10 tips for effectively working from home with kids
Here's how to keep your new colleagues from disrupting your workflow
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In an effort to try and curb the spread of COVID-19, 33 states have closed public schools and many employers across the country have told employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. That leaves 32.5 million students out of the classroom and parents to wonder how they’ll work from home with kids.
My 7-year-old daughter’s school is one of the 64,000 public schools shutting its doors for several weeks due to coronavirus. I’ve been working from home with kids for a couple of years now, and before I called my house my office, my husband successfully did it for five years, too.
Balancing work and childcare isn’t always a walk in the park but don’t lose hope, because it can be done. You’ve got to manage expectations, keep everything moving, all while not losing your cool and staying on top of your workload. It’s not to say there won’t be some trying moments over the weeks to come, but there are ways you can make working from home with kids easier.
1. Create a daily schedule to display in your home
Creating a schedule for your household can provide some stability and structure when you’re working from home with kids, and, most importantly, manage everyone’s expectations for a productive day. Looking for ways to save time during the day? Things like making lunches in the morning, before you get busy with work, can help free up time later in the afternoon for you to get more done.
Start planning your schedule at the time you wake up each day, blocking off time for meals, activities, and when you’ll be working and in meetings. Many kids thrive on a routine to help them know what’s up next on the agenda. And, hopefully, it will keep them from bombarding you with repeat questions of “Are you done working yet?” and “I’m bored. When can you play with me?”
Display your household’s hour-by-hour daily rundown on a large chalkboard in the kitchen, where everyone at home can see what comes next. In addition to your kids, the structure of having the day planned out may also give you some peace of mind during the 24-7 news cycle.
2. Stock your pantry full of easy-to-eat snacks
By now, you’ve probably stockpiled a hearty supply of household essentials as part of your coronavirus prep. However, snacks are crucial to surviving working from home with kids. If your kids are anything like mine, it seems like they never stop eating, and you don’t want anyone getting hangry in the middle of a work call. Pre-packaged snacks are an easy way for kids to grab a snack of their own when you’re on-the-job. I keep several acrylic storage bins on the bottom shelf of our pantry stocked with grab-and-go goodies.
3. Make sure to have the best tablet for kids on hand
During these trying times, our usual screen time limits are going out the window. Everyone is sure to have different feelings about this topic, but I’m not above letting my 7-year-old play on her tablet for an extended period of time while I get some work done. However, I am making sure that she’s not rotting her brain, watching endless hours of YouTube videos.
Apps like Epic Books, a giant library of popular kids books, Go Noodle, which offers “web-based videos, games, and activities focused on introducing short bursts of physical exercise in the classroom,” and Cosmic Kids Yoga, which offers kid-friendly yoga exercise videos and poses, are options you can feel good about letting your kids spend extra time with while you work.
If you’re looking for the best tablet for kids, we love the Amazon Fire 8 Kids Edition (2018) because it’s easy to set up, simple to use, and comes with so many pre-installed apps and videos it would take some time for your child to grow tired of it.
4. The best headphones for kids so you can tune out the noise
Of course, if your child won’t leave your side while they’re playing on their tablet, make sure to have a pair of the best headphones for kids on hand to save your own sanity while you’re trying to work. The Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet Kids Headphones come with noise-cancellation to help reduce the urge to crank the volume to the absolute max.
Though volume-limiting headphones are critical for protecting your child's hearing, the recommended max of 85dB(a) simply isn't very loud. These headphones help solve that by further cutting down ambient noise for kids—and cuts the noise for you entirely as you work from home.
5. A subscription to Disney+
You may have seen the headlines that Disney released Frozen 2 on Disney+ ahead of schedule, knowing that many kids are home from school right now. If you don’t have Disney+ yet, there’s no time like the present to sign up for Disney’s streaming service so they can watch their favorite Disney movies like "Coco," "Finding Nemo," "Toy Story 4," and more. Younger children can enjoy their favorite Disney Jr. shows like "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," "Doc McStuffins," "Puppy Dog Pals," "PJ Masks," and more. Sometimes you just have to let them watch TV so you can get a few things done, and that’s more than OK.
6. Outdoor play toys to keep them busy
Summer is coming—and if you live in a warm weather climate with some backyard space to spare, ordering water play toys can buy you hours of time to get things done while your kids frolic outdoors. Toys like inflatable kiddie pools, water slides, sprinkler pads, and bubble machines are big hits with my 7-year-old and 21-month-old children. It takes a few minutes to get everything set up, but it’s worth the effort so you can sit back and tackle your work to-do list while you sit outside and watch them play.
7. Continue educational learning opportunities
Just because your kids are out of school doesn’t mean they have to forgo continuing their education for the time being. Online sites like Scholastic, Khan Academy, and Outschool offer online resources that can provide self-guided educational enrichment to elementary, middle, and high school students who are at home. Set your child up with an online learning website so they can “work” alongside you while you send emails, create reports, and whatever other work-related tasks you need to get done.
While you can’t take a hands-off approach to little kids, they may think it’s fun to get a pretend toy computer and set up shop next to your home office desk to “work” like Mom and Dad. Look for an option like LeapFrog’s 2-in-1 LeapTop Touch that can help little ones practice numbers, learn ABCs, play educational games, and more.
8. Arts and crafts that kids can do by themselves
I’ve seen lots of talk about doing arts and crafts with kids during the coronavirus shutdown, but in reality that isn’t practical for many parents who’ve unexpectedly found themselves working from home. However, not all arts and crafts require parents to be hands-on at every step of the day. Toys like premade slime, Playdough sets, string art, and more are all arts and crafts that kids can do with little to no help from you. Additionally, construction paper, glue sticks, and kid-friendly scissors are ideal for kids who want to make their own arts and crafts while giving Mom and Dad some time to catch up on emails and participate in conference calls.
9. Puzzles and board games that kids can play together
Have more than one kid at home while you’re trying to work? Puzzles and family board games are easy ways for your children to play together and remain occupied for a period of time while you get some work done.
10. Bust out materials to make blanket forts
Building a homemade fort is a right of passage during childhood and there’s no better time to encourage your kids to create their own than when school is closed. Chances are, you’ve probably got some spare sheets and blankets stashed in your hallway closet. While your kids may need help gathering materials for the fort, they can likely take care of the building without any or much assistance from you. Items like large binder clips can help secure blankets to chairs, tables, and more to make the ultimate at-home fort, leaving you time to work while your kids play.
Don’t have fort-making materials on hand? Take a look around your home for any empty cardboard boxes (especially if you’ve had an influx of deliveries lately) that can be pieced together using packing tape. Throw a few pillows and blankets inside and you’ve got yourself a cardboard house that will occupy them all day long.
Every household is different and the status of working from home and school closings will likely continue to change in the weeks to come. I can't promise you won't lose your cool or feel stressed out working from home with kids, but one thing I do each day that helps me prepare for the next day is clean my house after the kids go to bed. I spend about 15 minutes each night putting toys back where they belong, running my robot vacuum, and doing the dishes. Since my home is my office, it helps to wake up to a clean and uncluttered space to start the day off on the right foot.
Aside from things you can purchase to buy you a few minutes of free time while you work, being flexible and patient with yourself, your family, and your virtual colleagues can go a long way in aiding your productivity (and sanity) when working from home with kids.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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