How to survive the Coronavirus lockdown as a work from home parent

I have three children, aged 8, 6 and 3.  I also freelance from home as a communications, policy, research and community engagement VA during the school week. The last email from my kids’ school confirmed that, during nation-wide isolation, parents would be expected to educate at home. The problem being those parents also need to work.

I’ve always been really interested in homeschool ideas. And we’ve had a chance to test drive the ‘Mummy needs to work but you’re all home’ set up a few times before during holidays and illness. It looks like it’s all going to come in handy now.

The government is not intending to bring in officially-enforced social distancing measures until close to the end of March, so the good news here is that you have time to plan, stock up on supplies for activities and get intimate with some of the internet’s finest ideas.

I’ve collected some top tips from some of my favourite parenting, homeschooling and life hack websites, so you don’t have to.

1. Take a deep breath

Yup.  This starts with you.   

Nobody knows how long we’re going to have to stay isolated, but two things are for sure:

  • You have no choice about whether it happens or not. Your only choice is what you make out of the situation.
  • Believing it’s going to be awful and you’re going to hate every minute is a prophecy waiting to be made true. How can you re-frame your thoughts and find some positives?

Nobody says it has to be ‘sparkles and rainbows’ fun, but what are the opportunities you can see within the chaos?  More time to connect with your kids and found out about the things they love (or struggle with)?  Time to try out those science experiments you’ve been meaning to do with them?  An opportunity to make bread together if you can’t get to the supermarket?  Having the chance to practice independent working or playing, which will come in handy for the next time you need to work over a school holiday? 

Many of those negative thoughts you’re having about the lockdown period also have a positive flip side to them. Take a deep breath, pause, and see if you can find a fe

2. Organise your days

Very few people thrive in a totally disorganised environment.  Everyone has routines of some sort, whether official or not, that help them get through their day.  Take some time to organise the structure of your day in advance, so that everyone knows what’s expected of them and when. 

Our school day COVID-19 plan looks like this at the moment:

8.45am

9am

10am

11am

12noon

1pm

2pm 

3pm

4pm

5pm

6pm

7pm

8pm

15 minutes of physical game

25 minutes maths, 5 mins break, 25 mins art/language

Snack, 30 minutes physical activity, 25 minutes writing

Independent cooking/making/craft

Lunch + physical activity

Quiet time (reading or audiobook) 25 mins, followed by topic research 25 mins

15 min physical activity, 25 mins science experiment/geography/music 15 mins physical activity

Snack, play

Gardening/jobs in the house/kids make dinner, play

TV time

Dinner

Baths and stories

Bedtime & more grown up work/planning time

I’m aiming for a rhythm and structure to the day, and the flexibility to allow for each child’s preferences and developmental stage.

The important aspect of the timetable is that it provides enough variety for the kids to remain engaged, and enough blocks of time for the grown ups to get work done.  Our plan builds on the Pomodoro method, which you might have heard about or used before. By breaking the day into manageable chunks, you can aim to get through 4 hours of work during the day, with time to get more done once everyone’s in bed.  That feels sustainable for the 4-5 weeks we’re probably going to have at home.

At the weekends, we’ll be focusing on exercise, play, reading, creativity, and breaking out a whole ton of TV and films!  I want Saturdays and Sundays to feel distinct from weekdays, so we can all feel the routine of a ‘normal’ week.

3. Independence

So that brings us to the holy grail of children getting on with stuff independently!  Usually, my kids are checking in with me every 5 minutes, showing me drawings, telling me about their inventions, checking how to do this or that, asking for water, you name it.  The mindset shift to grown ups and children working independently alongside each other at home is a big one.  It’s a totally different relationship than we normally have in our house.

From prior experience, two things are really important here:

Practice

Before the lockdown starts, schedule in some practice sessions, where you all work alongside each other for 25 minutes in the evening, after school or at the weekend.  Choose an activity that you are happy to walk away from or be distracted from if it all goes wrong (e.g. emails or writing out your schedule, rather than writing another chapter of that research document), and an activity that you think your kids can succeed in.  The idea is to get everyone used to the concept, not test them on their abilities and have them fail.  Have a celebration together afterwards and let them know how well it went.

