Expert Insight – How do you work from home AND home school children AND stay sane?
A reflection during isolation from Professor Lisa Kervin, Researcher in Language and Literacy at the University of Wollongong, and Research lead on Play, Curriculum and Pedagogy in Early Start Research.
There is no doubt, this is a tricky time. Our work agendas have become increasingly complex as we manage virtual communications, teaching online and reshaped research agendas. At the same time many of us are sharing our home working environment with our children and their study commitments.
In preparing these notes I draw upon my experiences as an educator (I was a teacher before coming to UOW), a mother of three children and as a full-time employee now working from home! I think the most important thing for us all to remember is that we are parents to our children first. The most important thing we can do is to be with our children in a safe environment.
In my home, my partner and I are both working full-time and our three children are all studying (Year 8, Year 5 and Year 2).
For my Year 8 son, he is fairly self-sufficient. His school has organised for him to continue with his regular timetable and he checks into his classes using zoom, completes tasks and submits these to his teacher. He is self-motivated (mostly!) and a conversation with him in the morning and during his regular school breaks is usually enough support.
My primary school age children are a different story! They have tasks to complete provided by their teachers, but it is up to us how we manage their days. They also need varied amounts of support to understand and complete the tasks. Where possible, I want my children to self-regulate their learning – that is to take control of their own learning and not rely on us. But, there are times when we need to “teach” something. For example, in their numeracy work, there has been need to take them back a step to reinforce a concept to help them understand a new one.
I’ve found that structure is important to provide some shape around the day. In saying this, it is important to create a timetable that works for your family’s needs. This is the schedule we’ve created for our children:
|Before 8:30am||Breakfast, get dressed|
|8:30-10am||Lessons and quiet work time|
|10-11:30am||Morning tea and exercise|
|11:30am-1pm||Lessons and quiet work time|
|1-2pm||Lunch and play time|
|3-6pm||Exercise, help with dinner, tidy bedroom, play time|
|6pm- bedtime||Dinner, bath, TV|
Some notes that might help explain these times:
- Lessons and quiet work time – we use the tasks set by the teacher, but in the most I am satisfied if the children have done some reading, writing and numeracy each day. Yes, I only allocate 2 blocks of 90 minutes for “school work”. This is enough! You do not need to be their teacher and the day does not need to look like a school day. It is important to recognise that children are likely to complete their schoolwork far more quickly than they would at school, so it is not necessary or desirable to schedule the identical amount of time that is on their school timetable. But yes, these are both in the morning. This is optimal learning time for children (and also possibly when adults are most patient!)
- Exercise – my gym video-streams classes and they have become a fun family time! We also use this time to walk our dog and go on bike rides. Our children are loving having “double sport” each day, for us, we need to exhaust them each day to manage their energy levels!
- Challenge time – we have asked all our children to identify something they want to learn during isolation (one is learning mandarin, one is learning to cook, the other wants to refine lego building skills). This time may be independent, or they may work together (sometimes without fighting!), but it is mostly without our help. The children may also explore a virtual tour of a museum or gallery, connect with a school friend to do something (like MineCraft), or play a board game … whatever they negotiate with us.
Alongside this are routines my partner and I have created to support our work. Firstly, one of us starts work early, the other works late. Looking at our calendars we also negotiate the supervision of lessons – one of us supervises the 8:30-10am lesson time, the other does the 11:30-1 slot (and we each block these times out in our work calendars). We try to schedule our afternoon work with tasks that allow us to come in and out of the challenge time and afternoon routines as we need to. This mostly works, it’s not perfect, but it gives us a structure to work with and a sense of how our day works which helps with our availability to our work teams.
Having routine provides some structure to the day. Just as we may feel a little discombobulated being away from campus and our regular work routines, so too are our children! They are away from the structure of school, their friends and their week-day worlds. Our children are used to being with us on weekends, before and after school and holidays, not when we’re also trying to get the bulk of our work done. Some routines that we insist on include:
- Everyone getting dressed for the day
- Having regular break and meal times – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Each day I still pack my children’s lunch boxes. This has helped me enormously in managing the consumption of food in the house by eliminating the constant grazing! And also, if we’re held up with a work task and it’s break time, they know what they can have.
- Completing regular “jobs” each day – making your bed, tidying your room, helping with dinner. A sense of “normality” is important.
Lots of learning happens during daily activities. Taking time to talk, play, do household jobs, cook and read with our children provides valuable learning time. Our children learn so much by watching us at work – how we manage our time, interact with others and talk about what we do.
Just as you may feel the need to socialise, so too may your children. You might want to consider an increase in online activities to communicate with school and family friends (through Skype, FaceTime or Zoom), participate in online gaming or even talking on the phone. Our children have also started writing letters to post to friends. We also have a jar on our kitchen counter with slips of paper beside it, whenever someone feels that they’re really missing doing something, they write it on the paper and put it in the jar. When this is all over, we’ll make our way through the jar. It is interesting for me to see what goes in there and provides me with some conversation starters!
Above all, I try to keep communication open and clear. We talk about our days over dinner and provide overviews of the day to come over breakfast. I talk with my children and my partner often about how they’re feeling, what is working and what isn’t. My observations tell me lots too! I’ve learned that it’s ok if we need to readjust how we’re doing things. And I’m learning to be kinder to myself.
Research = Experiences
Play is one of the most powerful ways to learn. That’s why all our experiences are informed by early childhood researchers from UOW.