Many people are working from home these days, and for some of us that has created plenty of challenges. We’ve had to adapt our usual routine and, in some cases, our home. For those of us with children who are also staying home, there’s another whole layer of challenges.
Most kids don’t associate school with home, other than homework, of course. In a regular classroom, there’s a teacher and a structured environment to keep them on track. So how do we keep our children from thinking of this time as a really long summer break? How do we make sure they can focus on learning while they’re taking classes at home, so they don’t fall behind?
I recently spoke with Julie Greenberg, who is the founder of Love Fitness and You, an online health and fitness community, and the chief operating officer of True Blue Life Insurance. Julie and her husband, Brian, work together, and since the onset of the pandemic they have been working from home. Although schools were open for a short period of time in the beginning, Julie and Brian chose to keep their six-year-old son, Sam, who’s in first grade, at home.
Julie is a first-year breast cancer survivor and is also undergoing fertility treatment. In addition to making sure that Sam gets the attention he needs during the school day, she continues to virtually coach her health and fitness clients, oversee operations at True Blue, and continues to take care of her family’s needs.
She says it’s not an easy task to keep the family’s two-year-old chocolate lab, Rizzo, and Sam apart during the day, but she and Brian have been able to successfully run their businesses and take on the role of E-learning teachers, all while strengthening their family during this crazy time.
Here’s what Julie has found helps Sam stay focused.
1. Set up your child’s own workstation
You might be tempted to set up a makeshift area in your home for your child to use for online learning, but if it’s in a room the family uses for other purposes or where there’s other activity going on, you could be setting up your child for interruptions. Sam and Rizzo are the best of friends and always want to play. She keeps the dog outside or in a kennel for a few hours while Sam is learning.
Julie said she and her husband tried using the kitchen table, the kitchen island, and the living room couch for Sam to do his schoolwork, but none of those ended up working out.
“Sam just kept getting up for a snack and finding all kinds of other reasons to stay distracted,” Julie said.
In school classrooms, children have their own desk and cubby, so Julie and Brian decided to do the same thing at home. She found an inexpensive desk, and they put in the time to create a setup similar to what Sam would have in a regular classroom.
2. Keep your child in sight
It can be hard enough to get our children to do their homework unsupervised. Expecting them to sit through lessons when there’s nobody around to make sure they’re paying attention just might be too much to ask.
At first, Julie and Brian setup Sam’s workstation in his bedroom, and they both worked in their home office. That didn’t work out so well, though, because Sam constantly lost focus. So, they moved his workstation into their office.
“It’s a tight fit,” Julie told me, “but Sam likes it when we see him working, and he likes to show us what he’s accomplished.”
3. Use headphones to block out noise
We all know how difficult it can be to concentrate on what we’re doing when there are other conversations going on around us. Having music on in the background is one thing, but trying to tune out the TV or what other people are saying is something else.
I asked Julie how she and her husband tackled this problem, because they’re both on the phone a lot while conducting business from home.
“Because we’re all working in a close space, and because Sam’s online classes are often loud, we decided to try having him use headphones,” she said.
“That worked out really well, because the headphones help Sam become completely engrossed in his classes. He isn’t distracted by conversations we’re having on the phone, and we don’t have his online class going on in the background while we’re trying to talk with customers and vendors. It’s definitely a win-win.”
4. Set expectations
A great way to keep children engaged throughout the day is to let them know that if they have a good day of listening and participating, they’ll be rewarded with something they enjoy.
In Sam’s case, Julie put a chart up that shows what he is working toward, to serve as a reminder. For example, she said if he wants iPad time, she puts a picture of the iPad on the chart to remind him that if he has a good day, he’ll get extra time on his iPad.
Setting a goal in this way allows your child to understand that he or she is making the choice to participate in order to receive the reward — or not.
5. Let the small stuff go
Maybe your child has a hard time concentrating. Or, maybe he or she is able to work ahead. As long as the work is getting done and your child is participating when asked, that’s what matters.
“I was getting upset with Sam for not waiting and for working ahead,” Julie said. “Then, I took a deep breath and told myself that he is six, and if he gets his work done and is listening when the teacher calls, that’s all that counts.”
As hard as it is for us parents to want our children to participate and follow along with the teacher, and not work ahead, it happens. That’s okay! It’s a stressful situation for everyone and, as Julie told me, we need to give each other grace.
We just need to do our best.
Find what works for you and your child, and go with it. Experiment with trying a special spot in the house for learning, or using headphones to keep your child engaged and away from distractions, or setting expectations. What works for one child might not be as helpful for another.
“I have realized that my child is more resilient than I am,” Julie admitted to me. “Kids are flexible. They go with the flow. It’s us parents who need to take a step back and breathe.”
The best thing we can do is to stay positive and love our children for the amazing work they are doing. Remember, this too shall pass!