Working from home is nothing new for me.
It’s what I’ve done for nine-and-a-half years now. But working from home for an extended period of time with two school-aged children and cancelled day camps because we’re in the middle of a scary pandemic? Brand new territory.
The last time I had both kids home with me every single day, they were two and four, and I worked only when they were sleeping. But now I work from home full time and it’s mostly when they’re both at school.
Usually, I only have to juggle working and managing the kids during after-school hours, inservice days and a couple of weeks during the summer when I haven’t signed them up for a day camp. At seven and nine, they are old enough to understand when I’m on a work call (“Shhh!”) or a video call (“Don’t go in there!”). They sneak into my home office holding out notes or text/message me questions. It’s not ideal, but it’s only a blip on the radar.
Now, like many of you, I’m looking at many weeks of balancing my usual workload with having both of them home from school full time. There’s also the matter of trying to appear calm so I don’t freak them out, even though our lives are shockingly, radically different and everything is uncertain.
I may be somewhat of a pro when it comes to working from home with kids, but this is a more extreme version than everything I’ve ever tried. So, from “directed activities” and chores to screen limits and schoolwork, here are 10 ways I’m planning to navigate working from home with two kids.
1. GENTLE TIME-BLOCKING:
I’ve seen “COVID-19 schedules” floating around social media, where parents can structure their day according to various colour-coded charts. I’ve also seen parents laughing at those charts and declaring their home is going to be a non-stop movie marathon with PJs and snacks and no schoolwork.
I’m somewhere in the middle, but closer to the first option. My kids thrive on structure (and one of them is especially distraught at the thought of missing so much school) but without any restrictions, they’d stay on screens until their eyes blistered. Too much screen time also makes them cranky little jerks.
We’re going to have a loose schedule that admittedly includes more screen time than they’d normally have on a weekday, but break it up with schoolwork, crafts, puzzles, board games and outdoor time. After all, I still have to work, which brings me to my next point ...
2. DIRECTED ACTIVITIES:
For me, getting through this is going to involve lots of “directed activities” a.k.a. stuff I tell the kids to do so that I can get some work done. So far, it’s been things like “Here are the St. Patrick’s Day decorations. Put them up,” and “Here’s a 1,000-piece puzzle. Assemble it together and then you can go back on screens.”
I’m already a pro at directed activities because I’ve worked from home for so long and for many of those years, the kids were at home with me. (Although I worked far fewer hours when they were younger and needed more attention, of course.)
I’ll dig out old toys they haven’t touched in ages — Playmobil, kinetic sand, etc. — and set a timer. For that amount of time, they have to play with what I’ve set out before I disappeared back into my home office. It’s funny how something they grumbled about is actually fun once they’re “forced” to give it a try.
3. QUIET TIME IN THEIR ROOMS:
Until our kids started elementary school, they had mandatory daily “quiet time” in their rooms after lunch. They still have it sometimes now, but I’m bringing it back full force now that they’re going to be home 24/7. No napping is required, but after lunch they will need to chill in their rooms — listening to music, playing, reading, whatever. Another blessed block of uninterrupted work time for me.
4. YARD TIME:
Yes, this is a direct comparison to prison. It’s March, so the weather probably isn’t going to be dangerously cold anymore and they are going outside to play, multiple times a day. Call it “recess,” if you’d like. Even if it’s raining, I plan on sending them out in boots and rain slickers for a while. We’re going on a daily “family walk,” too. Hopefully the fresh air will help to keep us healthy, as well as serving as a refreshing break from being indoors all the time.
We’ll do some baking together and they can also do some without me, as long as I come out of my office when it’s time to touch the oven. We’ve already been baking smaller batches than usual so we don’t burn through all of our supplies too quickly, and they get in a bit of math practice as we calculate ingredient measurements. There are dishes to hand-wash afterwards, which eats up some additional time in these long, long days.
6. SCHOOL WORK:
We always do at-home summer school during the summer, so of course we’re going to “play school” during this break. I love giving them spelling tests — one of my biggest joys from when I was in school — and printing out worksheets from Education.com, but that’s the extent of my role as a pretend teacher.
I’ll also give them specific times where they can only use the computers to go on educational sites (many of which are now unlocked for this very occasion) like abcya.com, starfall.com, play.prodigygame.com, mysterydoug.com, khanacademy.org, squigglepark.com, storylineonline.net, and scholastic.com.
7. SHARED SCREEN TIME:
When our kids typically go on screens, they’re doing their own thing — each with headphones on. So there will be times when I only allow screens if they’re doing something together, like playing a Switch game or watching a movie. When they need to get their wiggles out, I’ll get them to dance to GoNoodle.com videos (a site they’ve talked about from school) or have a Wii Sports tournament.
They’ve always had to help out around the house, but now they have more time on their hands. They can sweep daily, vacuum, wipe down surfaces, fold laundry, tidy their rooms and even wash the cars. Our daughter loves to clean, so she’ll gladly take on busywork projects like re-folding all the towels. Picking up frozen dog poop is always a good spring chore, too — I’ll save that for a day when they’re really bugging me.
Our son would spend the whole day reading (if he couldn’t spend it on screens, of course) but our daughter needs a bit of extra support with her reading. I don’t want her progress to stall during this break, so I’ll be making sure she reads to her brother daily while I’m working (and then I’ll read with her each evening, like always). He’s old enough to make sure she’s reading correctly and help her if needed — and he’ll do anything to earn some screen time.
10. GIVING UP SOMETIMES:
Tensions are already high in my house, and there are going to be (even more) times when I just throw up my hands and leave them to an unlimited screen-fest while I hide in my office and work. There will be moments when I let them stay glued to YouTube because I’m crying and they won’t notice with headphones firmly clamped over their ears. There will be days when I throw myself completely into work because I need the normalcy — the distraction from the anxiety that’s constantly swirling around inside of me these days.
Some days will just be about getting through the best we can.
Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist who married her high-school sweetheart. They moved from the city to the country, where they spend their days making messes and memories with their nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. Follow their family’s adventures over at www.HeathersHandmadeLife.com.