As a single parent, I know what a challenge it can be to strike a good balance between work and parenting at the best of times; homeschooling has taken that challenge to a whole new level!!
My son Harry is – or rather should be – at primary school, my daughter, Layla, at secondary school….and its recent enough in my memory to recall how demanding those pre-school days were! So, this article is aimed at all homeworking, homeschooling marvels…. I mean parents.
As the author of our two-day Return to Work Programme for parents….and with nine weeks of (mostly) successful homeschooling behind me (and who knows how many weeks ahead!) here are my top tips for working parents; I truly hope you find them helpful!
1. Compartmentalise your roles.
I love being a mum and I love my job too! It’s fantastic to have two hats; I just need to remember to wear one hat at a time. Trying to look at emails whilst talking with your child means you won’t be doing either job well. It’s important to compartmentalise your roles or it will end in tears (most likely yours) Structure your day so you can spend some guilt-free time giving your children your full attention and some time focussing purely on work.
2. Structure is key – but make sure it works around you!
On week one of lockdown, I drafted the ‘Homeschool Timetables, Version 1’. That first version had both children doing different lessons, between 9am and 3pm and resulted in me running a triangle of disaster between two frustrated children and my work laptop. I am not proud to reveal that it took me until ‘Week four /Version 4’ to figure out that the timetable would have to work around me.
The new timetable has focussed lessons, with my full attention and support, between 9am and 11:30 am. The children then have a daily video call with their friends until 12, whilst I prepare lunch. After lunch, the afternoon is theirs and I can focus on work. The children are flourishing and so am I.
Yes, sometimes I have to make up a little extra time early morning or in the evening. But I am far more productive in the afternoon, than I am trying to do two things at once all day.
3. Stop comparing yourself to others.
One of the biggest wastes of our time is comparing ourselves to others. Most of us know some super (annoying) parents who love to share on any and all social platforms, how this week their child has learnt to play an instrument; learnt a new language, taken up fencing etc, etc, whilst the rest of us are struggling to keep pace with reading, writing and maths. Everyone’s circumstances are different, so it is impossible and unfair to draw comparisons– it’s a waste of your precious time. Remember that!
4. Focus on what you DO achieve, not what you do not.
Each morning, I sit quietly with my first cup of coffee and spend a few minutes focussing on just a few deep breaths. I then set my three key intentions for the day (anything else is a bonus) My daily intentions are based on my priorities how I am feeling that morning, they could relate to work, to home or a mix of the two. They could be ambitious (writing a module of a new training programme) or smaller (making that call I have been putting off) but I always set three.
As I climb into bed at night, I focus on what I HAVE achieved – including my 3 intentions for the day. I give no mind to what I have not done, tomorrow is another day!
5. Be kind to yourself – look after your body and mind.
Love it or loathe it, we all know that exercise is great for you; for your children; and for everyone’s mental health. Even if you feel overwhelmed, too tired, or too busy – make sure you get yourselves outside every day, come rain or shine.
There are great free resources on YouTube. In this house, we all do PE with Joe Wicks at 9am (thank you Mr Wicks, my legs have never been stronger) and there are loads of other age appropriate sessions with a little searching. My youngest loves Cosmic Kids Yoga (which I set up after lunch as it keeps him focussed for 30-40 mins)
6. Use available resources to help with the load.
Look at what free resources are available to support teaching and learning for your child’s age group. Some great free resources for primary and secondary aged children are:
Daily subject specific lessons led by on-line teachers for Reception children through to Year 10
Daily subject specific lessons for children aged 5-15, with a host of further learning links and activities available via BBC programmes and Bitesize.
The Maths Factor
Carol Voderman teaches your 4-12 year olds. A very well-structured site that fosters independent learning with daily lessons and lots of fun games.
Future Engineer Coding Programme
Children (primary or secondary) can learn coding skills on-line for free.
For younger children, have a look at CBeebies website for pre-school games, programmes and activities.
7. Focus on what is important
If you haven’t already done so, take a look into the Urgent Important Matrix. I wish I could do a whole section on this amazing tool (watch this space, maybe next month I will draft and article on Urgent Important Matrix for Parents).
The guiding principle is to focus on what is IMPORTANT. So, when a task (work or home) comes your way, ask yourself ‘Is this really important?’ You will be surprised how often the answer is ‘No, not really’ in which case don’t do it!
With limited time, we must be even more selective about what we agree to put on our to-do lists.
8. Be mindful of Parkinson’s’ Law (work expands to fill the time made available for its completion)
For those items that do make it onto our to-do lists, get into the habit of ring-fencing time where possible. This gives you three advantages:
1. Overcomes procrastination. I can tackle anything if there is a finite chunk of time set. Ringfencing will help you breakdown bigger tasks.
2. Gets you good at evaluating how long tasks really take. Once we get into the habit of estimating how much time a task will take, we get more accurate allowing us to better control and manage our time.
3. Stops you ‘polishing the daisies’. For me, this lesson is most important when it came to domestic chores. Rather than saying ‘I must tidy the house and clean the bathroom this morning’. I say ‘I am going to spend 40 minutes cleaning this house’ – and then set a timer. I get the same amount done, in less time! And, as you know, in a house with children it looks as messy as ever two hours later, no matter how long you spend tidying.
9. Review your support network, ask for help if you need to.
“Asking for help does not mean you are giving up; it means you are refusing to give up.” The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, by Charlie Mackesy.
If you are biting your lip about domestic chores, might asking for help be a better option? (This isn’t a dig at men, this article is aimed at men and women) Consider giving age-appropriate chores to your children; from putting their clothes in the laundry basket to clearing up after lunch – all good life-lessons.
Look at your wider support network to see who else can help lighten the load. For example, I realised my sister-in-law was at home climbing the walls. She now has a video call everyday with my son who is delighted to read his latest David Walliams book to her. She is happy, Harry is happy and I get more me time.
10. Forget perfectionism
Another waste of your precious time!
I wish you all success on this learning journey; try to bear in mind (even on the tough days) that no parents before us have had the challenge – or privilege – of spending so much time with their children or the joy of teaching them and sharing in their achievements.
These tips are what work for me, please adopt what works for your and share any I have missed: