Structure. Routine. It’s a lot like tidiness; some people claim to prefer it and it eludes others entirely, but it seems that everybody prospers when it’s in place.
I am a teacher; I like to make lists and tick things off. I like the sense of order that comes with that process. Previous to that, I was a scientist, so I’ve always liked methodical ways of doing things.
I am a new parent, but I don’t have a new-born, I have a 3-year-old. When you adopt, after the lengthy introductions process, the fateful day when your child comes to live with you, you are told that you have to stay in for a minimum of 2 weeks to endure a sort of ‘nesting and bonding’ period. Just to clarify, you have a beautiful child who is the most energetic coiled spring of energy you have ever seen placed squarely in the middle of your lives and then you have to stay inside. You don’t know what you’re doing, in our case it took my husband and I ten minutes to change a nappy on a squirming wriggling mischievous boy; everyone else gets to practice on a new-born who are apparently much less awkward and long-limbed.
There are parallels between having a toddler explode into your life and living within a pandemic situation. With both, initially you think that it won’t change your life that much, there’ll be certain changes that of course you’ll have to make, but there’s something about us as humans that always leads us to think that it won’t quite affect us like how it affects everyone else. The knowing looks that other parents give us now when we talk about sleep, mealtimes and the lengthy process that is leaving the house leave us feeling a little embarrassed when we think about phrases that left our mouths like ‘Yes, yes, we won’t cook anything different, he can just have a smaller portion of whatever we’re having’ and ‘No, screen time will just be a treat, not an everyday thing’. I remember the wry smiles of parent veterans as we resisted to acknowledge any real change.
I wonder now if Italy views the UK as well-meaning but slightly naïve new parents?
I don’t pretend to know everything, but in recent months I have had to learn pretty sharpish how to firstly work from home, and secondly, do that with my child by my side. Buckle up guys, because you’re in for a bumpy ride. My son has been described as ‘indefatigable’ which, after nodding along solemnly but then quickly looking up the word on Oxford dictionary online, I wholeheartedly agree that he never gives up or gets tired of doing anything. I’m exhausted!
Before my time in helping to #flattenthecurve by staying at home, I now realise I was ahead of a different curve in that I have recently adapted to working from home in amongst having to remain indoors in amongst a whole lot of chaos.
If you have to work from home with a child, here are my top 5 tips:
Toggl – Find it here
This time-tracking software is free and it helps you to stay focused whilst working from home, at your computer screen. I find it keeps me working on the task in hand, helps me to see what I spend a lot of time on and also when my most productive times of day are.
Google Hangouts is a communication software that allows you to have meetings with many people at once, providing you have a camera and or microphone set up on your computer or laptop. You can have meetings, and get things discussed in a very immediate fashion. Sometimes I just ping a little message to a colleague and we are chatting ‘face to face’ within 30 seconds. That is one element of working from home that I hadn’t accounted for, the lack of leaning over your desk to ask a simple question. It can feel very lonely, and you can get stuck on something that ordinarily wouldn’t have been an issue, but I can say with confidence that this app overcomes that and really makes you feel like you’re not working alone.
Structure your day
Get over your inevitable giddiness that working from home means you can work whenever and whatever hours that take your fancy, because you’ll try every incarnation and ultimately fall back to some sort of timetable that loosely resembles office hours, shifted either a few hours forward or back, depending on how old your children are. Make yourself a timetable or list that is realistic, and bear in mind that you will probably be most productive in the morning.
I have worked in quite a range of schools over my 12 years of teaching. The most telling is the MLD school I worked in. When it came to the school holidays, especially the Summer one, many of the children were not thrilled at the prospect of having all that time off. In my naivety, I didn’t understand it at first. I later came to realise that they didn’t like the uncertainty, and rather enjoyed the firm structure that a school timetable has to offer. Make a timetable of sorts and stick it to the fridge, for you and your child if they’re old enough. There are a lot of visual timetables that would be perfect to use with much younger children as well as timetable blanks that you can ask older children and teenagers to organise for themselves.
If your children need attention, just go with it
You know when they’re in one of those moods. You won’t be able to get anything productive done, you’ll think you can try and do both, but it only ever ends in tears. Yours or theirs, either way, everybody loses. In these circumstances, put on a film or go out into the garden if you have one, or do something fun.
Easier said than done at the moment, but we have been doing the #PEwithJoe at 9am on YouTube every morning, and I have to say, it is a great way to start the day.
Working from home… The Final thoughts
Keep activities short and sweet. In teaching we call it ‘chunking’. This really depends on the age of the child and the activities you’re doing, but if in doubt, change it up a bit.
Don’t try and do leisure and work all at once, you’ll do neither properly and end up feeling like you’re always working and never rested.
I am not really likening the addition of our toddler to our family to the chaos of a worldwide pandemic. I am merely saying that everything I knew was turned upside down and every way that I had previously worked changed in an instant. Working from home with your child is a great opportunity to share more mealtimes together, show them the things that you do for your job, learn more about what they like to do. The list of positives goes on and on.
You will lose time because you will need to entertain and preferably feed your children throughout the day but don’t forget, you’re not having to leave the house so you’ll claw back literally hours per day because you won’t have to wait for them to put their shoes on.
We have a selection of great resources to support home learning. If you want to find out more about how Beyond are looking to help you, you can check out our ‘school closure’ blog here.