Homeschool Planning: How to survive working from home, teaching your kids, and not lose your mind.
This is a slightly different post to the ones that we normally post here on The Coloring in Department. Short gist of the situation. I am a working mum with 2 small kids. One of which is autistic, dyslexic and on a pathway official diagnosis for ADHD. Currently facing trying to work from home, keep the business alive, AND home school a 4 ½-year-old and 7-year-old. Plus the normal house admin, shopping, cooking, washing up. Oh and I think I am supposed to do all that ‘self-care stuff’ so my mental state doesn’t decay into dust. Fun. Times.
I have tried to pull the best of my skill set gained over my career. I have worked from home for years, I have been in the self-employed bucket for the last 8 years. I am a process-driven mofo and have done instructional design for workshops, courses, and written a few templates and guides.
This is what I have put together to try and juggle the whole work-life-home-school-balance. My situation and workarounds will not work for everyone. However, I believe that sharing ideas is cool, so there may be something in here that can help you, my fellow working parent. Some ideas on how to plan your day and try and manage the situation we are in.
Just like you, I have gone through all the feels. Tick box for higher blood pressure, anxiety, a fear that someone I love is going to get sick and not make it. A worry of how I am going to make ends meet so the roof stays over my head *long breath*.
Ok, let’s dive in.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a school teacher. I am a digital marketing trainer. I am not a Special Education Needs Specialist, I just happen to be raising a NeuroDiverse child through the British Education System. I live in a flat on the 2nd floor of a building. We don’t have a garden. A printer. Or a fully-stocked arts and crafts cupboard.
We are super lucky to have a huge park down the road. I live about 350 miles away from my family, but I have childcare which we pay for, with our current situation, I have had to cut this down, but for now, it is leaving me with about 4 hours of the day to myself. I am expecting a situation where this may stop either due to lockdowns, sickness, or finance.
Welcome to “Pokemon Unicorn School”
First thing first. I have sat down with the kids and explained that because of this virus, the school has had to close. It means that most likely they will not return until September. They are NOT on holiday.
They still need to do ‘school’ it is just now going to be from home.
They attend a school called ‘St Pauls’, so I said to them we need a name for our home school, and they get to pick it.
“Welcome to Pokemon Unicorn School.”
My boy is addicted to pokemon, and my girl, if she could get away with it she would be dipped in glitter and covered in unicorns all day.
Action: Give your school a name. If you are on social media, show me what ya got #HomeSchoolName
Having worked from home, I found early on that working in your jimmy jams is not quite productive. I have a ‘work wardrobe’ comfy clothes but not quite PJ’s and not quite what I would wear to say a meeting or conference. This helped me get into the mindset of ‘work’.
We are going to do the same for the kids. Monday – Friday they wear their school uniform top. Two reasons for this. Firstly, I think it will help the kids understand that we are doing school work that day so they are in the mindset of school. Secondly, I do not have 7 days worth of clothes and have not got the spare cash to go out and buy more. Also, their uniforms cost a bloody fortune, so I am getting my wear out of them!
They are allowed to wear their own trousers (tutu for my girl). We have said they can wear their own shoes, paint their nails, wear their uniform headbands. ‘Cos Pokemon School is down with that.
Weekends, and school holidays, they can wear what they want.
Action: Consider having your kids wear part of their uniform. If you don’t have a uniform, have some sort of color code or something that can be used as an emblem of sorts. Think badges, ribbons, a bracelet.
Ok, I live in a flat, and we don’t have a spare room, a study, and it is going to get crowded. I also know it is going to be hard to make ‘home’ turn into ‘school’ and then back to ‘home again’.
I either work in a coworking space (obvs a no go right now) or I work from home. I work from our dining room table. Each morning when the kids would leave for school I would clear the table and ‘setup my deck’ with my work stuff. This all lives in a cupboard that I can access. It has helped me shift to a work mode.
