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How to Work From Home with Kids

Springfield Public Schools and surrounding districts have closed schools through April 3. Editorial Director Katie Pollock Estes, shares a day-in-the-life to help you navigate working from home with kids.

By Katie Pollock Estes

Mar 19 2020 at 10 a.m.

Mother working from home with her son
Photo courtesy ShutterstockLuckily, we have a lot of tools these days to making working from home possible. We're in uncharted territories at the moment, no question about it. But, with a little planning and patience, we can make this work.

On Monday, Springfield Public Schools announced that the district is closed through April 3 to help slow the local spread of COVID-19, and last night parents received a message about the at-home learning opportunities that will be available starting March 30. That means families have one week of extended spring break to come up with a plan for incorporating a little bit of homeschooling into their daily routines. So are you ready to jump feet-first into the deep end, and learn how to navigate working from home while simultaneously attending to the kids?

As for me and my family, well... we're working on it. My husband Eli is a software developer, and we're both working remote from home right now. Our kids are Oliver, a bright 7-year-old first grader who never stops thinking, questioning, scheming and learning out loud (in other words: he commands attention) and Eloise, a hilarious 3-year-old preschooler who is fiercely independent and dangerously daring (in other words: she needs constant supervision or else we'll find her outside jumping naked on the trampoline with scissors in one hand and—somehow—my cell phone in the other).

Will our schedule play out exactly as planned every day? Oh, god no. There are too many X factors. For one thing, there will be meltdowns from everyone. We're human after all. Especially the kids, who scream their humanity from the rooftops (and sometimes at each other). Plus we have pets: a dog who will need to be taken out and a cat who will start fights with the dog.

There will be days that look nothing like this best-case-scenario schedule. We'll take it day-by-day, and we'll get through it. You'll get through it too. But nobody's going to get through it alone. If you know another parent trapped at home with kids whose minds aren't getting the mental stimulation they're used to, check in with them from time to time. Send them a will-be-hilarious-a-year-from now picture of your family's chaos, and take a minute to commiserate... then to laugh together. Because let's be honest: So many things in our perfectly laid plans could go wrong. In a schedule like ours, maybe the parent stuck with the fragmented work hours won't be productive enough, and we'll have to start over with a new plan. Maybe this jam-packed schedule will feel too exhausting, and we'll choose to ditch some of the kids' activities in favor of snuggles on the sofa or a pancake party at lunch. Maybe those snuggles will be the best things that happen all week.

This schedule, and whatever schedule you come up with, doesn't have to be perfect. But it's a starting point, so it's where we will start.

A Day-In-The-Life at Home

This schedule was created to allow one of our household's working adults to work eight hours straight while the other splits up eight hours throughout the day and spends the time in between on kid duty. Each day, Eli and I will decide which one of us takes the fragmented schedule, based on what meetings and obligations we both have for work.


Breaking Down the Timeline

Homeschooling

Ha! I am not a teacher, folks. I will never in a thousand years have the skills my son's much-loved first grade teacher has. So I use the term "homeschooling" very, very loosely. For us, it means making an effort to do activities that have some loose little bit of educational benefit during the extended spring break week, then incorporating SPS's at-home learning opportunities the following week. Those opportunities will be shared with parents, but you can look for updates on sps.org/healthupdate (where you can also read about resources like meal service for kids who need it, childcare for healthcare workers and emergency responders and other resources provided by the school district). 

If nothing else, we'll have a routine, and we'll do lots of activities that hide learning inside some fun: baking, playing with our science and circuit kits, reading, writing stories, playing board games or cards, or exploring nature. I've been bookmarking tons of resources for educational-ish activities, and we'll share them in a blog coming up next week.

Active Play

Nothing improves my kids' moods (and increases the chances that Eloise will nap well) than sunshine, fresh air and mud, so we'll be playing out in the yard every day. Doing active games or a little bit of yoga can work when the weather is too crummy to go outside. Plus Oliver loves to lead us in interesting workouts of his own creation. Don't forget dance parties! They'll do the trick too.

Family Walks

These are for togetherness, fresh air, moving our bodies, calming our minds and wearing out our dog so she will be chill while we try to get work done at home. These (along with meals at the table together every day) are non-negotiable parts of the schedule for me. 


Cooking, Housework and Free Time

Ugh. This schedule leaves too little time for all of this. We're just going to deal with it. We're going to have piles of laundry, and it's not going to kill us. I'll break out my Crock-Pot for hands-off meals, and I've already been making big batches of overnight oats for quick breakfasts. This will be a little hellish for a while, but not forever.

Bedtime

Will the kids always get to bed on time? LOL! No. Probably not. But we'll try.

This schedule has Eli and I sleeping five to seven hours a night, which is normal for us. (We're okay, I promise.) If you're a nine-a-night kind of person, you'd need to make adjustments.

Playdates

You know what feels terrible? Telling your 7-year-old that he's out of school for three weeks ("Yay!") but can't hang out with his buddies during that time ("What the!?!?") But it's the socially responsible thing to do. A March 17 social distancing Q&A from NPR recommends foregoing playdates, and we're complying. When this is all over, we might just have to throw a little party with his friends to celebrate and reunite.

In the meantime, we'll keep on keeping on—doing our very best and taking the hiccups in stride. If you have tips for making life adjustments while the kids are off school, please share them with me at editor@417mag.com. If I get enough, I'll find a way to share them so we can all help each other make this work.