With more than 24 million US students transitioning to distance learning for the remainder of the school year, parents are picking up the slack when it comes to educating their children. And with 66% of US employees now working remotely, that leaves many parents trying to work and teach from home.
Forced to juggle competing responsibilities, it's common for parents to feel guilty for not being able to balance it all — and research shows that moms are more likely to shoulder this burden.
Parents trying to work and homeschool feel like they’re failing on two fronts: not being there for their children 100% of the time, and not being 100% productive at work.
Here are some tips to help fend off guilt and manage homeschooling while working.
A daily schedule can provide much-needed structure at a time when routines have been upended. Create a weekday routine, complete with blocks for recess and lunch. Use your schedule not just for study time, but also to put limits on school work.
You don’t need to fit a full day of school amid your workday. In fact, much of the advice out there says that families shouldn’t try to replicate a 7-hour school day at home. Keep in mind that in a classroom, teachers are educating 20-30 kids at once.
As a former teacher who’s been homeschooling for over 15 years, Annie Reneau reminds parents that it takes far less time to teach one child the same subject matter. Kids need space in between lessons to help their brains absorb information.
Don’t pressure yourself to fill your child’s day with schoolwork. Schedule downtime, reading time, games, arts and crafts, or a family dance party.
Without access to your usual network of support, it’s okay to flex the house chores — and who does them. Eliminate what’s not essential. Put some chores on ‘maintenance mode,’ either doing the bare minimum or skipping them altogether.
If you live with a spouse or partner, identify parenting tasks you can tag-team. Can you alternate shifts for homeschooling and work time; or take turns being in charge of dinner?
Have an open family discussion, kids included. Ask everyone to share their biggest challenges while working at home, and brainstorm solutions. Give each person a chance to be the center of discussion — including yourself! Be open and honest about what’s on your plate and where you’d like help. “Since I have to finish work in the evening, I find it challenging to clean up after dinner. I would love for you kids to help me with this. What do you think you can handle?”
Have each person come up with their biggest strengths and how they can help the family. When your children feel included in doling out household chores, they are more likely to feel invested in doing their part.
There’s no doubt that your kids need you during this time — for structure, guidance, and
emotional support. But homeschooling doesn’t mean you have to monitor your children all day.
It’s perfectly fine for kids to spend time without you, and in fact, it’s healthy for children to have downtime to unwind. Set expectations for when you’ll be available and when you’ll be off-limits (emergencies only!). For instance, after lunch your family could take an hour of “me time” where each person spends time in their own room doing a solitary activity.
And when you need that extra quiet time to focus on work, give yourself permission to put on a video or movie for your kids or let them play a mobile game. Speaking of which…
It’s okay to change your rules about technology usage to meet your family’s needs right now. Your kids have to use devices now that learning is remote, and they’ll likely still want to engage with screens in their leisure time.
Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) acknowledges this. The AAP released updated guidance on screen time for children, recognizing that “additional screen time may be unavoidable—not only to keep children occupied, but also to help adults juggle work and childcare responsibilities.”
They still advise being careful not to overdo screen time to the point that it cuts into healthy sleep habits. Families may benefit from scheduling non-screen time (such as no devices at the dinner table), and creating experiences together without screens (such as board games, cooking, or taking walks). Making time for offline activities can help parents and children recharge, feel closer to each other, and cope with anxiety. Parents can also prioritize quality screen time over quantity.
Family Zone cyber expert Jordan Foster, a clinical psychologist and managing director of ySafe, advises,
“While kids are getting more screen time than usual, try and channel them into quality screen
time where you can. Anything that’s educational or involves engaging with friends and family is a great alternative to passive/autonomous screen time.”
For example, if your kids are watching YouTube, try and get them to watch videos on how to make slime or build a skate ramp, rather than unboxing videos.
As long as your kids spend some time each day offline, and you prioritize quality over quantity, don’t stress too much about the increased screen time.
You can’t physically monitor your children all day, but you can leverage technology to act as your eyes and ears (and even your teaching assistant) while you’re working.
The Family Zone parent app helps keep your kids safe when using devices, by giving you the ability to set boundaries on what your children can access online, and when. Use it to block YouTube, social media, and gaming apps during certain times of day. Set up digital schedules to help your kids stick to a routine. It will also track device usage and provide you with reports and alerts on your children’s online activities, to give you more peace of mind.
The Tech Against Coronavirus website lists helpful apps and websites for remote education. GoNoodle offers free videos to get your kids moving, meditating, dancing, or even doing yoga. They also provide downloadable worksheets and other education resources.
National Geographic has launched NatGeo@Home, a hub for parents to access free homeschooling resources, including the Learn at Home portal and the Explorer Classroom, where your kids can watch live videos of scientists, journalists, and other experts talking about the environment, wildlife, outer space, and more.
To say parenthood is challenging right now would be an understatement.
Let homeschooling be a fluid, adaptable process — your kids won’t be academically stunted by anything you do (or don’t do) during this time. Some things will need to drop, so you can focus on the most important thing: your family’s mental health.
Your children aren’t just learning math or science; they are learning how to cope with stress and uncertainty by watching you. Make space to talk about feelings. Focus on what you can control. When you do what you need to lower your own stress, you’re modeling how your kids can practice self-care as well. That is more valuable than anything they could learn at school.