The kid’s school has trays and lockers. So we are going to do something similar. I went around the flat to try and find something that would work. I ended up with these two baskets. I filled them with their workbooks from school. A pencil case and tin full of crayons. A ruler. Sellotape. Glue.
I have explained to them that these ‘Learning Baskets’ are their responsibility. They must keep all their schoolwork, books, pens, etc in here.
Action: Find something you can use to keep all their homeschool material in. Worth finding something portable so you can move it around the house. You can use plastic boxes, shoe boxes, bags, or trays.
Fill it with a new notebook, some pens, and reading books. I got the kids to pick their fave books to read over the next week. If you had anything from school. Bung it in there.
The School Day
As I mentioned. Living in a flat, space is tight. I need to work from home. So does the husband. Plus the kids. Managing the space and managing expectations of what I can do and when I can do it is critical.
Again, thinking about my work life. I always ask, when possible, some notice so I can arrange childcare. I also make it known to our clients when I am available. My core hours are normally 8.30 am-5.30 pm. This has never been an issue with anyone we work with.
Routine is important, and especially with my boy who is on the spectrum. If we do not stick to a routine he is going to have more meltdowns and it is going to make things really hard.
As I mentioned, I am in a fortunate position to have childcare. During this time we are looking at me working with my boy during his learning sets as he has special needs and needs 1:1 support. I have slotted in the learning sets at the start and end of the day, so I can work between 1030am-245pm each day. I will communicate this with my clients and business partner that this is when I will do calls, meetings, and work. Making up the hours in the evenings and weekends. If you are on your own and unable to get help, there is nothing wrong with the kids doing work on a computer or Ipad with you in the background. Good enough is good enough.
I have planned the days to look like this.
Wake up 7.00am- 8.30am
Eat breakfast, make the bed, get dressed, PJ in the wash basket, brush teeth.
Getting them outside and doing some exercise is going to be really important. We will go for a walk. Get the scooters out. There is also some free amazing content for kids to do indoors if you are unable to get out. Joe Wicks has loads of kid workouts is doing a morning PE with Joe on his youtube channel 9 am GMT every day. There is also a Cosmic Yoga
Get Ready 915am-930am
After doing our morning exercise, time to get ready for home learning. Wash hands after being outside. Get a quick drink. Go to the loo. Then we are GOGOGO. Grab the learning baskets, sat at desks, lesson plans out.
Learning Set 1 9.30 am-1030am
Reading, writing, spelling, maths.
My plan here is to do the book and writing stuff in the morning. My son needs 1:1 support, so I have childcare coming in at 930 to take my daughter and I will be able to focus on my boy. If/ when I don’t have help I will just have to sit them both in the same room and set tasks and try and manage it. Again, good enough is good enough.
I will write more about how I am setting the learning tasks a bit further down in this post. Side note. Man, teachers deserve all the money and praise. Lesson planning sucks balls. I don’t know how they do it.
Break Time: 1030am-1045am
Time for snacks, a game if they have been good, a chill-out, dancing to music. Watch a short program or cartoon.
Creative Set 2 1045-12noon
Time for creative learning/ play. Lego, drawing, baking, playing games, making stuff. I suggested to the kids that Pokemon Unicorn School lets its pupils pick them for the week to learn something new. I gave them the option of learning about Henry the 8th, Medieval Times or The Aztecs. They picked the Aztecs. During this part of the day, we will watch some youtube videos about it, and try and make stuff. Now, I don’t know about you lot, but I am not an arts and craft shop. I do have some paint, playdough, crayons, various stickers. Then I thought….well we need more stuff. Just as I was taking the rubbish and recycling out, it was all there. Empty plastic bottles, cereal boxes, loo roll, old magazines, junk mail, an old book that the kids don’t read anymore, boxes our home deliveries came in (complete with tissue paper, bubble wrap, etc).
So I have kept a small box in the living room where I am saving bits and bobs for the kids to use. All I need is some more glue, which I can get in the corner shop, and I think we can make the most of this stuff.
Time for lunch. The kids had school diners, I am considering making them a packed lunch that they can sit and eat. If the weather gets nice, we could take it to the park.
Back outside for more walks and running around. Also, a good excuse to walk to the corner shop and pick up stuff for dinner (assuming all the panic buying has calmed down). Even if it rains, the kids are going out.
Creative Set 2 145pm-245pm
Finish what we were doing in the morning. Thinking here is we painted or glued anything it should be dry.
Learning Set 2 245pm-345pm
Back to school stuff, this time, focus on the online programs that you can use. Our school has given us access to some online platforms where the kids have been set work. There are also apps and games you can use during this time. Tip: If your kids are using a device, get some headphones for them.
Tidy Up 345-4pm
Time to make the flat feel like home again. Tidy up, put away baskets ready for the next day. Tidy up the room, put away toys, wash hands and get ready for dinner. The kids have a ‘tidy up song’ that we use for this. They both pick their fave song, I put it on full blast and they get to work. Reminds me of that scene from Mary Poppins minus the magic snapping.
Dinner 4 pm-5 pm
Now they can get changed into a different top if they want. Or chill watching telly, help me prep and cook dinner. Set the table, and chow down on dinner.
Show and Tell 530pm
Given the pandemic and the social isolation, and lack of friends. I have asked my family to do a group online call at 530pm where the kids will show the family what they have done that day. This means we get to check in with our parents and sisters/ brothers. And I hope that this will give the kids some accountability. If they don’t have a good day and didn’t do any work, they have to face family and say ‘I made a bad choice today’. If they have done some school work, it gives them a chance to show off and get some praise for doing a good job.
I also spotted a post online where homes are posting their pictures in their front windows. Even though we are on the 2nd floor of a building, I will let the kids use one of their windows for show and tell. We have a hospital across the road, so I will try and get the kids to write nice things for the doctors and nurses.
After this it is the usual routine for us of showers, supper then bed. They are going to bed at the same time as they did for school. For my girl Robyn, she is going to be at 7 pm and Ethan is at 8pm.
At the end of the day, I will either do a bit more work. Most likely, I will have a biscuit, a bath, watch some trash on Netflix. I am not giving myself any expectation to try and read, write a novel, do yoga, I just need to survive. The house is likely to be a mess, but hey, no one is going to visit right now so who cares.
Action: Map out a routine that works for you. Try and include set times for exercise, doing school work, doing something creative (I count gaming as creative for what it is worth).
The rules of Pokemon Unicorn School
Knowing that their school has values and rules, the same goes for us. Some simple rules I have written out for the kids.
1- Be kind
3- Wash your hands
4- School work completed each day
5- Keep learning basket tidy
6- School polo top on during the day
7- NO TV or Ipads during learning sets.
Action: Agree on rules for the homeschool. Include wash your hands, cos, well, you know. Pandemic and all. I always have ‘Be Kind’ which is going to be really important as we are about to live and work in a way that will test anyone’s last nerve.
I have written this out using a blackboard that sticks on the fridge. It was gifted to me a few years ago, and getting some good use now. You can use paper or cardboard. We decided to stick it on the fridge so we can always see it.
Action: Write up your rules and schedule. Share it or post it somewhere all the family can see it.
My kid’s school has reward charts in class. These are colored paper to show how you are doing.
Blue = really good.
Red= really bad,
This works really well for Robyn as she is in the pre-school class. For my boy, this doesn’t really work. However, he does respond well to small and immediate rewards. I have a board for the week where Robyn gets a color for her behavior in the morning and afternoon and Ethan, we will use points. For him points = time on his computer games. Although to be honest, with what is going on, who knows if I will stick to it. I have said ‘Feck it’ and reached for a biscuit a lot these last few weeks.
You may have seen that there are some really generous companies unlocking their paid content for parents. I will list them all at the end of this post. I created an account with Twinklr and there is loads of content. I spent about 2 hours just clicking through stuff and going ‘Oh this looks good’. Then I took a deep breath as I looked at my husband and said “I have no idea what I am doing’.
