We teachers are experiencing a completely unprecedented situation. Some teachers were given only 20 minutes to grab classroom curriculum, lessons, and supplies before being told they now need to figure out how to teach online. Due to school closures, we now need to educate not only our class, but our own children as well!
If you are teaching from home due to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, working while you are home with your children can have unique challenges. Read on for advice about keeping your kids busy while you work, organizing your schedule, work-space, and more!
tweak your mindset
This isn’t a situation we were prepared for and we haven’t had time to wrap our heads around the idea before we were thrust into working from home. Your approach helps. How are you thinking about working from home right now? You can think, “This is impossible. These expectations are unreasonable. I haven’t been trained for this!” While some of that may be true, it’s not the best soundtrack to be playing in your mind right now.
Instead, the thought you can put on repeat is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13 NKJV). We are living in a special day and age, where working from home is actually possible. This is the first time in history that we can connect with our students even when schools are closed. What a blessing!
Working from home is going to be different than working outside of the home. You may have to be creative about getting it all done and some tasks will take longer, especially in the beginning. Expect this! It helps to realize ahead of time that things will look different.
Above all else, give yourself grace. This is not typical teaching, everyday homeschooling, or a normal way of doing life! This situation is the opposite of ideal, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Do your best and know that that is enough. Remember that 2 Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV) says, “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
make a schedule
Having a good schedule and routine can be a solid anchor for you and your day, especially in uncertain times. You have probably recognized how our students and children thrive on routines, predictability, and consistency. We need it, too! Here are some ideas:
- Get dressed and make the bed. This can really make a big difference in terms of mindset and really feeling productive and ready to start the day even when working from home.
- Switch off between two schedules to keep focus but also allow for some flexibility. Let’s say you have an A and B schedule. With the A schedule, chunk the commitments into blocks. These time blocks could include devotional time, teaching time, time to home-school your child, chores, self-care, and lesson planning. Then, you have a B Schedule where you can continuously rotate between the blocks one at a time. You can fall back on the B schedule when you want to get to something before you would usually do it on the A schedule or if there’s a lot to do and you’d rather tackle a little bit of everything throughout the day, from the start.
- Try not to do any work on Sundays; it’s important to have one day where you can rest and not worry about juggling multiple responsibilities.
- Use Trello! Most people only use Trello for businesses- but Trello is amazing for working from home and keeping all the “to-do”s organized and labeled. When you want to use pen and paper, the Weekly Kickstart Notepad is almost like Trello on paper.
- Try the Pomodoro work method, where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break for 5 minutes.
- Tame Your To-Do List. We share a system for systematically reducing your to-do list here.
- The Daily Download Notepad is a great option to use at the end of the day to review what went well that day. The next day, you can sit down to the notepad and know exactly where you left off and where to start that day.
- Be consistent. When you have children, it’s a good idea to work at the same time every day so your children know what to expect and get used to Mom being occupied at that time. It’s also best to play with them and “fill their love bucket” before working.
- Plan breaks with kids and pets. Make sure you schedule breaks and quality time with your kids. Put your phone and computer completely out of sight, out of mind and be present. It’s easy not to take a break when you’re working from home, but breaks are so important for you and your kids. Make sure you take a break to walk the dog or spend quality time with the pet, so your pets aren’t interrupting your work time either! It can also provide a nice change of pace.
- Get creative with your schedule. Are there work tasks you can do when your spouse gets off work or even on the weekend? Can you tag-team it and have one of you take over the childcare while the other works, and then switch? Are there any tasks that can be done after your child’s bedtime so that you can give him a little more quality time during the day? Depending on your specific tasks and schedule, you might have some flexibility and can start thinking outside of “9 to 5” or “8 to 3.”
engage your kids
It’s important to have some highly-engaging, time-consuming activities for your children to do while you’re working- especially if you’re having a meeting, or live teaching your students and cannot be interrupted.
Educational activities are always good, but they are especially relevant when your children are out of school and you want to keep them in the habit of learning. These activities can be done independently while you work.
- BrainQuest- BrainQuest flashcards have been around a long time. They aren’t your typical flashcards because they cover a wide variety of topics and have an element of fun! BrainQuest also makes workbooks (including summer ones that bridge the two grade levels) and book sets to keep skills sharp.
- The Splash Math app- every grade level is at your fingertips so you can choose what level activity to work on rather than waiting to “level up” on the app. With Splash Math, you go directly to what you want to work on.
- ABCMouse.com and Adventure Academy are both fantastic! ABCMouse.com contains a variety of fun, yet structured learning activities for kids aged 3-7, and in Adventure Academy, kids aged 8-13 learn in an immersive game environment.
- Little Passports- A mail service that provides a great social studies curriculum with fun collectibles and work books. What child doesn’t like getting packages?
- Flocabulary has hip-hop videos for every lesson and covers all subjects. It’s for ages K-12, but keeps the interest of younger kids best.
- The NumberBlocks YouTube channel has phonics and math shows for pre-schoolers and since it’s on YouTube, it’s completely free.
- Virtual field trips are a great way of letting your kids explore the world- all while you work from home! One favorite is the Grand Canyon interactive field trip experience. There are too many to list them all here, but you can find a great list at We Are Teachers.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium has free courses for kids on their website, for grades Pre-K to 12th.
- IXL is a comprehensive online curriculum spanning Pre-K to 12th grade.
- Having a book club with your child where you choose a book to read together and discuss it throughout, having your child write their thoughts in a journal and/or watching a related movie at the end, is such a great bonding and educational experience.
- Many libraries are having virtual storytimes where they read stories over video and your children can also watch celebrities read children’s books at Storyline Online.
- It would be great to use the time you are working to allow your child to develop a lifelong skill that will benefit them no matter what profession they choose. This skill is… typing! Typing is a necessary skill in today’s world and it’s not taught at all schools. Your kids can learn to type with a free account that saves their progress at the Typing Club.
- Is your child behind in math? Get a personalized learning plan that includes interactive math activities AND 1:1 professional tutoring for your child at Brighterly!
- Another area that is important, but schools don’t always focus on, is handwriting! You can print out some nice lined paper from Dad's Worksheets and give your child a favorite book to do copy-work out of. A lot of schools aren’t teaching cursive anymore, so this could also be a good “old school” learning activity. It may not be the most exciting, but your child will thank you later if she has beautiful handwriting.
- Your children can play thousands of online jigsaw puzzles for free at I'm a Puzzle. They can also upload a picture to make their own puzzle to solve!
- Coding is such an important skill for kids to learn in our current day and age. Code Monkey is fun, game-based, and kids don't need any prior experience with coding to get started with it.
- Poetic Games has an online poetry machine that teaches students about all the different types of poetry and allows them to make their own poems very easily online! The same company even holds poetry contests for kids.
It’s easy to find huge lists of activities for kids on the internet, but how many of those activities actually keep your children engaged long enough for you to complete your own tasks? How many of them don’t require your guidance? We’ve found activities that are time-consuming (for the kids, not for you!), engaging, and independent.
- Strewing makes a big difference in encouraging children’s independent play. What is strewing? According to The Artful Parent, “Strewing is the art of casually yet strategically leaving “invitations” for learning and creativity out for your kids to discover on their own.” Strewing is very hands-off. You set out some toys, arts and crafts supplies, nature objects, books, etc. in an attractive and creative way without saying a word about them to your children. This really helps encourage independence and creativity and takes the pressure off of you to lead the activity. The Artful Parent has some great strewing suggestions.
- Sensory bins can keep children entertained for a very long period of time. They usually involve utensils that encourage pouring, scooping, and mixing, such as spoons, beakers, funnels, tubes, cups, and jars. Your sensory bin can be made of just plain water, rice (colored or not), dry beans, cheerios, oats, water beads, kinetic sand, regular sand, snow, or something else! Busy Toddler recently shared a sensory bin-like activity that involved children making potions out of shaving cream, dish soap, baking soda and squirt bottles with vinegar and water.
- Kids love painting and it’s such a versatile activity. They can watch painting tutorials on YouTube and follow along with their own paint and canvas. They can free paint or finger paint. They can paint their plastic toys with washable paint and then have a “toy bath” to get all the paint off. Children can make chalk paint and paint the cement outside.
- Audiobooks and podcasts are a great way to keep your children entertained while they do hands-on activities like arts and crafts or sensory bins. Some favorite podcasts are Story Spectacular, The Jesus is Better Podcast, Brains On! (science podcast), What If World, Kids Corner (stories that teach Biblical lessons), Wow in the World (science podcast), and Story Pirates. Adventures in Odyssey is another favorite. You can often get audiobooks for free through your local library, sometimes through their website without stepping into the building!
- Stephanie Craig shared an idea on Facebook that’s going viral. While she works, her child can earn fun snacks through doing chores and even exercise. She is using Monopoly money to pay him and keep him busy, plus she’s getting help around the house! Her store is so cute.
