As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, more than 121,000 schools across the U.S. have closed, and thousands of parents are trying to balance the demands of transitioning to remote work, with the added pressures of homeschooling and childcare.
If the reality of working from home alongside your kids seems daunting, you're not alone. Here are a few ways to make the experience less stressful.
The first challenge many parents are facing is how to explain the pandemic to their children, particularly given the uncertainty over how long it may last.
IT Director, Jeff Fischer, found social distancing has been especially hard for his 16-year-old, who wants to socialize with friends after completing his school work.
The exact information that parents give their children will differ depending on their age, but first and foremost, it's important to talk with them about what's happening, have empathy about the situation, and discuss silver linings regularly.
Stefany Sanders, director of marketing and digital strategy and mother to six- and eight-year-old boys, says it's important to be flexible and find ways to facilitate social connection. Her family found this in an unlikely place: Xbox Live.
"As a strict anti-video game family, we conceded and ordered an Xbox on day three of social distancing," Sanders says with a laugh. "With a bit of set up and coordination, they get to escape their responsibilities after a long homeschool day, and can engage with friends in a new way – even reconnecting with a favorite cousin in Texas."
Human Resources Consultant, Melody Austin, has implemented a standing reading time with the grandmothers of her eight-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, via Facebook Messenger.
"The kids are so proud to not only show off their reading skills, but also virtual learning assignments," remarks Austin. "For instance, my eight-year-old son couldn't wait to show off his PowerPoint presentation on the San Diego Zoo. It also gives me a set time each day to get some uninterrupted work done."
Children are more likely to thrive with predictable and consistent routines at home. Using their regular school schedule as a starting point, Michael Charlton, academic programs manager, sets a daily agenda for his six-year-old son that not only provides structure but also accounts for the time he'll need to be distraction-free.
Alternatively, Business Analyst, Byron Harrison, gives his 14- and 16-year-old sons the autonomy to structure their days, and adjusts schedules as needed.
Assistant Director of Marketing, Chris Walker, has found that it's helpful for his 15- and 17-year-old daughters to have their own dedicated spaces for homeschooling, and Yvonne McKinnon, academic advisor, encourages her 15-year-old daughter to stay well-rested and keeps the TV off to prevent any distractions.
In addition to identifying and protecting key times in the day for children and work, Yakut Gazi, associate dean for learning systems, advises you to be upfront about expectations with yourself, your team, and your kids. "I made a commitment not to participate in meetings before 9 a.m., during lunchtime, and after 4 p.m. so there's time to check on my 10-year-old daughter and be a parent."
Stephen Fain, marketing manager and father to twin two-year-old boys, also agrees. "Give yourself and your colleagues grace. You can do everything to create the best remote environment and things will still go wrong – and that's OK."
While individual work circumstances vary, you may rely more on shows and games to complement your working time, especially if you don't have anyone else at home to help. This temporary adjustment to screen-time is normal, and you can also use it as an opportunity to teach in a format that's fun and engaging.
Take advantage of high-quality streamed content, such as podcasts, audiobooks, or educational documentaries. Additionally, hundreds of zoos, aquariums, and museums across the country are live-streaming programming geared specifically for kids, like zoo cams, virtual field trips, and dance classes. Some of our staff's favorites have included the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee Project hive inspection, Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems, Pixar in a Box, and STEAM from a distance.
Although you may feel pressured to overextend yourself, it's important to take breaks. For younger kids who may need more one-on-one guidance, set aside short blocks of time where you can focus solely on them.
Your partner can also be a great source of support. Shannon Helton-Amos, marketing communications manager and mother to four-year-old Ava, has found alternating shifts can make working remotely a lot easier. "My husband started working early this morning, while I got Ava ready," she said. "This allowed him a longer uninterrupted work block and the flexibility to switch shifts with me later in the day."
Don't forget that your children will need breaks, too. Harrison encourages his sons to exercise outside for at least 30 minutes a day, while Charlton implemented a standing workout hour before lunchtime, and regularly walks around the neighborhood with his son and 10-month-old daughter.
While navigating the transition to full-time remote for both the parent and child may seem daunting, there's also some added benefits. Walker and his family are now eating dinner together every night, Harrison has noticed that his mornings are less hectic, and Sanders is celebrating her family's ability to adapt and persevere.
"The prospect of being responsible for maintaining my kids education, along with my own job and team, felt impossible at first," admits Sanders. "Regular prep and guidance, along with a gentler mindset, has helped me find a better balance. Plus, my boys have mastered the bike and scooter in less than a week."
Fortunately, the staff at Georgia Tech Professional Education have had some experience working remotely with kids in the home. From babies to toddlers and teenagers, they shared their best tips and resources to help you navigate this new normal.