If your children are home from school in the wake of national school closures, here are some ways you can help them stay productive and happy.

1. Create a workspace

Now, this doesn’t at all mean you need to have a separate room, or even a proper desk. The most important thing here is finding one spot in your home that provides some consistency for your children’s working needs. Bear in mind, if your children’s schools have officially moved to online classes, they will most likely be participating in video conference calls, so the quieter the spot the better (though noise-cancelling headphones always help!).

Finding the right workspace could perhaps involve converting the den or spare bedroom into a study. Or it could mean setting up a workspace on one end of the kitchen table. This might work in smaller families, where there is less activity in the common areas, but might not be the best solution for bigger families if there are lots of people running around at mealtimes. You have to work out what makes it easiest for you and your family.

It might make the most sense to have your children work from their rooms—but in that case, try to ensure that some sort of desk or table setup is available. The idea of working from a bed or beanbag might seem appealing to your children, but the point of having a designated workspace is that kids can differentiate between work and free time.

That being said, students shouldn’t have to feel chained to their desks at all times. Encourage them to walk around every so often – or perhaps even brainstorm a paper out in the yard if they want. As long as they have a main workspace to return to, having some freedom to occasionally ‘roam’ is good for them, too!

Realistically, the main things your children will need for online classes are a laptop and internet connection, but you can also help create a working ‘mood’ by setting this workspace up with a pad of paper, some pens, maybe even some flashcards. Whatever you can do to set the tone for a good working environment will really help your children maintain their productivity while they are away from the stability of the school classroom.

2. Create a loose schedule

One way you can really help your children transition from a structured school environment to a home-working one is by giving them a rough daily schedule to try to stick to.

If you have teenagers, this might be easier said than done! Your 16-year-olds might not be that receptive to you creating a rigorous timetable for them. The point of a schedule though, is not to make your children feel restricted, punished, or micro-managed—it’s to help them portion out their time and not feel so overwhelmed by the work they have to undertake without the usual support of their classmates, teachers, and school bells.

Keep in mind, many students will have designated online class times and assignments set by their teachers. You can use these set class times as a good basis to build a loose daily schedule around. The schedule doesn’t have to be concentrated solely on studying. You can include things like snack and exercise breaks or even designate time for winding down. In fact, it is crucial that your children’s days are as varied as possible. That will help ward off cabin fever!

The schedule you make will never be exactly like a school timetable; you and your family will inevitably have to be flexible in your day-to-day routines. But even if you’re using the schedule more as a guideline, having the scaffolding of a planned week can be of great help to your children when it comes to organizing their thoughts and tackling schoolwork day by day.

3. Stay in the loop

Remember, you are not going through this alone. All the other parents in your children’s schools are facing the same thing as you are, so try and check in with some of them on a regular basis. An easy way to do this is to start a group message thread. There are lots of platforms you can use for a group chat, but one of the easiest ways to do this is by using WhatsApp. You can easily download the app on your phone and desktop, and it works pretty much exactly like a regular text-messaging app (iMessage for example). WhatsApp will let you create large group threads, so you can choose to message parents individually, in smaller groups, or all at once.

Of course, it is not realistic to create a group chat with every parent at your children’s schools. But maybe you could create two or three groups with the parents from your children’s different classes. This will allow you to stay on the same page in terms of your children’s classwork and assignments, and will help you give your kids any extra support they might need for a particular class.

In fact, you could simply start a group text with any like-minded parents. During this time it is so important for both you and your children to feel as connected to the rest of the world as possible. Modern technology affords so much by way of communication, so use that to your advantage. The more at ease you are, the more at ease your children will be.

4. Encourage communication

Time to let old habits die hard. Telling your children to “put the phone away” might feel second nature as a parent, but you may want to give them a pass while national quarantine rules are enforced and social gatherings are restricted.

Staying home from school is a HUGE adjustment for your kids. Not having school means that they are losing out on crucial bonding time with their friends and peers. If your children are in a lot of after-school clubs or sport teams, the adjustment will be even bigger. Now is the time to encourage your kids to be interacting as much as possible with their friends and classmates, on as many different platforms as possible.

You could get your children to also set up a WhatsApp group with their classmates so they can all ask each other questions about assignments and share ideas, just as they would in a regular class setting. On a purely social note, you could suggest your child schedule a daily Zoom or Skype meeting with her closest friend to make sure she doesn’t start to feel isolated or get too stir crazy. If your children’s sports activities have been cancelled, maybe all of their teammates could play an online sports video game instead!

It might sound crazy, but spending a couple of hours on social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok is another way your children can interact with the wider world. Obviously, the rules of safety and moderation still apply, but try to be as open as possible to ALL the means of external communication while your children are confined to the house.

5. Enjoy the bonus time with your kids!

Having to make an almost overnight switch from regular parent to homeschool parent is no doubt a significant change that your whole family will need time to adjust to. Once you have established some sort of routine and settled into a ‘new normal’ however, there is so much scope to see this as a fantastic opportunity to connect with your children!

Take some time to start some new family traditions—make dinner together, find a show to binge, dust off the board games. Let go of perfection and just take some time to enjoy doing silly things with your family. This could be the perfect time to build connections with your children before they go off to college. Also, if you have children who are missing out on touring colleges right now, check out our article on how to visit colleges virtually.

Not only will you be spending extra time with your children, you will be getting to know a part of their lives that you might not otherwise have had the chance to. And remember that you’re not alone. Join other parents facing similar challenges in Marco Learning’s Facebook group for parents.

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