Back to School: Staying Organized (and Sane) in the Time of Coronavirus
“So, I could do math after dinner?” our youngest son asked. You could see the wheels turning in all their heads. Each test of our new scheduling proposal became a little more silly than the one that came before. Finally, our middle child asked, “So, I could play video games all morning and do my schoolwork after lunch?”
“Not all morning, but sure, if you want to play video games in the morning that would be up to you,” was our response. We answered all their questions in the affirmative, which went a long way to ease the stress we introduced just minutes before.
You see, we just told them that we would be keeping them home for the start of the next school year. We are lucky to be able to have that option as both my wife and I work from home. Figuring that everyone is stressed and nervous about getting back into the classroom, we thought it would be best not to burden the system if we didn’t have to. We know many parents don't have the option to keep their kids at home; it's either they homeschool or they work, but not everyone can do both. So we made the tough call to keep our kids home for the time being and do at-home learning through our local school. It was going to take some work to sell the idea to our kids, however...
The Struggle of At-Home Learning
At-home learning toward the end of the last school year was hard. Hard for our kids, hard for us as parents, and hard for teachers, too. Nobody had time to prepare for what the education experience would be like once we were all required to stay at home. Things could have been better, for sure, but this post is not about looking backwards, it’s about looking forward.
How do we do better (and stay sane) in this upcoming semester, where many schools are offering a hybrid system, with at least some days consisting of all at-home learning? But let's look even further; how do we do better anytime the kids are at home for an extended period of time: a long weekend, winter break, summer break, etc. (or god forbid, if we ever have to face another wave of this pandemic or another)?
Turning Tears into Excitement over At-Home Learning
With these questions in mind, let's get back to our proposal to the kids. How did we turn tears into, dare I say, excitement about another who knows how many more months of learning from home? There are countless other posts out there with advice for distance/at-home learning: keeping a routine, setting up a dedicated learning space, and showing empathy to your kiddos.
Those pieces of advice are all great things, but we took a different angle to our challenge. We wanted to be able to take this time that we have with our kids and give them something that they wouldn’t necessarily be getting in a traditional, in-class experience. What could we teach them that would work for this school year, next winter break, next summer, and even their first job?
So we put our heads together and decided that we will be putting our kids (10, 8, and 6) in charge of creating and managing their own schedules and completing their weekly responsibilities. Independence and time management skills are the lessons that we are going to really focus on during this uncertain time.
We’re not genius mathematicians, scientists, or anything else really - but we are (sometimes) capable adults. Capable of planning our work days and maintaining work commitments; capable of making sure that we take time for each other; and capable of mixing in time to rest, restore, and reflect. So despite being just "parents" and not necessarily teachers, perhaps we can teach them something after all.
So after the initial set of silly questions from the kids, we got their buy-in and decided to start testing out our plan the very next day.
Creating a Daily, Balanced Schedule
The kids have learned a few lessons so far in our trial run. For instance, our daughter planned way too many chore blocks in her schedule, but, hey, the house got cleaned that day; our middle child was able to figure out that an hour of reading was probably 30 minutes too long for his comfort and attention span; and our youngest was able to communicate with us that he needed a break from school-focused work to, “just play with [his] toys.”
They adjusted their plans and felt empowered to do so.
Now, it’s not a 100% free-for-all. There are some requirements for their day: a max on screen-time, mandated time for them to play together, chores have to get done (see our Family Responsibilities Notepad), active/outside time, planned meal times, and, of course, all their school work needs to get done. Other than that, the time is theirs to plan. And as an added bonus, when we do manage to get help from a babysitter for the day, there is a nice plan for them to follow - making life easier for all involved and ensuring that our kids are appropriately tired from a day of balanced activities when the sitter leaves.
I would count our little trial so far a success and I can’t wait to report back to you later on in the school year with how things are going.
In the meantime, if you’d like to try something similar at home, we’ve made our At-Home Schedule and Family Responsibilities charts into handy notepads! They have been an immense help in our journey in keeping us organized as a family. Pre-order starts today!