- Mo Willems is an extremely popular children's book author. He has written the Gerald and Piggie series and Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, to name a small few. In collaboration with the Kennedy Center, he has been making YouTube videos titled Lunchtime Doodles that show some of the process behind publishing a book, give children creative art activity ideas, and have drawing lessons. Your children are likely to take the ideas and make their own creations long after the video ends.
- Screen-time is the easiest go-to when you’re working to keep your child busy. However, it’s best to save screen time for that important meeting or when you have something urgent to complete. It’s a wonderful tool, especially when we are in a bind, but it can be very addicting.
- Your child can complete exercise videos for fun and to stay active while you work. There are so many on YouTube aimed for kids!
set up your Workspace
When you are teaching online it’s best that you create a professional environment. For you, this might mean choosing to sit in front of a blank wall or in your already designated home office, which is more than enough to avoid distraction and have your students focus on the task at hand.
If, however, you’re interested in creating a classroom-feel while teaching online but not sure where to start, here are a few ideas to help get you thinking about what environment you would like to create for you and your students.
- Pick a spot. You can pick any small space in your home to transform that little square of space captured by your camera into an online classroom. All you really need is wall space and room for a small desk and chair.
- Spruce it up. If you miss being in an actual classroom, you can incorporate some academic posters from your brick and mortar school. If you have anything at home that you used or could use for a classroom vibe, like a map, put that behind you.
- Display learning content. You can totally use your background for something subject related and it’s one less thing you need to try and post online. Then, you can refer to it when teaching lessons. If you would like to put a little extra into your space but don’t have everything you would like on hand, there are tons of tapestry styles and posters out there that would make a good classroom backdrop.
- Decorate. Feel free to have fun and decorate your teacher’s desk or work space in a way that is inviting to you, a space where you may even be excited to go and start your online work. It’s important that you have a desk or table and chair that is comfortable, and a place for your materials so you’re not having to run back and forth. Don’t be afraid to bring in extra comforts like, a nice mug, plant, an air purifier seat cushion or floor rug. Personals are not necessary but if you are dreading online work or would just like to feel more comfortable working from home this may help boost your mood and mindset.
- Pay attention to lighting. One concern that is unique to the online classrooms is lighting. If you’re not a YouTube star, lighting may not be on your radar. However, standard lighting sometimes looks dim on camera. Please fill your space with light. Sit in front of a window if you can. Otherwise, add extra lighting to your space, like adding a lamp to a room with an overhead light. If candles are your thing, they work too. The general rule of thumb is to light yourself from the front and/or sides, never from the back, and assure that there are no shadows on your face from lighting that is too close or at a weird angle.
- Avoid distractions. Whatever you choose to do, if you are aiming for professionalism (which I hope we all are!), try to avoid a distracting background where there will be a lot of traffic, clutter, or even a view of your bed or coach.
- Consider decor. If you’re not planning to add new decor to a wall but would like to go a little further than a neutral wall, being in front of a bookcase, large aquarium, artwork that wouldn’t reflect a glare, beautiful curtains, or even a beautiful location outdoors, are all nice ways to bring your students not only a professional expectation, but also a fun and welcoming atmosphere, and maybe even a little nostalgia if you are creating a little piece of their former class.
- You can use objects around your home as props for instruction extensions, mini white erase boards and chalkboards to highlight key examples or flashcards to pose problems. Remember, online teaching doesn’t mean that your entire lesson has to be embedded into the screen.
- Incorporate your kids or pets. Finally, let’s be honest; everybody’s home. Kids are excited about seeing you and maybe even their peers in their homes. If at the end of class as a reward or just to build relationships you show them your pet, a nice picture, let your own kid wave or they can show one thing special from their home, it will make this new change all the more comforting, letting them know that it’s all going to be OK, it’s a new adventure for the time being and they’re in great hands. They’re back with their teacher and at the end of the day, it’s really all of us that create the classroom, it’s not about where you are and in what space.
We are all in this together, trying to help each other through these brand new circumstances. We hope these ideas help you make your home and your distance learning environment a more peaceful and productive place!
Comment with your best tips on working from home. For more on teaching online, look at Transitioning to Distance Learning? Do this first! and 4 Easy Ways to Connect with Your Class During Covid Closures.
And if you could use more help finding balance, check out our free training: 5 Time-Saving Practices to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed.
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*This podcast episode was sponsored by Dad's Worksheets. Dad's Worksheets has nearly 10,000 printable math worksheets and several interactive calculators, all for free!
*This article was written with input from all the Teach4theHeart team members including Taren, Kim, Sarah, Alexx, and Linda (who all work from home for Teach4theHeart!).
*This blog post was sponsored by Code Monkey, I'm a Puzzle, and Brighterly.
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