Thursday 19 March 2020

Help - how can I survive with the children at home!

My blogs tend to be about library and reading-related things but in these rather strange times I thought I’d pass on a few tips about coping with having children at home for an extended period, and how to help both them and you maintain your sanity and sense of perspective. I’m not going to post a list on online resources, social media is full of these (so many that my head is spinning – and thanks to everyone who is putting stuff out there for people to use), this is more of a “how to” list. It relates more to younger children but will also help those having to deal with teens as well:
* Structure your day. I know from working at home how important this is. If you don’t then the day will just wander away and everyone will get fed-up, bored and rather disheartened very quickly. Children are also used to (and like) structure; it gives them a sense of security. This is important for young children but applies to older ones as well; those that are used to “doing their own thing” in the holidays, and being out and about with friends. Don’t forget, when they are at school their day is organised.

* The easiest way to do this is to break the day down into timed slots and allocate activities for each one. They don’t have to be detailed at this stage, just an indication of whether it’s going to be learning activities, creative time, quiet time, screen time, etc. Keep it simple; if you make it too complicated you are unlikely to stick to it. Depending on the age of your children, these could be 30 minute or 1 hour slots. Or you could follow their school timings.

·        * Then – plan what you want to do for the week. This is where you allocate specific topics and ideas into each slot. If you’ve been given activities, a curriculum, etc. from school use them. Make sure you set goals and give rewards too. And mix it up a bit for variety. Planning what you want to do in advance will save you having to think “what shall we do next”. Have more activities organised than you think you’ll need – children often take less time to do things than you think they will. And if they don’t show any interest in what you’ve got planned you have a back-up.

·       *  It doesn’t all have to be “traditional education”. Children learn through play. They learn by helping you make cakes, by playing with water and different sizes of containers, by playing games. Life will still need to go on around them being home (ie: washing, cleaning, cooking) so involve them.

·        * One of the best pieces of advice I ever read (which stopped me stressing) was that if you give a child a chore to do, remember they can only do it according to their level not yours. So, for example, if you ask them to dust they may not do it quite the same way as you. Eliminate unnecessary tasks. Yes, bathrooms and kitchens need to be clean but this isn’t the time to defrost the freezer or worry about washing the windows. It can all wait!

·        * Don’t try and fit everything into one week. You may have to prioritise the core subjects and leave others on the back burner for now. It’s important for younger children to maintain literacy skills (research shows that these drop during the long summer break) so read, read, read … and then read some more. Note - reading doesn’t have to be story books – recipes, instructions, information books, it’s all good practice.

·        * Also remember, you’re not expected to be an expert in every subject they’re studying. It’s okay to say you don’t know something or don’t understand. Find out the answer together (one of the things I loved about being a school librarian was how I was always learning something new thanks to random questions from students). Let them explain things to you – this is a great way of reinforcing what they’ve learnt.

·        * If you have children of different ages at home it can be hard. The younger children often want to do the same as the older ones but they don’t have the equivalent skills or expertise. The temptation is to give the older children worksheets and devote time to their younger siblings. But all your children need some time and attention from you. Why not involve the older children in some of the activities? For example, they could act as “reading buddies” – reading to younger children or listening to them read. Think about activities that they can all do at their individual level or games that are based on luck rather than skill. Also, if it's possible try to give them some time-out from each other.

·        * However – stay flexible! It’s your schedule so you can change it. The idea is to give you some sort of aim and guidance for the day/week but if you’ve had a bad night, if everyone suddenly feels a little bit wobbly, take time out, cuddle up under a blanket and watch a feel-good film or read a book.

·        * Make sure you build in some break times. If it’s dry and you have a garden, get outside. If you live in an area where you can go for walks, do that. Cycling is another option. Fresh air and being outdoors is good for wellbeing. Have the break times after some desk work so the children can burn off some energy. Any sort of vigorous exercise (depending on your circumstance) is probably best in the afternoon when they will have had enough of being indoors and sitting still. Limit snacks to break times – and make sure they understand this – otherwise they’ll be asking for food all day. 

·        * Set up a workspace and use it every day. People who work from home have desks; I know when I sit at mine my brain switches into "work” mode. If I’m lounging on the sofa in PJs this doesn’t happen (or, what is more likely, making the mistake of picking up my latest book first thing in the morning before I’ve even got out of bed). Have all the necessary materials close at hand so that you’re not spending time trying to find them. Get a couple of boxes to store everything in – it will make your life easier and less stressful.

·        * If you have to work from home AND home-educate children accept that your productivity is going to be lower. This won’t work with young children; it might work with older ones but they will still need some sort of direction and input from you. Keep things in perspective. This is not going to last indefinitely; enjoy the opportunity you have to spend more time together. Remember that feeling of "it's never going to be the same again" when they started school? Now you've got a chance to grab some of that special time back. 

·        * Screen time! This is likely to be where you have your biggest arguments. It’s going to be hard but it will be better for them, for all sorts of reasons, to limit it. A lot of what is available and what the school sends for them to do will be online. During a normal school day they would not be spending this much time looking at a screen so letting them chill with the iPad or in front of Netflix wouldn’t have the same effect. However, if they are spending all day doing screen work and then spending downtime in front of screens, there will be no balance. Try to mix up screen activities with creative and practical activities. If you don’t have enough computers for all the family then sort out a rota. And make sure you don’t spend all day on your phone yourself.

·        * Finally – if you have younger children and you’ve just had enough – stick them in the bath! Mine were always so amazed at having a bath in the middle of the day that they would play for hours! Doesn’t quite work the same for older children although you could always set it up as a spa with candles, chillout music and a good book!