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March 13, 2020

The Together Pandemic Parent: Seven Strategies to Plan, Prioritize and…Plan?!

Author Note: As of 3/14/2020, this post has been edited due to increasing calls for social distancing.

It’s coming. . . I can feel it. The moment when I get the announcement from my children’s school district that buildings will be closed. [UPDATE: One hour after writing this, I received that announcement that Maryland Schools are closed for the next two weeks.]

Some of you are already in this scrambling spot, and as a current parent (leaning on the advice of her homeschooling sister), a former upper elementary school teacher, and someone who generally obsesses about how time is spent – and who has worked from a home office for the better part of a decade – I’m getting a lot of questions from parents, like:

  • How do I manage three kids with three different sets of assignments?  
  • Do I let my kids play with other kids? For how long?
  • How do I take a conference or video call?
  • How do I organize all the packets and options coming home?
  • How do I break up the day and make a routine?
  • WHAT DO I DO WITH MY KIDS ALL DAY AGAIN?
  • And how on earth do I get my OWN work done at the same time?

I’m certainly no public health expert, so I’ll let you make your own decisions on practices such as social distancing, hygiene and all other practices recommended by experts here. And I’m also keenly aware of the privilege many of us have to work from home and not worry about food for our own children. I was particularly struck by this Prayer for a Pandemic. In the meantime, I’m here for some things you can do in your own home – whether you are preparing or figuring out how to juggle it all.

1. Post a Public Schedule. First things first, you will want some sort of structure. Trust me on this one. This depends on the age of your own kids, the flexibility – if any – of your own workday, and any other duties you must take care of. The structure could be a schedule on the wall, an outline in the family Google calendar, or post-its of the various activities for the day with rough time frames. You will likely want some quiet time for schoolwork, some screen time for studying, some couch time for reading and so on. One way to make this collaborative for K – 12 students – and you! – is to have each family member list five things they need during their day on individual post-it notes and then map it out across chunks of the day. The times don’t need to be precise, but perhaps before breakfast/breakfast/Block 1/Block 2/lunch/ Block 3 / Block 4/ Block 5/ Dinner/post dinner. Aisha describes the process well over here. Activities could be moved around depending on weather, other people’s needs and so on.

Michael’s Schedule

Or a bigger kid version from my best friend, Hilary!

Hilary’s Schedule

2. Compile your Resources. There are a LOT of resources floating around the internet right now, so make your own list to prevent the overwhelm. You will likely have a list of school or district-materials, self-created ideas, and some items you have gathered. A few of my favorites are this Giant List of Ideas for Being Home with Kids and Jessica’s brainstormed list. School doesn’t take all day, so you will likely find there are new and inexpensive hobbies or activities, such as baking, jigsaw puzzles, teaching yourself a new dance on YouTube, and so on that can also break up the monotony. Share the ideas with your kids and make a list together.

3. Plan and Communicate Your Own Work. So I’ve been thinking A LOT about this one as I am under book deadline, rapidly pivoting to webinars, and continuing to lead The Together Team. Consider planning your week differently than usual. I am personally mapping out next week by thinking about the what, when and where of my work. I figure I can get one sustained work period, one interrupted work period, some energy burned off, and some quick stuff around the house.  After you plug these items into your digital calendars, this is also a good time to communicate directly with your manager or team around what is absolute priority for the week, what may have to be delayed and so on. Get in the habit of sending a daily or weekly update for your team to keep in close touch. A great list of resources on remote work and teaching are here, here, and here.

Coronavirus Weekly Plan

PS Would a new Together Template like this be helpful? In addition to some general structure listed above, I’m also thinking I may build a kid-facing chart that looks like this image below so that kids/parents/caregivers are clear on everyone’s needs. Of course, if you have toddlers or not-yet-readers running around, this website is highly recommended.

Daily Work + Home School Schedule

4. Create Your School / Office Space and Supplies. Each family member should have some kind of workspace. This could be masking tape on a dining room table for each individual, a basket or box with all school supplies per kid (nothing fancy here, this is a good way to recycle your Amazon boxes and have your kids decorate them with Duct Tape), or a portable laptop desk. Think about this as the “teaching space,” and try to keep it sacred. Consider moving any technology you own or is issued by the school to this space, even basics like chargers, printers, wireless mice, headphones and so on. My own children’s Chromebooks are perched and ready to go. If you still have time, go to the library and check out a bunch of books and pull one new one out each day! And if YOU have work that must be done, create a workspace near your own children – if you can handle it.

Lindsay’s Mobile Work Stations

5. Centralize the Materials. Besides the School Space set up above, you will likely need a centralized set of materials, such as a stapler, scissors, glue sticks, stickers, hole puncher, a large clock or timer, pens, markers, pencils and so on. This is so no one is scrambling to leave your “school” and winds up in their bed reading graphic novels. At least not yet. I love a version of these PD in a box kits I’ve seen or even something as simple as I’ve created for my Girl Scout Troop. And if you wanted to get extra, extra creative, introduce a bit of novelty, like a re-purposing of Kendra’s Busy Bags!

Lindsay’s Craft Space
San Antonio’s Northside Schools

6. Set Some Rules. We have all seen that poor BBC reporter whose children roll in during his news conference. To avoid that exact situation, you may need to post a sign that says when you are available and not available. Of course, my own children circumvent that with notes slipped under the door. Nonetheless, if you have babies or toddlers, this will not work nearly as well, and some educational screen time with this or this may have to get you through. My own children are rule-breakers to the core, so some Sick Day Choice Charts may come in handy. I’m also always a fan of visual cues, such as hats, feather boas and the like. I will definitely be employing these options while I’m under book deadline.

7. Build your (Virtual) Team and Help Others. Here in the DC-burbs, as a solo parent, I’m certain things will get a little lonely here and there. And there are others who need additional support – including many of my friends who must go to work right now because they are physicians on the front lines or work for nonprofits that provide housing for adults with special needs. I’m watching how my school district handles getting meals to kids in need, and I’m hopeful we can assist in the efforts. While total isolation seems impossible because of the grocery store and because other people may need my support with childcare, I’m thinking I can use Zoom to video call my girlfriends, the kids can use Google hangouts to chat with friends, and I can keep ticking off my short hikes in state parks with the kiddos.

As a life-long-planner, a work-from-home parent, and as someone whose entire career is around gathering people, I’m definitely a little itchy with the unknown right now. But with a little bit of planning as described above, we can help each other keep it Together.

Special thanks to blog post contributors: Kendra Rowe Salas, Ned Stanley, San Antonio Northside Schools, Lindsay Kruse, Jessica Stewart, Melissa Kim, Ron Rapalto, Hilary Stathes, Aisha Crumbine, Kim Cover, Mary Clare Reilly, Michael Ripski, Sonja Jean Heyck-Merlin, Emily Stone Gelb and anyone I have forgotten!

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