Ask an educator: What should you do now that your kids are at home?

Ask an educator: What should you do now that your kids are at home?

With Michigan's schools closed amid the coronavirus outbreak, here are some tips to balance working, homeschooling and caregiving.

Parenthood. Family. Tired. Dad is having a headache while his little daughter is jumping on the couch at home.
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As schools close and the kitchen table becomes your new office, the reality of working from home while also being a homeschool teacher and caregiver has set in for many parents. This arrangement may last well into April or May and we have to adjust to the new normal of continuing our own lives and being completely and utterly responsible for the little humans that we so lovingly brought into this world just a few short years ago. Based on conversations and emails and my own experience the last few days, I know how overwhelming this can feel. As families adjust to this new normal, I wanted to share some tips and thoughts to help us all thrive through this tough period.

Hang in there and plan only a day or two at a time. This is temporary, even though it feels like it will last forever. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have every moment of every day planned for the next three weeks. Allow yourself some flexibility and plan only what you need to plan. I am personally planning day by day or at the most, two days at time. It’s important that parents look at their own calendars and have solid plans for their children when parents have meetings or deadlines. While the first week may have been full of cancelled meetings and appointments as everyone adjusted, eventually the world will go on and we can expect to have similar demands on our time as we had before these restrictions were put into place. It’s important, then, that parents do plan ahead for those times they absolutely need to work. If there are two parents working from home, perhaps you can partner up and plan to each attend to the children for 90 minutes to two hours at a time while the other works for that period.

Create some sort of daily schedule. This type of outline for the day does not have to be super detailed or color-coded and does not have to include equal amounts of time for every subject area. It is a way to allot time for all of the important things that need to get done in a given day. Having a schedule just sets a common set of expectations and sense of accountability for everyone in the household. If you can, involve your children in helping you create a daily schedule so that they feel as though it’s their schedule and are invested in its execution. Review the schedule and change it every so often to add some variety. A schedule can help everyone feel more connected and grounded in the plans for the day so that everyone has confidence that whatever needs to get done is getting done. It also ensures that things like meals, outdoor time and physical activity are included, and that the entire day does not get eaten up by Instagram and Netflix.

Ensure that students are keeping up with whatever schools are asking them to do. Most schools are offering online access to students with some offering daily lessons by video and video conferencing. Schools are doing this because they want to ensure that student learning continues, and most schools will hold students accountable for the work assigned during this break. Teachers are spending several hours a day preparing materials for students (anyone who thinks they are getting a break is wrong!) and they expect, rightly, their effort to be reciprocated. Keeping up becomes even more important to remember for high school students who are building their transcript for college. While this crisis will certainly be considered when colleges evaluate student transcripts, they will also consider grades and GPA. Some students may view this as “time off,” when in reality, it is just the opposite. While it seems like forever now, a few weeks off in one year of school is a relatively short period of time when one considers the 160 weeks or so spent in high school. While SATs and ACTs are being cancelled or rescheduled, the College Board is considering ways to allow students to take AP exams virtually, as those begin in early May. It’s imperative that students continue to stay on pace and use the many resources provided to help them learn. As far as younger students go, they too should keep up with what schools are asking them to do. It is not yet known if federally mandated state testing (MSTEP), scheduled to begin the week of April 13, will still occur in Michigan. More than 10 other states have already cancelled their testing and Michigan has requested a waiver from the US Department of Education to cancel as well. Until other news comes out, students should assume that they will take the MSTEP in April. Again, following the guidelines and expectations from schools helps as does taking advantage of the resources provided.

Use this time to observe and listen to your children and strengthen your family bonds. Too often, we are all too busy to just relax and let things happen naturally. As parents, we are constantly directing our children and rushing them to fit into our carefully created, tightly packed schedule. Even family dinners are hard to come by on a regular basis, as we are all so busy and trying to pack as much as we can into a 24-hour day. Use this time at home to relax and watch how your children behave in their “natural” state. It’s also a great opportunity for your children to see what you do and learn more about you. Allow them some independence and try not to direct their every move (one way a schedule can help). There may be times when you and your child are working together at the kitchen table and those are the exact type of conditions in which you can have natural conversations. The one new resource we may now have during this crisis is time; use it to strengthen your relationship with your children. Maybe you can work out together or dig out old family albums or videos and look back at memories your family has created together. These types of activities may spur conversations about family history and events that you may not have had the chance to tell your children yet. I learned this from my relatives who were confined to their home during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. They spent a lot of that time sharing stories with each other from their childhood and it both comforted them to remember happy times and helped them understand each other even more.

Don’t drink too much wine. I’m serious. It’s tempting…but keep consumption in check.

Practice social distancing, please, and ensure your children do too. Many people are not taking social distancing seriously, maybe because they assume that because they were not in contact with people known to haveCOVID-19 or in places where spread is confirmed, they are not carriers. Some of the information shared on social media and WhatsApp is also suggesting that we do not need to take these precautions. All I can say is that our entire country is not on hold for no reason. In order to return to normal as quickly as possible, we all need to do our part to slow down the spread of this virus and not be carriers. While it’s hard and is going to get harder as time passes to keep our distance from friends and family, we have to lead by example. Our kids are watching us and we need to show them that we are behaving in a responsible manner. This behavior will shape their future behavior if they are ever put in this type of situation in the future. It also underscores that we are all one society and need to protect those who are more vulnerable, like the elderly and ill. Parents must recognize that these are not like snow days and should not allow play dates, group study sessions or any kind of socializing until this period of social distancing is over. We know that anyone, regardless of age or symptoms, can be a carrier and the last thing we want is to lengthen this period of disruption.

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