Is your school district one of the many who have, yet again, closed down or rolled out a distance-learning plan for each grade level? Are you at home comparing your work schedule against all of your kids' schedules? If so, we wrote this for you! And we hope to leave you with some ideas on how to move ahead, stay afloat and get to a point where this "new normal" brings about less overwhelming feelings and more confidence.
When life gets stressful, we all-too-often forget to lean into simple acts that give us the mental space and time to manage hectic and busy loads. Amidst the multiple Zoom lessons, work calls, independent work for each child and log-ins for each child's numerous educational online accounts, there is still room for order. Take some time to plan ahead and work together—communication and flexibility are key!
Write Things Down
Writing things down is a well-known trick for keeping track of our to-dos, and writing things down in a commonly visible space is even better! If you're a working parent/multichild family, you are likely to have a jam-packed calendar somewhere in your common space that may still have March's or April's cancelled events on it. As we merge our way back into the bustle familiar to pre-pandemic life (even if now from a distance), you're likely going to need this calendar again—only this time to record Zoom call schedules, due dates and teacher online office hours.
Since distance learning means you're responsible for helping your child navigate and organize more than just the afternoon after their school day, you're also likely to find that all the events you need to keep track of don't fit in the one square space assigned to that day/child on your family calendar. Some suggestions for managing this include printing out your child's daily schedule shared by the teacher/district to post nearby, or creating a family google calendar or other online calendar resource. By keeping a digital family calendar, everyone will be able to see who has what meetings or deadlines no matter where they are in the home as long as they have their computer or device.
Designate and Schedule (Space)
You're bound to be faced with conflicting Zoom schedules, and this is likely to bring about the question of how one child is supposed to sit on their class Zoom call while you lead a work meeting. Ideally, each person would have their own "home office," but this is just not likely to happen. Someone is bound to end up on the couch, or worse yet, sitting on the bathroom counter top, just to find a space to listen and be heard on your private work call or online class.
If possible, clear a few different tabletop spaces in different areas of your home so each person has a place to get their work done and not inhibit another trying to do the same. The importance of a tabletop work surface is to set the tone for focusing and participating actively in their learning during their class calls (this instead of lounging or relaxing on the floor or couch). If everyone has a designated space in the home to do their work and participate in class from a distance, the day is likely to run more smoothly for everyone involved as it also helps maintain some separation from work and home even when everything is happening under the same roof. When you're at your "desks," it's time for Zoom (or whatever the day's learning goals or assignments may hold)!
Plan and Reflect
Just as you would for your own schedule, looking ahead to make a checklist of goals or to-dos each morning is a small task with great reward for everyone. Take time to do this as a family so everyone sees that everyone has things to do in the day and everyone has some awareness of when they're going to happen. For your younger at-home learners, help them write their lists and have them schedule time to check in with you (or an able sibling) during the day. If they're not fluent in reading a clock yet, you can use images ("see me when the clock looks like this ___") or timers.
As your family works to manage this new normal of at-home work and school, you're likely to find that some things don't work out quite right the first time. Your home office may need to be closer or farther from your child's, or the team meeting that you planned for 9:00 in the morning may need to shift for you to be there to help your child with their reading activity. Whatever it is, don't be too hard on yourself and accept that anything new will bring about some trial and error. Reflecting on how well the day went as a family will help you find and navigate these adjustments as you settle into a new routine. Have your child share their insights on what went well in the day, and look to see where you think they may have struggled or need some help.
Reflecting on the day (even though you're all together in the same home from sun up to sun down) will give your family an opportunity to celebrate each child's successes as they reach their goals—both big and small!
Prioritize and Communicate
No matter how conscientious you and your kids are about touching base with one another, sharing your designated working spaces in your home and communicating your daily goals, there will still be times when schedules and needs will clash. Be prepared to be flexible (the slogan of 2020), and communicate, communicate, communicate!
When goal setting, have your kids rank their confidence with various assignments to figure out where they might need the most help. You may even want to reach out to their teacher to see if they have a main academic goal in mind for your student that you can prioritize. With that information you can make sure you're able to be present with them or set up some kind of support for them (like a meeting with their teacher or a distance learning tutor).
If you face Zoom schedule conflicts (or Internet bandwidth limitations), prioritize getting each child to the Zoom meetings that coincide with areas where they have the greatest learning needs or need the most support. Many lessons can be made up if you're not able to get every child on for every Zoom session. Again, communicating these conflicts with your child's teacher will open up the opportunity for more flexibility and options. Some teachers may be able to prerecord and share their lessons, or offer help during a separate office hour in the day.
Ultimately, we're all in this together, so don't be afraid to lean on one another. Giving ourselves a little bit of grace (and encouraging our children to do the same for themselves) may be all we need to keep the juggling act going successfully!
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