Dr. Jamie Lipp is a University Trainer for Reading Recovery® at The Ohio State University. Here, she shares four tips for educators and caregivers to support their children’s learning at home while balancing working full-time during the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 has affected all of us in a variety of unforeseen ways. Particularly in education, these changes are unfamiliar, unprecedented, and often unimaginable. Thankfully, teachers are flexible and resilient, and many shifts and accommodations have happened, quite literally, overnight. If you have ever wondered if teachers truly are superheroes, these past few weeks have certainly confirmed this!
These immense shifts in education mean big changes for everyone involved, including teachers, students, and caregivers. As a working educator with three children of my own, I have grappled with what to even call what I am doing (or trying to do) here at home. I realize this is not true homeschooling. I also know that actual distance learning is something very different. I have settled on a sentiment I heard recently, that what our children and students are doing at home is “crisis learning,” and teachers are “crisis teaching,” making my role as a mom one of “crisis-teaching support.”
I can confirm that this juggle of being a mom, a caregiver, a supporter of crisis-teaching, all while working a full-time job not meant to be done from home, is very challenging. I’ve seen social media posts of moms who have created lofty homeschool schedules, and even more learning extension opportunities. And there is no shortage of pictures of children actively engaged in learning and fun. I simply feel as if I have no additional time in the day to provide this kind of enrichment. When I say that there have been tears, I don’t mean just from my children, and I know I can’t be alone in feeling this way.
My family is operating in week eight of this new normal. It took me the first few weeks to realize that some things in this house had to shift in order for us to survive. Along the way, I have learned what it looks like to try and meet the educational needs of our children, who span a variety of ages, all while working full-time. My personal experiences may not mirror yours, but I have found that being honest with myself about my situation has helped to create some calm in this storm. My children are 13, 10, and 4 years old, respectively, and they each have very different needs and levels of independence. From the standpoint of an educator, here are some tips that have helped me manage my pandemic juggle that I hope will help you, too.
Organize their academic time around your meetings/work time.
A friend recently asked me what time my children do their schoolwork. I told her I couldn’t give her a set time—the time revolved around my meetings and work responsibilities for the day. I have a demanding, yet fulfilling, full-time job that has become even more demanding now that I am trying to navigate those responsibilities from home. The constant check-ins and online meetings are still on my calendar. Therefore, each day I wake up, I check my calendar first, and carve out time in between my major happenings to devote to supporting my children who are less self-sufficient in completing their school assignments. This requires some support, as detailed in my next suggestion.
Instill responsibility in your older children in different ways.
My older children have learned to write down each of their assignments for the day and place a star beside the ones they think they will need my support with. We can then go through and decide together what they need to work on independently while I am also working, and what will be our focus on the academic time I schedule between my meetings and work responsibilities. This has been a process, but ultimately I feel this has taught them about prioritizing and organizing in a way that is meaningful—so I count that as a win!
My older children are also required to read for a certain amount of time each day. Likewise, it is important for my preschooler to be read to each day, and sometimes I am not available to do so. I believe, reading is reading. Period. Asking my older children to read to their younger sister for periods of time throughout the day ensures that the reading that is so important for each of them is happening. When my boys take turns reading to their sister, they are learning to be responsible, but also learning about caring for another human and forming a bond with their sibling that is especially important during these uncertain times.
Lean on your own version of learning stations for your little ones.
My four-year-old daughter is excited when she wakes up to find the activities I have set out for her in the different rooms of our house. Let me clarify, I am not up late at night cutting and pasting crafts for my daughter to complete while I am working. I simply place different things she likes to do in different areas of the house and change these daily. For example, today I left her playdough out on the kitchen counter. She ate breakfast, and I asked her to make me something pretty using the playdough. In my office, she saw my giant Post-it chart and her basket of markers on the floor, waiting for a drawing of her favorite unicorn. In the living room, her blocks and a few dolls were there, inviting her to build a playground for them. And in the dining room, some construction paper, a glue stick, some stickers, and some cotton balls were on the table. Make any creation of your choice, sweet girl. Do the activities keep her busy all day? No. Do they give her something to do when she gets bored, or when I am not able to be interrupted? Yes. Add some sidewalk chalk in the driveway, and I’ve even scheduled recess for the day!
Let it go!
The work life you had before this pandemic is not going to be feasible right now. You can only give your next best version of productivity. Similarly, the school structure and work ethic your children formerly maintained while attending school now has immense limitations. Once you embrace the realization that everything, including working, schooling, and caregiving, cannot happen simultaneously at 100% efficiency, you will free yourself of a weight that you never should have been carrying. It’s important to remember that we can be kinder to ourselves and simply let things go!
For example, the video-game system serving as technology time for my older boys—let it go. Finding my daughter with a spoon and an ice cream container after a long meeting—let it go. The assignments my teenage son refuses to complete because he is, well, a teenager—let it go. The work email that took two days longer to respond to than usual—let it go. Insert your own examples here—I am sure you have plenty!
One way to help yourself learn to let things go is to schedule brain breaks for everyone involved. When I take five to ten minutes to play a board game with my boys in between my meetings and their schoolwork, we all feel more relaxed. Coloring a quick picture with my daughter or swinging on the swing set helps her feel more connected to me and helps me feel better about the amount of attention I am able to give her at this time. And if all else fails, a quick dance party in the living room can calm everyone’s nerves. Rely on whatever short breaks typically help you and your family relieve stress and let some things go.
Finally, and most important, our children will remember this time at home for many reasons. I have settled on the fact that if I must be all things at once, I have to give myself and my children the gift of grace. I encourage all of you to consider what you read on social media and online, including this post, from the lens of, “Which part(s) of this work for my family and me?” For the parts that don’t make sense for you, forget them. It is never helpful to compare ourselves to other people because no two lives are the same. This juggle will never be perfect, and it will never be easy. But I have hope that it will not be permanent. Some days, it will feel like it is all just too much. Some days, it will be. And other days, you may feel like you’ve figured some things out. That’s called balance, and finding balance is key for any juggling act, including this one we’ve unexpectedly found ourselves part of today. Together, we can get through this.
Image via Jamie Lipp