By Stephanie Taglietta, Coldwell Banker, #TeamTaglietta
In the wake of schools closing, many parents are struggling to figure out how to work from home. As you are likely imagining, it is very difficult but for many, like me, it is doable. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering hardships and I feel blessed that I can do a lot of work from home. When I had my children, I chose to continue working and quickly had to learn a lot about working from home. As a realtor, my job never really stops and my personal life is very intertwined. Along the way, I have learned a lot that I am sharing with you. Take it all with a grain of salt because abruptly taking our kids out of school while they still need instruction is not going to be an easy feat. I am prepared for pure chaos and my tips may or may not work for you as they are individualized to me with kids aged 5 and 9. Everyone’s situation is different, but hopefully this can help make the transition a little easier.
Like most things in life it’s all about the preparation.
· Get a large box, bin, laundry basket, etc and fill it with toys/crafts they haven’t seen in a while or ever used. You can search online and find a ton of Busy Bag ideas as well. Then each day, set out one or more of these for them to use. I find it’s better not to put them out all at once but to stager it throughout the day. Stay away from things that are messy and over complicated (I’m talking about you slime!) because the idea is to promote independent play with easy cleanup. Also, however many activities you think you need to plan for each day – plan extra.
· Each day try to get up before the kids to prep for the day and do as much prep for the day/week the night before (especially food).
· Make sure to make their lunch in their normal lunchbox. Even if they do not normally have snacks at school, prepare snacks in advance. Hungry kids tend to be angry kids. You are likely going to be spending all day being asked for snacks … or lets be real – having arguments about snacks. Some parents can have a snack bin set up for their kids to go eat when they went. My kids would demolish it in one day so I like to give them at that moment.
· Check your Wi-Fi and electronics now. Do your best to work out any kinks and prepare for issues. Add to your routine each day to charge electronics. If possible, download at least a movie or two on iPad’s just in case there are Wi-Fi issues.
2. MAKE A SCHEDULE
The biggest mistake I ever made was not using a schedule. Think about your typical work day (if like me you don’t have one, I’ll get to that in a bit and for now do you best to make one up) and use it to help you figure out your child’s schedule. For example, if you work a lot during the mornings or typically have conference calls at certain times, this should be the times you don’t need to be hands on with the kids.
Make a designated wake up time, stick to your normal morning routine for school, schedule school/play time, lunch, etc. You should include breaks, lunch/dinner/snack times, chores, play, school sessions, etc. For children who can read, actually print/write their schedule. You can even sometimes include them in making the schedule. For younger ones who can’t read, I recommend a picture schedule. You can easily make this by using pictures found on the internet and a document program like Word. Keep it simple and to one page and tape it to the wall. Younger kids tend to like following picture charts. Once schedules are made, you can use your phone/Echo like devices, etc to set timers to help keep everyone on schedule.
3. HAVE A DISCUSSION
Have a family meeting to explain how this is all going to work. Kids often need repetition so each day I regularly repeat what the rules are and what we are doing. If like me, you have enough age difference between children, make sure to talk to the younger ones about the fact that older kids may be able to do more than them (ride their bike alone, text friends, etc). I try to sympathize with their feelings and talk about what they can do instead for fun. For the older kids, I discuss how they are going to being helping a lot. We also discuss interruptions. I prepare them for me being constantly interrupted with work. I remind them of why I work and how that translates to basic needs like food and housing as well as things they relate to like buying toys or going on vacation. Just like teachers do in school, set clear rules and expectations.
4. CREATE SPACES
The fact is you are all likely to coral in the same place. The dining room/living room is our spot. Even if that is the case, designate a specific office/work space that no one is allowed to touch/go in but you – preferably one with privacy for dedicated work time/phone calls that is in an out of the way spot. I have an actual home office, but if you do not have that or a good spot, designate your bedroom as your office. You can use a TV tray table/folding table, your dresser (move away decorative items for paperwork) or even your bed. The same goes for your kids.
· Designate a school/homework space (preferably keeping the kids away from each other if you find them bickering/fighting a lot).
· Designate a play space.
· Discuss how everyone will be using their own rooms for breaks/play time throughout the day because even kids sometimes need personal space.
· If possible, with spring upon us, utilize outdoors. Have lunch on the patio, your work/school work on the front porch, etc.
· I also highly recommend having a craft table set up if that is age appropriate for your kids. Put a plastic table cloth (I usually have ones leftover from parties) over it, throw out craft supplies and let them make whatever they want. If the table cloth is salvageable, I fold it and use it the next day or throw it out. If your child isn’t into crafts, find something else that can take up a lot of time - Lego table, building block table, etc.
