With summer nearing its end, and another school year fast approaching, families with school-age children have more questions than they do answers. What will life look like in September when summer break is over and kids are back at school? What will our days look like when both parents and children share workspaces with overlapping schedules and varying needs? The pandemic has put many families in the tough position of navigating competing interests for the first time. Maneuvering the confluence of needs can be done by following some of the tips below.
Though these tips do not apply universally, they are a great place from which to start building your own plan of successfully working and learning together.
What does online school look like?
Unfortunately, there is no blanket answer to what online or remote learning looks like for kids in the United States. Each state has its own policies, and this often changes depending on a child’s school district.
Each school should have provided parents with guidance on what the 2020-2021 school year will look like. In most cases, your child’s education falls into one of three categories: complete online schooling, in-person schooling with protections, or a combination of remote and in-person studies.
Different places approach this in their own ways based on regional infection rates, budgetary restrictions, and political sentiment.
Start by checking with your children’s school to determine what their school days will look like, followed by a conversation with teachers to plot out your child’s daily schedule. The process will be complicated if you, like many others, have children in different grades or even different schools.
Schools may provide you with online tools to navigate the scheduling issues, but if they don’t, make use of free tools like Google Calendar to map out your children’s schedules in one easy-to-use dashboard and compare this to your own work needs. Being informed of what things will look like and how they will operate, even in the interim, will help you balance your needs with those of your kids.
How to balance your work with your kids’ schooling
It is helpful to approach the situation with the attitude that your children have responsibilities and requirements just like you do. Employers expect their employees to perform and teachers expect the same from their students. Accepting that both of you are doing your best to perform in a pandemic, and both have equally important needs, will help you balance these needs effectively.
Much of the time from the start of the school year until things, hopefully, return to normal will be a matter of trial and error. However, setting up a structure at the start will help you make minor tweaks as you go as opposed to reinventing the process over and over, making the job even more cumbersome. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Communicate with your employer
According to a survey by research firm Perceptyx, 42% of working parents are worried about their job security and 46% believe that their performance will decrease because of their children learning from home.
The worries and concerns are real and many employers are coming to terms with the fact that parents are overburdened and overleveraged. However, your employer will not be able to work with you to help meet your childcare needs if they are not aware of the situation.
Work with your supervisor or human resources department to determine what work expectations look like during the pandemic and if your company is providing any additional support or benefits to working parents. Being upfront with your boss about your child’s needs and scheduling conflicts will help both of you come up with a strategy to get the work done in a way that does not interfere with your child’s schooling.
At the very least, they will be apprised of your situation and will be able to keep that information in mind when allocating duties.
Communicate with your spouse or partner
If you are co-parenting, then you have a tag-team partner who will, ideally, make the process much easier!
When you and your partner are both at work, you generally aren’t aware of each other’s daily schedules other than start times, end times, and perhaps the occasional lunch break. Working from home with kids in the house will require you to divide and conquer. Keep both of your schedules visible so that you can work out when each of you is available to help your child with whatever they need, from prepping them for school to getting them fed, to taking breaks with them.
Of course, the process is complicated when one parent is working from home while the other isn’t, but that’s no excuse for dumping the duties on the partner who is at home with the child. Discuss your respective work needs, and personal space needs, with each other, and formulate a plan to tackle working/schooling through the pandemic together.
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Set clear boundaries and structure
Your kids will require some help with this, but each of you needs to have structure and boundaries.
Teachers and school districts will let you know what your child’s school schedule will look like throughout the day, including everything from video lessons to solo work. If space permits, set up a dedicated learning space for your child so that they know where work is supposed to be done every day. It will help them get into the learning mindset and keep a physical (and mental) boundary between their home life and their school life.
School days usually end before workdays, and you will need to set up a structure for what happens after their learning ends for the day. Message boards and social media groups have sprung up to advise parents on great activities to keep kids occupied while work keeps you away. Lean on these resources and check with parenting friends to gain insight into keeping your kids busy beyond iPads and sibling fights.
Lastly, make sure both you and your children know when “do not disturb” times happen. Much like you cannot be interrupted during work meetings, your children cannot be disturbed during their lessons or quiet self-guided work. If you do not hear a teacher speaking through the computer, that does not mean that your kids can do chores. The same goes for your work; your children need to know the times during which they can’t bother you.
Set those boundaries and have mutual respect for each other’s work by using visual cues in the form of “do not disturb” signs or quiet spaces. When the sign is up, or if either of you is in the dedicated space, this means work is getting done and neither of you is available. Much of this will be easy to see with proper scheduling transparency and communication with teachers.
There is no “right” way to tackle working and learning from home. This is still so new to so many families. It is frustrating, but following these tips should ease some of the burden of being thrust into this unfamiliarity. The most significant factor affecting all of this is attitude. Despite the overwhelming feelings of frustration, try to remain positive and calm.
You can set the tone for what remote working and learning will look like in your home.