Since the beginning of 2021, the UK has been in another period of national lockdown, with schools closed to all but vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Parents who work from home are once again walking a tightrope between supervising and providing for their children while trying to keep up with the demands of their job.
Getting the balance right can be tricky and even if it is your choice to home educate, it’s natural to feel stressed about how it’s going to work.
If you are juggling home schooling for your children and working from home, read our 12 tips for managing both easier and more effectively, including advice collected from the best experts in this field; parents themselves!
Start the day on the right foot
It’s tempting to turn off the alarm clock and let everyone stay in their pyjamas until midday, but getting up and aiming to be ready to start work and home learning around the usual time will help you and your child get into the right mindset.
Why not try to be up and dressed by 9am and do a short 10-minute exercise session like skipping, a short run around the block or a YouTube exercise video to get going
Break your schedule into manageable chunks
Figure out the times of day when your child works best and with the least requirement for your input and plan more focused work periods to fit around those times. Breaking your day up into segments and giving your child work that’s within their capabilities will occupy them for that time: for example, half-hour segments with a few quick checks on them.
Establish your workspace
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a dedicated desk at home, so it is quite possible that you and your child will be sharing the same workspace. This can be tricky if you both have lots of paperwork and other resources to spread out.
Try to work out a plan for sharing your space. For example, you could invest in some magazine files, folders, and in-trays to keep your papers and books under control. Think creatively about how you could use the space in the rest of your home, too.
Set daily priorities
It’s unlikely you will be as productive working at home with your child around as you would be in your usual place of work, so every morning take stock of your priorities for the day and draw up a list. You may have you absolutely have to attend, so decide that admin tasks could wait till the end of the day and roll over to the next day if need be.
Having a to-do list of tasks that you can strike off as they’re completed is highly satisfying, and will show you that even if combining work and kids is difficult, you ARE getting things done.
Consider getting your child to draw up a daily list, too, and reward yourselves as tasks are finished, perhaps with a tea (or squash) break.
Set yourself up for phone calls
A prominent stressor when combining home working and schooling will be times when you have to be on the phone or on a video call. Younger children especially may not understand your need to not be disturbed. You can try to minimise interruptions by putting on a movie or handing over your tablet with some age-appropriate games that they won’t need constant help with.
Get your tech in order, too – it’s reasonable to ask your employer to provide the equipment you need to work at home, such as a headset for phone calls.
Chances are that during lockdown, the person at the other end of the phone will also have gotten used to having their kids around and will be sympathetic to distractions or interruptions!
Make sure you take some time out of your working day when you get a chance. This isn’t just for the benefit of your own stress levels, but also to give you time to spend with your child and alleviate some of the guilt that may comes with having to juggle work, schooling and family time.
Support your child’s Learning
It is still possible to support your child’s learning while you’re working from home, even on the busiest days. If there are things they need your help with, get them to write their questions down so you can look at them together when you have a break in your schedule. If that means they can’t finish a task, tell them to move onto the next one and come back to it, or have a break until you’re able to help.
If you’ve chosen to home educate but have a particularly busy day coming up where you can’t give your child as much attention, plan tasks that they find manageable for that day and leave tricky new concepts until you’re less hectic.
If you have a partner who is also working at home, try to share the load. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking one parent’s job is more important than the other’s, but it’s important that you both do your bit.
Make the most of online resources
There are hundreds of online resources and apps that you can make use of, such as The School Run’s daily emails and Learning Journey (find out how to subscribe), the BBC’s brilliant Teach Live library, livestreams and YouTube videos, museums offering virtual tours and educational “trips” and educational TV programmes. These will keep your child entertained and teach them something new while you work.
If you’re feeling stressed about homeworking around your child, just imagine how hard it would have been before the internet!
Plan stress-free meals
‘I’m hungry!’ ‘Can I have a snack?’ ‘What time is lunch?’ It’s likely that these are familiar refrains in your home, and endlessly having to provide food can really interrupt your workflow.
To make things easier, have a plan of what you’re eating each day. You could have a tub for each child with a daily supply of snacks in, and when their box is empty, that’s it for the day. Or make packed lunches the evening before so you don’t have to spend time making sandwiches when you could be working.
The key to balancing home working with schooling is to be flexible in your approach to work. Talk to your employer about whether they need you to do fixed hours, or whether you could cut back your work in the day to be with your child, and catch up in the evening when they’re in bed, or at weekends. If they’re not sure how this will work, ask if you could do a trial period for a week or two and then review it with them.
If you’re self-employed and working to deadlines or have clients to keep happy, be prepared to have those conversations, too: people are generally more understanding if they know there may be delays than if you can’t quite pull it together at the last minute and you don’t deliver on time.
Spotlight childcare during lockdown
Although working from home is a necessity for many parents during lockdown, there may be options available to you that could make the balancing act easier.
- If you have a child aged under 14, you are allowed to form a support bubble with one other household that also has a child under 14 to provide each other with mutual informal childcare. You must stick to the same household each time, and the bubble must only be used for childcare and not for socialising.
- You can also form a support bubble with one other person who lives alone, which may mean you can ask a single grandparent or other relative to help with childcare.
- Check to see whether you’re on the government’s critical workers list. If so, your child is allowed to attend school full-time, and you can also use wrap-around childcare, including childminders.
- The government has said that working parents are eligible to be furloughed for childcare reasons, but this has to be agreed with your employer.
Above all, be kind to yourself
Don’t be disheartened if your child isn’t getting through all their schoolwork, if you’ve had a day where you didn’t have time to provide enriching educational activities, or if you’re letting them spend far more time on screens than you usually would.
Keep in touch with your employer or clients about how you’re managing your workload and discuss whether there are ways to make things easier. And remember to take time out to spend with your child, shift your focus away from work and relax. Half an hour away from your desk for a walk in the sun or playing a board game is essential for your mental health, and will help you feel more equipped for the ongoing balancing act of work, life and kids.