If you’re stuck with kids at home due to self-isolation, embracing social distancing, or because you’re on a COVID-19 lockdown, I know it can be maddening and difficult and frustrating and you feel like you have to entertain them ALL THE TIME, while you have better things to do, especially if you’re also trying to work from home.
As someone who’s been home educating my 9 year old son since the he was 4 (that is, he’s never been to school), but also as someone who craves the freedom and the quiet time every now and again (hello, fellow introverts), I know a thing or two about managing a child at home with staying sane and getting work done.
This little guide will hopefully help you stay sane, too (and maybe even get some work done).
Create good boundaries
Working from home with kids around can be difficult, there’s no two ways about it.
Depending on their age and general agreeability, you may be able to carve out some me-time or work-time. I’m honestly the worst at keeping consistent boundaries (but hey, I’m learning!) but I know if I have a conference call or an urgent deadline I can lock myself in the home office for an hour or so, brief my 9 year old not to disturb me and trust that he won’t – so long as he can get busy with a virtual playdate (see below) or some screen time.
I often find that having a very short window of time in which I have to get things done motivates me enormously and stops procrastination, and I don’t need the whole 9-5 day to cross things off my to-do list.
If your children are younger, it might not be as easy to leave them alone for extended periods of time. You’d have to create boundaries with your partner and alternate working and looking after the children.
Manage your expectations
If you have to work from home around kids whilst on lockdown or in self-isolation, please lower your expectations on how much actual work you’d be able to do (especially if you’re a single parent, or have very young children). Kids are kids and they will act like kids, and while it’s okay for them to get bored (see below), we should not expect them to go without interacting with us for hours on end. Plus, let’s face it, you’ll have to feed them too sometimes! :)
My advice is to embrace bullet journalling and the Pomodoro Technique. Write down lists of things to do the evening before, and mark three most important things you have to achieve the following day (yes, just three). Work in short chunks of time and forget multi-tasking – concentrating just on one thing at a time for 15-20 minutes will give you better results than trying to do it all in an hour. If you are working as part of a team, keep them updated on your availability and progress – that’s pretty much all of us can do right now.
Ultimately, you might just have to accept that you won’t get as much done with little kids around. And that’s okay – it won’t be forever.
Temporarily embrace home education
Note that I’ve used the term “home education”, not “home schooling” – simply because learning can happen without a school, and quite often very organically.
I know this is probably not what you have planned and it’s inconvenient and quite a bit overwhelming. But the good news is that you don’t have to recreate school at home. You don’t have to make your kids sit at desks, follow the curriculum, create lesson plans, or “teach” them like a teacher would in a classroom.
By law in the UK, the parents have to provide their children with education that is suitable to their age and ability “at school or otherwise”, but the law doesn’t really specify how that education needs to happen. There are lots of different approaches to home education, ranging from formal lesson plans to complete unschooling.
My own approach to home education is somewhere in-between, as I believe learning can happen through everyday interactions like playing, cooking, going to the shops, museums, reading, and even playing computer games (in fact, my son taught himself to read through a combination of us reading books every day and playing video games and being desperate to read and write commands).
I believe that in the majority of cases you can let kids just be kids for a couple of weeks, but I do know that everyone has their own approach and it’s fine. You’ll find some of our everyday activities that pack a lot of learning without sitting at a desk, as well as links to online educational platforms below, but feel free to reach out if you have any questions at all.
Let them get bored
Honestly, it’s okay. You don’t need to come up with lesson plans or activities to keep them enternained for days on end. It’s okay for them to veg out on a sofa for a while and eventually come up with a way to entertain themselves.
Embrace online education
We are in the 21st century, and there’s an endless amount of free and paid educational resources online. Here are some of the best:
- Khan Academy: great for maths and computing for all ages.
- Futurelearn: free to access 100s of courses on a wide range of subjects.
- Seneca: free revision content at GCSE or A level.
- Blockly: learn computer programming skills – fun and free.
- Scratch: creative computer programming
- Ted Ed: engaging educational videos on a wide range on topics
- National Geographic Kids: activities and quizzes for younger kids.
- Mystery Science: free science lessons – upgrade to a paid account for more in-depth material
- The Kids Should See This: smart videos for curious minds of all ages
- Crash Course: YouTube videos on wide variety of subjects
- Tinkercad: all kinds of making and 3D-modelling app
- Nature Detectives: lots of these activities can be done in a garden, so it’s lockdown-friendly!
- The Artful Parent: freat free art activities
- CodeKingdoms: learn to code using Roblox and Minecraft
- Code Camp World: free online coding lessons
- Outschool: small group classes usually done via Skype with teachers and experts worldwide.
- I Wonder (with Stampy): an animated series with YouTuber Stampy that explores how the world works. It’s really very good!
- Free Ivy League Schools courses: a list of 450 free online courses from Ivy League schools
Many creators have come out with free daily content for the kids (and grown ups) since the lockdown, among those are:
Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of your usual streaming services. We have recently watched National Geographic’s One Strange Rock on Netflix (it’s now moved to Disney+) and both my 9 year old and I have enjoyed it immensely. The interactive You vs Wild with Bear Grills, also on Netflix, is entertaining and educational at the same time as you help Bear survive in the wilderness.
