As California and the rest of the nation settle in for a long haul of staying “safe at home,” the novelty of homeschooling has worn off for many parents as they juggle keeping their kids engaged academically while, at the same time, trying to do their own work from a makeshift home office.
Wendy Murawski, executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair of the Center for Teaching and Learning at California State University, Northridge, said she shares parents’ pain, and she offers some research-based strategies to keep the stress level down and help parents keep their children on track.
“Just as businesses are trying to figure out how to sustain their work by renegotiating how things are done in the corporate world, so too must parents renegotiate how things are done in the household,” said Murawski, also a special education professor in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education. She added that she, too, is working from home with a husband, a teenager, a dog, a cat and “some very well-behaved fish.”
Among the first steps Murawski recommends parents take is to set aside the more rigid routines of only a couple weeks ago and allow for different sleep and work schedules.
“If someone is an early riser or a night owl, both are acceptable as long as it works with the family’s overall schedule,” she said. “This new working from home can allow some parents to do their best work early in the morning as children sleep in. As long as there is an agreed-upon schedule so that sleeping in doesn’t become a day in bed, that different sleeping schedule may be a blessing in disguise.”
She suggested that everyone in the household create a schedule, keeping it flexible but relatively consistent.
“Decide what time everyone in the house needs to be up by, but remember to be okay with that being later than a typical workday,” she said, adding that parents should help their children create their own schedules.
Families should also remember to keep physically and mentally healthy. Murawski suggested creating a gym in the garage or scheduling regular times to walk the dog or run around the block, as well as creating “brain breaks” from coursework to kick around a soccer ball, read for fun or color.
“Parents need brain breaks too,” she added. “They shouldn’t feel guilty — the idea for brain breaks is research-based.”
Murawski said parents should be “crafty.”
“Most of us, during normal times, lament the lack of time at home to do projects,” she said. “While we still have our work schedule — and in fact, for some this is even a busier time — consider how some projects may be worked on by multiple members of the household. Create lists of large and small projects that can be done on weekends, in evenings or even during ‘no screen’ times.
“Many parents who homeschool their children have been doing this for years,” she said. “Identify projects that need to be done and make it a teaching moment. Build something and teach measurement; research something together and review writing skills. Look at your child’s curriculum and see if you can come up with a creative way to help teach it.”
She also suggested creating a “genius hour,” one hour when your children can take a deep dive into a special area of interest.
Murawski reminded parents that children of all ages are used to a school day that helps them manage transitions, teachers who tell them when to change activities and bells that ring to signal the end of class periods.
“Rather than being frustrated with the need to keep your child engaged, build in strategies to support that need,” she said, pointing to alarms that can be set on smart phones and clocks. “Build a visual schedule so that your child is aware of how the day will go. Set specific times that you, as the parent, will be taking a break to talk, answer questions, make lunch and so forth.
“Being able to stay focused and motivated for a short time and to identify what you will accomplish during that time will be helpful to both parents and children,” she added. “Compare your results, and consider even making it a competition.”
Murawski said parents should not forget to tap into online resources.
“This may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t forget that most of your resources are now online,” she said. “That means parents can hire virtual tutors and virtual babysitters, and students can engage with online mentors. Many families are also supporting one another by setting up ‘it takes a village’ schedules; one parent facilitates an online ‘playdate’ with multiple children on Zoom one day, while another parent facilitates it on a different day.”
For parents worried about getting their work done with eight hours of “Mom, mom, mom, mom?!” Murawski suggested identifying an office space for each individual in the household.
“Let children create their own offices — which may look suspiciously like forts with pillows and blankets and chairs,” she said. “If you are sharing a table, set up manila folders to create the illusion of a cubicle. Give up the idea of having a home that is visitor-ready. The goal right now is living together peacefully, not having a spic-and-span room.”
She also suggested creating a system to help children identify when it’s okay to approach their working parents, and when they need to hold their questions until mom or dad are no longer busy.
If parents are having trouble motivating their children, she suggested creating a game in which they accrue points for finishing certain tasks. Those points can be cashed in for additional video game or screen time, snacks, friend time, something else the child desires or even time with their parents.
Lastly, Murawski reminded parents not to forget to laugh.
“We need to laugh, to love and to reconnect with the best within ourselves,” she said. “Take time to look at funny YouTube videos; send jokes to one another; watch a funny movie; play a game together,” she said. “Use the time to connect meaningfully, but also remember the old adage: ‘Humor is the best medicine.’”
A complete list of Murawski’s suggestions can be found on the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development website at https://inservice.ascd.org/strategies-for-staying-sane-while-staying-home/.