A folder or a box that you can put the worksheets in, or paper to use as a front cover. Use what you have available. You could set them up at the table during a meeting and have them decorate it.
Your children will want to feel like the work is important and valuable, but they know it’s not the same as school. So there’s no point pretending. Don’t expect them to always stay in one place to work - they are in their own home and they can move around. It does not matter where they work as long as they are safe.
Your children do not need to do work between 09:00 and 15:00 to stay educated. If trying to complete schoolwork at home is causing stress, it’s okay to step back for a little while. They are unlikely to fall behind and this upheaval is going to last for a few weeks at least, so you have time to work out learning at home.
Quality time for us as parents may look like a solid four hours of self-indulgence, but children are more impressed with small bursts of focused attention. Build a little quality time with your children into the morning portion of your day. You’ll hopefully find they are more settled, independent and content for the rest of the day.
A solid twenty minutes in the morning will be valuable - no chores, multi-tasking or phone and laptop screens. This does not have to be one on one. You can spend quality time with all of your children at the same time; it’s about the focus you give them.
Make it work for you and your family;
- pick a jigsaw
- read three books
- have a dance party
- colour a giant page in together
- build a house with Duplo
- make a tower as high as you can with anything you can get your hands on
Try to enjoy the moment, together. Your children are likely to be more receptive to your three o’clock meeting if they have had that time with you early in the day.
You may find that you benefit from this time too. There are lots of natural breaks in your normal work day, whether you are chatting to colleagues or grabbing a coffee or just getting fifteen minutes fresh air on the commute home. You just aren’t getting that in the house all day. It is not the same if you spend your five-minute screen break feeding the children or popping a wash on.
Your days are all wonky and all usual structure is out the window. You missed any quality time this morning, everyone is fed but the whole day just seems a bit aimless and you have a meeting in 12 minutes. I have a few tricks for that. I hope they work well for you too!
- Active dice games - a personal favourite
- Dance party - one song each
- A good tickle session
- Five-minute yoga - these fairy yoga and pirate yoga poses are a great starter
- Family aerobics
- Marking a line on the floor and seeing how far everyone can jump from standing position
If your time for these really is limited, we are back to managing expectations. I find my children are most receptive to this sort of time limit if I ask them outright. Something along these lines always works well; “we have eight minutes, do you think that’s enough for everyone to do three jumps from the line?”
Know your priorities
When you live and work and learn at home, you are surrounded by distractions. You cannot do it all, every day. You need to know what you consider to be part of your successful day, so you can work them in to your time.
Everyone’s priorities will be different and they might change day by day, depending on work commitments or children’s moods. People you are working with are going through the same transition. Be kind to yourselves, be flexible where you can be. It will take a little time to figure out what works for your family in your space.
There are no rules here - you create your own day
If your eight-year-old is worried about all the changes in their life, cannot focus on any one task and is bugging you constantly, mix up their day to work around your commitments. Maybe they love a shower but it usually has to work around school hours - what’s stopping them doing this during your meeting slot in the middle of the day? Usually have a movie night every Friday after school? It’s okay to pull the popcorn out at 14:00. You can work to your family’s schedule.
I am happy to share some of the ways in which we learn together at home. If you research school at home you are going to be surrounded by a lot of content provided for people who have committed to homeschooling year-round. This is not your situation. I can imagine it would be overwhelming to sift through all of that!
We have learned a few things during our own journey to help our children stay motivated, encourage learning at home and provide a learning environment they can thrive in. I am working through what we do in the next couple of days to provide more information for you;
- Apps that we enjoy
- YouTube channels we use
- Small tasks we create for our younger children to engage them
- How to manage being at home all day and still feel human by 21:00
- How to figure out what your children are interested in
- What we do when life gets busy
Please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any specific questions about living, working and learning at home and I’ll accommodate them where I can.