5. SCREEN TIME
It is so easy to constantly jump right to screen time, but in my experience it will backfire. When my kids have too much – their behavior is really poor. If you are able to have little to no screen time – that’s fantastic. My plan is to limit as much as possible. For me, realistically, screen time is happening. When work gets very busy or I have a sudden long phone call when I promised my 5 year old we were going outside to play and now can’t, I can literally bribe them with screen time. If like me, you don’t have a “typical” work schedule then having a “just in case” contingency plan is critical. If possible, I pull something from the bin I made of unused toys/crafts but sometimes either they protest or I just know I need quiet and no interruptions. This is what screen time is for. With older ones, it can be harder to dictate what they watch, but here are some ideas for younger ones:
· Make a playlist of yoga for kids on YouTube kids. I’ve found some really fun ones that my kids love, it can take a while, keeps them engaged and hopefully brings some peace to the house! You can also do other videos on their interests (karate, dancing, baseball, etc). Here is a yoga video my kindergartner loves: Kids Yoga Video
· Make a playlist of some educational videos that your child will find interesting and/or relate to what they are learning in school. There are a lot of great home school videos out there. Plan in advance and make yourself the playlist. Here are some examples:
· If you have a streaming service like Disney+ or Netflix, go on and make a watchlist for your kids. This way they can easily and quickly pick.
· We do use iPads, but try and change it up by using a TV if possible. Not only is it better for their eyes not being so close to a screen, but it can give the movie like experience which is fun and different from phones/iPads.
6. PROVIDE RECESS
If at all possible, around the same time they are used to recess, let your kids go outside to play. If you are able to take a break from work, then facilitate. Kids need to run around and play and will usually get stir crazy and become a handful if you don’t let them. Just make sure to set a time limit and let them know what it is before going out.
7. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
In addition to recess, if at all possible (assuming you are not quarantined), get out of the house. This goes for you as much as your kids. Not only is it usually healthy physically and mentally, but being cooped up for long periods of time with your entire family isn’t usually a good idea. Eat lunch outside, go for a bike ride, take a quick walk around the block. Do it as a family, but don’t forget that going by yourself while someone else is with the kids can be mentally helpful to you as well.
I’m a big fan of FaceTime or other video conferencing services. These can be great for work and somehow feel more productive than a simple phone call. For work, just be aware of your surroundings/noise level of the kids. It can be great for kids too. If they are missing friends, set up time to FaceTime. I love to utilize it for school work. My kids are lucky to have grandparents who help them with school work. We can do it, but sometimes your kids just need someone who is not you. If you have someone willing to do a school work session with them, set that up. You can also set up video conferencing as an activity for your kids. Prepare times with anyone you think they might want to chit chat with. For example, have a family member/friend out of state – set up a video call. Kids are often less bored with the conversation if they can see the other person versus a standard voice call. If you need a specific amount of time away from your kids to work, you can even ask the adult on the other end to keep them engaged for that amount of time.
9. SET RULES
Come up with some hard and fast rules and discuss them with your kids. Maybe it’s no snacks before dinner, no going outside by yourself, etc. One of our biggest rules is no talking to me if I am on the phone unless it’s an emergency. I’m very clear about what emergencies are. Also, if we are on a conference call/headset, they cannot make noise. If their playing is noisy, they must go somewhere else. Be prepared for them not to follow the rules though – lol.
10. INVEST TIME IN YOUR KIDS
I learned very quickly once my kids became more independent how important dedicated one on one time is. When I spend time like this with them, they are much more successful at independent play/study. Dedicated one on one time is where you commit to spending time without interruption (so phones away) talking or doing an activity that they like. These do not have to be long periods of time. Even just for few minutes here and there throughout the day make a huge difference. The key is to tell them this is their time, let them know how long, keep eye contact and total interest in them and do something they like to do. You can use this time to be a good listener, play a quick game (like the card game War, Go Fish, Connect Four, etc), toss/roll a ball, have a “dance party”, color, etc. If your schedule permits larger amounts of time during the day, then go even longer. If not, try to fit in a boardgame, family movie night, etc. during the week after work hours. Working from home means you need your kids to be successfully independent at least some of the time and I have found this strategy really works.
11. IDEAS FOR INDEPENDENT TIME:
· Play Doh
· Crafts (Adult coloring books - $1 at Dollar Tree – can keep kids engaged)
· Sensory Bins
· Coloring / Painting
· Dry Erase Boards
· Building type activities
· Journal Writing
· Practicing (sports, dance, etc.)
· Write, practice and perform a play
· Line up Dominos and watch them fall
· Boardgame with siblings
· Build with plastic cups
· Make/set up a tent
· Put out unused office supplies and see what they come up with (post it notes, highlighters, notebooks, tape, etc
· Search Pinterest for so many more ideas
Let’s be real – I do not always follow these rules and when I do, they do not always work. I have always found, both as a realtor and a mom, to prepare as much as possible but be ready for nothing to go the way you planned. However, when I do not plan or at least try to use the techniques above, things are much worse. Work and your child's needs will also often change by the day and sometimes what you try doesn’t work. Make sure to make adjustments along the way and most importantly, don’t be hard on yourself - just do the best you can and stay healthy!