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Making it “Work” with Kids at Home

By March 23, 2020

By: Jon Fee, SVP, Marketing, and Devi Thomas, Global Head, Communications, Research and Messaging

Recently, the acclaimed writer and director, Shonda Rhimes tweeted, “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”

We could not agree more!

Teachers have always performed remarkable feats guiding and protecting our children. Throughout the school day, they are not only teaching various subjects, they are also teaching valuable life skills like respect, kindness, sticking to routines, and communicating well with others.

Today, parents across the world are getting a flavor for what those days could look like. This week, in the U.S. alone, at least 114,000 public and private schools closed or scheduled to close, affecting at least 52.6 million students. Globally, according to UNESCO, over 100 countries have implemented nationwide closures, impacting over half of world’s student population. While in the last two weeks we were trying on a new skill learning how to work from home, this week we have the added challenge of learning how to balance work with kids at home.

So, back to the virtual water cooler we go to commiserate, vent, share best practices, and have a laugh. Here is what we are discovering as we learn to morph our homes into offices and classrooms:

Focus on Priorities. The Kids.

Jon: Thanks to digital transformation, the work day can get on from home with minimal disruption if you have the right tech in place. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many schools. So much of what my kids gain from school comes from connecting on campus with their buddies and teachers. That’s hard to replicate from home. It’s also hard to recreate the play that got cancelled, the field trip that never happened, the concert that was never performed, and team sports! When I was a kid, those were the things I lived for. So, now with everyone at home, we are focusing on making the littles a priority and making time throughout the day for some fun and spontaneous imagination. Like busting open the costume trunk on a Monday at noon! Why not?

Jon Fee and kids

Jon Fee, just another Manic Monday…

Don’t ignore Current Events. Create a Dialogue around Headlines.

Devi: Coronavirus is the topic du jour and if your kids are like mine, they have questions. We as parents are all looking for appropriate ways to tell kids the facts and help alleviate any anxiety. I personally found this NPR comic book really helpful. There is also a great kids podcast that helps kids keep on top of the news – check out KidNuz for great listening.

The most important things we can share are 1) how to stay healthy by washing your hands and social distancing, 2) how to ask questions and stick to facts, and 3) how to continue to be active and learn while our routines have changed. We decided to talk about the world map and how the virus has travelled along with airplanes and people. We used this as an opportunity to learn capitals and countries, too. We also talked about how it was important to keep grandpa and grandma healthy.

Establish a Schedule. Then Try to Stick to It.

Devi: We had high hopes for our home classroom with my 6-and 9-year-old. So we started the week with a tight schedule with some free time and fun time baked in. Hundreds of parents were posting their ideas and we catered this schedule to really meet where my kids needed to focus their time. There was math and reading of course, but we also added in designing your own comic book and outside time. Worksheets were printed, books stacked, supplies were placed in plain view to work on projects, and we even set Google Home on an hourly alarm to help the kids keep to schedule.

Classroom at home schedule

Devi Thomas created a schedule for her kids to follow as a ‘classroom at home.’ But they didn’t stick to it.

However, with both parents working in various rooms in the house, we quickly realized that schedules are only good when the teacher is there to reinforce them. So after stepping off a call, I discovered our boys building a new airport with legos at the scheduled reading time.

The next day, we took a new approach. Splitting up the kids’ classroom-at-home schedule based on our work schedules was the only way to make this work. We then left a huge chunk of the day for free time and creative play. We never realized how organized and committed teachers need to be to keep these routines and schedules in a classroom!

Devi’s boys during comic book-making time.

Devi’s boys during comic book-making time.

Find Ways to Learn and Connect Together.

Jon: Lately, I’ve become absolutely addicted to Trailhead, our online learning platform. It helps take my mind off things and I like knowing that with every new badge, I am progressing one step closer to Ranger status. It’s also really fun. So fun that my 9-year-old couldn’t resist Dad’s screen exploding with confetti, badges, and Salesforce characters. He’s now Explorer Status with 16 badges! The best part is the conversations we are having. From “Mindful Living with the Plum Village Monastics” to “Healthy Eating,” “Mindfulness” and “Public Speaking Skills”. Trailhead is definitely bringing great new topics into the house and keeping my boys busy learning.

Getting away from the virtual classroom and getting some fresh air has to be part of the day too. The littles need it and so do you! We have started to weave recess and P.E. into the day, and we’re calling it just that.

Shift your Work Calendar. Balance Everything.

Devi:The first thing that needs to change is how many calls you are on and when those calls are scheduled. If you are co-parenting, reorganize the schedules so that you and your partner take a divide-and-conquer approach. If you can make calls in the morning but need to be with your kids in the afternoon, consider adding some work hours after they are in bed to make up. Productivity and home obligations need to be balanced evenly. A lot of kids need more 1:1 attention to keep them healthy, active and engaged during this time at home. Thankfully, many workplaces are respecting parenting hours and work hours while recognizing that the two may overlap.

Connect with Other Parents. Leverage Online Classrooms – Free Stuff.

Devi and Jon: On Day 1 of schools closing, we started a “parents group” for all of us on the marketing team who are trying to balance our new realities at home. The first thing this group did was offer a sense of community among us parents who are all dealing with this for the first time — group therapy, anyone?

We shared ways to teach our kids about coronavirus and how to deal with anxious kids during what can be a scary time. Parenting has no formula but it is always better when we know we are in it with other parents – trying, coping, failing, succeeding as we go.

This group chat is now chock-full of online links and free stuff for kids to do at home. We’ve shared some below here and hope to hear from others on new resources they are finding to help keep kids active, safe, and engaged at home. And don’t forget to praise and thank your teachers the next time you see them!

Virtual Tours:

DIY Learning and Fun: