Whatever you are doing, it is probably fine
This is the fourth in a series of posts where we will discuss the various aspects of working from home. For anyone who cannot work from home: we are so grateful for everything you are doing to keep us safe, fed, operational, and healthy. We hope that by staying out of your way as much as possible, we can contribute in turn to your safety and health.
There are many memes floating around now about how after a week of teaching their kids at home, parents are willing to pay teachers a million dollars a year. There are other viral posts about parents deciding that they will not supervise their children’s education at all – they have enough to deal with getting through the day. Still others are reveling in the chance to learn more about their children without the distractions of school, activities, and the ever-present specter of “being uncool.”
As we are learning throughout this series, all these sentiments are valid. We are all doing the best we can, and we need to give ourselves a break. As Robin Abrahams said in the previous blog, no one is living their “best coronavirus life.” Do what works, use the recommendations that work for your family, and be kind to yourself.
Having said all that, here is some advice from an expert on managing your kids while working from home.
“The two most important words for younger kids (kindergarten through fourth grade) are consistency and structure,” said Adam Kohrman, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst for public schools in Massachusetts. “That breakfast time is really clutch, because that is the time that you can go over the structure of the day. Structure, structure, structure.”
Kohrman, who also develops and provides training curricula for youth programs trying to incorporate children with autism, recommends sitting down with younger children at the same time every morning to go over the schedule for the day. Besides keeping consistent times and offering clear expectations, it can also be the time to go over the rewards for meeting expectations.
“Use your own kids interests to your advantage,” he said. “If you know what your kid is interested in, put that in the schedule. Even better, you can have a conversation like ‘look, here’s 2-3pm, that’s your free time, what do you want to do?’ Ask them! Then they will feel like they are getting some autonomy in this decision.”
For younger kids, Kohrman also recommends keeping a visual record of the schedule. Whether a printed schedule, or an app, or a hand-drawn notecard, having that tangible, visual representation of what they are supposed to be doing can help kids know what is expected of them. He says that most classrooms for younger children have visual schedules on the wall for just that reason.
These schedules can help parents as much as children, especially when you are working from home. If you have a work meeting that you need to focus on, build it into the schedule. Remind them of the meeting a few times throughout the day. Set a timer for younger kids when the meeting starts, letting them know that you are busy until it dings. If they interrupt you, gently remind them and guide them toward another activity.
And don’t worry about your coworkers.
“Everyone knows these are unprecedented times,” Kohrman said. “If your kid is coming in on your work Zoom call, people will understand.”
For older kids (middle school and above), letting them set their own schedule can be effective.
“Set your middle schooler up for online instruction, and then assume your middle schooler has the ability to teach themselves, until they prove they don’t,” he said. “If you go in being authoritarian with a middle schooler, you will give them more to rebel against, and you will teach them that you don’t believe in them.”
Rewards can still be a big part of their day, and expectations should still be clear, but it is important to give older kids the chance to figure it out on their own.
It is also important to know the expectations of your school district, which are likely pretty low for now. Whether the district is grading on participation, or pass/fail, or some other measure, make sure your kids know what they must accomplish. They are under stress as well – ease it by making it clear where the bar is set for the moment. Even for older high schoolers, let them know that no college on Earth is going to be judging their schoolwork from spring 2020.
Here are a few helpful links for free educational materials available online. Also, as always, don’t forget to check in with your public library for whatever digital content they offer.
STEMs Grow: online science courses for kids
Coursera: free college level classes, if your high schooler has specific interests
We Are Teachers: a compendium of online classes, not all of which are free
Khan Academy: Free resources for kids aged 2-18, including suggestions for daily schedules