Expectations

Before you get going on your independent activities, make sure everyone knows what you expect.  What are the rules?  If your children (like mine) aren’t used to having you there but ‘unavailable’, they’re going to need to know that mum or dad is busy, and what that feels like in your head.  My patter will be: “When I’m busy, I am focusing on my task.  That means I can’t talk, or make snacks, or answer questions, or get drinks.  You can disturb me for an emergency only.  An emergency looks like: danger to a person, animal or our house; or urgently needing the toilet if you’re used to being taken by a grown up.”

  • Ask questions at the start, before everyone settles down to work.
  • Make sure you have the equipment you need before you start.
  • Try your hardest for the 25 minute block.
  • Try to let others get on with their task – as few disturbances as possible.

Our timetable is designed so that there’s a bit of grown up interaction, setting up a task, the task itself, then some ‘release’ from sitting still. We’ve found that works best in the long run.

Here are 5 ideas each for independent activities for toddlers, pre-schoolers, Key Stage 1 kids, and Key Stage 2 kids.  We’ll be aiming to do these side-by-side, e.g. for maths time, the 3 year old will do a find and match number activity, whilst the older children complete worksheets from school or do Lego maths.

Toddlers

Preschoolers

Key Stage 1 (ages 5-7)

Lego bridge building challenge from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls https://frugalfun4boys.com/lego-bridge-building-challenge/

Marshmallow structures from Tinkerlab https://tinkerlab.com/spaghetti-tower-marshmallow-challenge/

Doodle prompts from Rock Your Homeschool https://rockyourhomeschool.net/daily-doodle-prompts-for-kids/

Cotton bud paintings from the BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/clips/zg6dsg8

Writing prompts from Scholastic http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/story-starters/

Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11)

Harry Potter writing prompts from Rock Your Homeschool https://rockyourhomeschool.net/harry-potter-inspired-writing-prompts/

Lego marble maze from Little Bins for Little Hands https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/christmas-marble-maze-lego-steam-activity-for-kids/

Plastic bag parachutes for light toys from Mommy Poppins https://mommypoppins.com/weework-kids-crafts-make-a-toy-parachute

Create a treasure hunt map from The Imagination Tree https://theimaginationtree.com/diy-pirate-map-and-treasure-hunt-games/

Sibling games

As we have multiple children, the timetable also has space for cooperative games, such as:

Car wash like this https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2012/08/color-clean-car-wash-play-for-toddlers.html

Cooperative board games like Outfoxed or Race to the Treasure, by the wonderful Gamewright https://gamewright.com/

Imaginative games – building a fort, making a ‘camp’, pretending to be wizards, being pirates, etc

Old playground favourites, like ‘what’s the time Mr Wolf’ or hopscotch

Classic card games and board games

4. Don't forget snacks, drinks and exercise

One of the benefits of timetabling your days is that fewer things are left to chance.  If I’m busy, there’s always the risk that I’ll forget my kids need a snack, then we end up in a whole world of hungry-angry-uncooperative, before I work out that it could have been avoided. 

The same with exercise.  At school, remember UK primary children get 30 minutes outdoor play in the morning and a bit more than an hour at lunchtime (although they are inside eating for some of that), as well as PE and regular movement breaks.

If you have to stay at home, you’ll have to figure out how you’re going to get your kids some exercise in the space you have.  This will not only help them concentrate, but also help them burn off some energy.  Being trapped in a house with kids behaving like little bouncy balls is not going to be fun! 

There are TONS of awesome blogs out there giving you fantastic indoor games for kids, as well as garden games and nature-inspired ideas for those who have the space.

My top five are:

Obstacle courses from The Inspired Treehouse https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/creative-obstacle-course-ideas-kids/

Mini sports day from Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls https://frugalfun4boys.com/family-backyard-summer-olympics/

Animal yoga from Kids Yoga Stories https://www.kidsyogastories.com/animal-yoga-poses/

Balloon tennis from Fatherly https://www.fatherly.com/play/balloon-tennis/

Dance party!

 

5. Remember the important things: connection, wine and chocolate

We’re so much better (virtually) connected. Now is a great time for Grandad to practice using Facetime so the kids can read to him (and you can work!), for the aunt who lives in another country to give your kids a virtual geography lesson, for hosting a virtual playdate with cousins or friends, and for discovering the huge array of educational videos on the internet.

It’s going to be a rollercoaster.  Remember to stockpile wine and chocolate!