Read every day
Not only it’s a great family activity, but it is also very educational. Read to your kids and with your kids. Read comics and picture books and reference books, whatever gets them reading it’s fine (for example, my 9 year old son has randomly taken to signing through the list of 1000 Things That Go which is a picture book for very young children – but it’s fun for him and he practices his reading and singing at the same time). You can also listen to audiobooks (you and the kids) if you need a little break from talking (like I often do).
Here are some of our favourite books right now that cover a lot of different age groups and interests:
- all of the “Oi” series, starting from Oi Frog
- all of the “Rabbit and Bear” seris, starting from Rabbit’s Bad Habits
- The WIld Robot and The Wild Robot Escapes
- Stories for Kids Who Dare to Be Different
- Big Ideas for Curious Minds: An Introduction to Philosophy
- Feelings: Inside my heart and in my head
- The Element in the Room: Investigating the Atomic Ingredients that Make Up Your Home
- The Catsup High Detective Agency
- Politics for Beginners
- Choose Your Own Adventure books
- The Magic of Reality (I bought it for myself, my then 8-year old embraced it)
Listen to podcasts
We love listening to podcasts! We listen mostly during driving, but if I were stuck at home for days on end those would definitely come out. I personally find podcasts great for an hour or so of quiet time for myself!
OUR FAVORITE PODCASTS INCLUDE:
- Brains On! Science Podcast for Kids
- What If World – Stories for Kids
- Smash Boom Best
- Forever Ago
- But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids
- Marvellous Musical Podcast with David Walliams
- Fun Kids Science Weekly
- The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian
Play – a lot
Education at home means plenty of play – that’s how children learn best anyway. Play board games and card games, hide and seek games and ball games in the garden, build elaborate structures with Lego, create box forts, and conduct science experiments in the kitchen.
HERE ARE SOME OF OUR FAVOURITE BOARD AND PUZZLE GAMES:
- Monopoly Cheaters Edition (8+)
- Colour Code (5+ but great even for adults)
- Uno Emoji (7+)
- Story Cubes (3+)
- Doggy Go! (6+)
- The Game of Life (5+)
- Rings Up (6+)
- Rush Hour (8+)
- Bus Stop (4+)
Computer games count, too! That old Wii console can be a fun time to spend an afternoon connecting with the kids through virtual bowling, and it’s so easy to spend hours creating stop-motion animations with Stick Bots. And giving them an hour or so on Minecraft could give you a much-needed respite and is educational for them, too (it’s math, and coding, and science, all in one).
Host virtual playdates
It know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but virtual playdates are big in our house (hello, 21st century!). My son can Skype his real-life friends and join a Minecraft realm (it’s about £5/month but you can get a couple of weeks free trial) where they can build whole cities together, come up with lots of other games, or just be silly together!
This really embraces the social side of gaming as they can talk, learn teamwork and even conflict resolution. You can keep this very safe by only inviting people you know “in real life” to your realm, and keeping an eye on their interactions (you can take turns with the other parents). This has been a game changer for me (pun unintended!) and has been one of the ways I’m able to get on with quite a lot of work these days.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your kids is to eat healthily during the lockdown, and cook from scratch. I’m not big on cooking but even I can whizz up a vitamin-C boosting smoothie (stock up on frozen fruits berries or freeze your own) or roast some veggies in the oven. Drink plenty of fluids, eat lots of fuit and veg, make ginger tea, and boost your immune system with elderberry syrup.
Move your body!
If you can get yourself to a large open space or a wood, go for a walk. You’re going to get a lot of fresh air, it’s easy to keep a 1-2m distance from everyone else, kids will have a run around and burn up some energy, and your endorphin levels are bound to go up. Not to mention that fresh air is good for your immune system as a whole!
If you can’t get out, open up your windows for fresh air and try practicing some yoga or qigong at home, or show off your crazy dance moves to some music – kids can join in too! Try Cosmic Kids Yoga or Go Noodle together with your little ones.
Give each other space
Using this opportunity to spend time together as a family is great, but we all need some alone time to recharge our inner batteries – particularly if you’re an introvert. This goes back to establishing boundaries – if you feel like you need to retreat and not talk to anyone for a bit, say so. Even my 9 year old now understands that sometimes mummy needs to be left alone (and I did explain the whole introvert/extravert thing to him) and for the most part, he can respect that.
Go on a social media detox
While staying informed is important, too much news or social media can drive anxiety and depression, and that’s the last thing you need when you’re stuck inside. Delete social media apps from your phone (you can still check in on your computer), or put a time limit on how much you can use them and when (most smartphones come with this function build in). Check news once a day if you have to, but never first thing in the morning or the last thing at night.
Enjoy the slower pace of life
Trust me, they won’t fall behind or unlearn anything. So enjoy slower mornings and more time together. It’s so easy to get frustrated and resent this forced seclusion but try to find joy in this unhurried pace and see this an opportunity to forster deeper connection with your kids. Lazy mornings in your PJs and cooking breakfast from scratch together, solving a puzzle or having a cuddle while watching a favourite TV show could just end up some of your favourite moments of this whole COVID-19 nightmare.