10 tips for working from home with your kids, from a freelancer homeschooling hers for 3 years
- Nicole Roder is a freelance writer who works from home.
- She's also a homeschooling mother who teaches 5th and 6th grade to her two oldest daughters. Her younger two children attend public school.
- She writes that it is actually possible, albeit more frustrating, to do one's job with the kids home from school.
- Explain the situation to your kids, create a "busy box," and get creative with when and where you're willing to put in work time.
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I'm writing this from the toilet. (Don't worry, the lid is closed and I'm fully dressed. I'm just hiding from my children.)
I'm a freelance writer who works from home. I'm also a homeschooling mother. I teach 5th and 6th grade to my two oldest daughters. Additionally, I have an 8-year-old son who attends public school five days a week, and a 4-year-old son who attends pre-K three days a week. So my house is a little chaotic.
I've been working from home for three years, and in that time I've completed some feats that are weird at best - and hair-pulling madness at worst. I've typed an article one-handed with a nursing baby on my breast. I've conducted interviews on speaker phone while driving my kids to appointments and admonishing them to please, for the love of God, not say anything about poop, butts, or penises while mommy is on the phone.
- (A couple of years ago, I interviewed a remarkable woman about a very serious subject. When the interview was over, I left my phone sitting on the table. Big mistake. A few hours later, I picked up my phone to discover that my middle two kids, ages 8 and 6 at the time, had texted my interviewee over 70 times. The texts were almost entirely about poop. I tried to contact her to apologise, but I was too late. She'd already blocked my number. To tell you the truth, I'd have done the same thing.)
When news began to spread of the novel coronavirus washing ashore in the US, my first thought was, "Good thing I homeschool and work from home. We can all hunker down if it comes to our neighborhood."
Now that schools are beginning to shut down as a result of the outbreak, many fellow work-from-homers might be joining the ranks of parents who now have to work with kids in tow.
Yes, it can be done
Yes, I know that your world is being disrupted. Just a few weeks ago you had it made. The cozy home office. The cup of tea. The black lab snuggled at your feet as you typed away, uninterrupted, for all those hours that your kids were at school. I've fantasised about this lifestyle myself many times.
Not to worry. While I won't lie - it won't be easy - I'm here to tell you that it is actually possible, albeit more frustrating, to do your job with the kids home from school. I've been doing it for three years. This is how I make it work.
1. Explain the situation to your kids.
I'm sure you remember being a kid and finding out that school was closed for the day. Score! A free day to watch TV and do whatever I want! That may work for the occasional snow day, but if your kids are off school for a prolonged period of time, they'll need to understand that it's not going to be an endless free-for-all. Tell them that you are going to have to get some work done during the day, and they are going to have to do some self-entertaining.
2. Make a schedule of "office hours."
Let your kids know when you will be working, and when you will have time to spend with them. Think about your expectations for them while you are working, and clearly communicate that to them. Promise that if they keep their end of the deal, you'll be able to stop working at the designated time and do something fun with them later.
3. If you have any big kids, assign one at a time to be "on duty" with the littles.
The days when my 4-year-old is home from school are by far the most hectic. I have to teach school and work at the same time, and the little one doesn't like being ignored. Those days, my two daughters and I rotate between work and entertaining their little brother.
4. Switch your working hours to the evening when your kids are asleep.
The best part of working from home is the flexibility to choose your own hours. If you can't work during the day, you may have to temporarily put in some hours at night, after bedtime, or early in the morning before anyone is up.
5. Keep a "busy box" handy with games and toys to occupy the kids while you work.
Fill a bin with puzzles, MadLibs, coloring books, and quiet toys. If your kids interrupt you during your office hours, try sending them to the busy box to choose an activity.
6. Even if you don't homeschool, you can still assign schoolwork.
I do spend hands-on time each day teaching my kids, but a lot of their school assignments are independent. They usually involve reading something and then answering questions. While they're doing their independent work, I work too. Many traditionally-schooled kids will balk at this idea. But face it, if school is closed for more than a few days, they can't just do nothing to exercise their brains.
Most homeschoolers buy at least some of their curricula, but there are plenty of free or cheap resources online for homeschool worksheets and assignments. Try Khan Academy or just Google "free homeschool worksheets." If you don't mind spending a small amount of money, Teachers Pay Teachers and Education.com have a lot of resources, most of which cost between a few cents and a few dollars.
7. Bring your phone to the bathroom and answer emails from there.
Just wash your hands and wipe your phone down when you're done!
8. Play a mindfulness meditation from YouTube.
There are hundreds of free meditation videos available on YouTube. Try searching the site for "5 minute meditations for focus," "mindfulness for kids," or "calming meditations for kids." Just get everyone in a comfortable spot, play the video, and follow the instructions. Do this at the start of the day, and maybe right after lunch too. It will both focus your mind so you can concentrate through the chaos, and calm the kids down.
9. When all else fails, give them some extra screen time.
Personally, I don't like my kids to have more than 30 minutes of screen time per day. I've even gone so far as to put my kids on screen detoxes in the past, as screens inspire addictive behavior in my children. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that for children 6 and older, parents can safely make screen time plans that are individualised to your family's needs. Just be sure that you place consistent limits on screen time, and don't allow it to take the place of physical activity, sleep, or spending time with the family. And remember, this is a temporary situation brought upon you by an unusual global health situation - your kids won't be TV zombies forever.
10. Use leave, if you have it.
It is absolutely possible to work from home with kids, but it might be difficult to sustain a full time schedule for more than a few weeks. Personally, I work about 25 hours a week. I could work more if I worked longer days and gave up weekends. I've done that before when I've been on a tight deadline or had an unusually big workload. But if I had to do it all the time, I'd be exhausted. If your financial situation allows it, and your kids' school is going to be closed for more than a few weeks, you might want to cut back to part-time. And if you are an employer asking your staff to work from home due to COVID-19 concerns, please consider the feasibility of working without child care and give extra leave if you can.
Nicole Roder is a freelance writer and mother of four. She specialises in health, mental health, and parenting. Her work has been published in Today's Parent, Parents, Cancer Wellness, the Baltimore Sun, and more. Find her online at http://well-parenting.com.
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