There is a lot of information. I didn’t know where to start. I am not a primary school teacher.
So here is what I am going to try and do. Emphasis on ‘Try’ I am winging this as much as the next working parent!
After I worked out what my Pokemon Unicorn Scool schedule looks like. I have 2 blocks for core learning. Learning Set 1 and 2, each has 1 hour. I would like to do more, but I need to work…bills to pay and all that.
The 1st learning set, I am not going to try and work during this time, the kids will have my full attention, and work and meetings will just have to wait. The second learning set will be focused on stuff they can do online, with me in the room. The aim here is to hopefully fit in some time to also do some work.
For my boy, we have some tools we use to help his neurodiverse needs. He needs to work in short 5-8 min segments. Lots of movement breaks. Fidgets toys and weighted pillows. Therefore we will aim to work in 2 short segments, and then have a quick movement break. Rinse and repeat.
During these Learning Sets we will try and cover:
If you are using a website like Twinklr you can select the school year your child is working at, and drill down by topic.
Start with the aim of the lesson we start with the learning objectives, keeping it quite simple as communicate this with the kids what we are trying to achieve. For example:
Example: English, preschool for my daughter Robyn
An objective could be working through Phonics Phase 2 eg words and sounds like pat, dog, hat, cat etc. When you have an objective you then think about how you are going to teach it, how do you know when it is done. Monday’s lesson could be working through a PDF download from the website Twinklr. One activity is Pictures and Captions where you get the kids to match the word card with the pictures.
Then you finish with the time you will give to do that lesson. Eg 8-10min
For my son, with his learning needs we use Now and Next as well as a detailed lesson plan. I will be using the same for Robyn.
The Now and Next board works to help complete specific tasks. We write down the literal and descriptive instructions. EG I would not say to my boy ‘You now need to read your book’ I need to structure it to say
Now: Read page 1 and 2 of this book
Then: Tell me what the pictures are doing
Something like that.
You can use a small whiteboard or a piece of paper inside a plastic A4 wallet and mark up the lesson name. If you have a dry marker, you can also write on windows or a plastic surface. Just make sure you check it is not a permanent marker.
You can also link the lesson with the creative learning set. For example. If we were learning how to use the letter S, you could get them to draw it, make shapes with playdough, wet cotton wool balls, lego, etc.
I am taking it a day at a time, working out what lessons we will cover and adapt each day, as I honestly don’t know how much the kids will do or if what I have set is doable. Work in progress and anything is better than nothing.
The key for me is structure and routine.
Action: Give yourself a goal of doing some lesson, you are not a teacher, so do not think this has to be super detailed. I have a bullet point list in a notebook of what I want the kids to try each day.
I have joined a local Covid-19 group on Facebook for my area. Have a look to see if you have a local group that you could support or get help from.
Some ideas I have had to help keep home-work-school life going.
- Walking the dog for someone who is unable to leave their house
- Do a quick food shop for someone in need
- Make cards and pictures for people in care homes or people stuck indoors
- Ask to see if anyone local wanted to give a lesson over skype or google hangouts. Supervised by me- think about internet safety. I am wondering if someone local would want to share learning some basic languages, music, lessons about different cultures and faiths.
Last, but a very important point. Our kids are likely going to be on devices, either for learning or just so you can have some peace and quiet to function. Please check your phones, computers, and tablets for internet safety. Make it impossible for kids to download apps (and spend money on the apps). Check your virus software. Have a conversation with them about being safe online. No giving personal information, not downloading stuff they shouldn’t. Be really careful with Youtube content. We let it roll once as we thought, what is the harm it is only Peppa Pig….. After 20min it started to autoplay some really horrible content. We caught it in time as we were sat next to the kids. Lesson learned. If I leave the kids with devices, they play something from an app I know and trust. Like CBBCs or Netflix.
Action: Check your phone settings, passwords, internet settings, firewalls, security. Talk to your kids. The bad people of the internet are also sat at home with nothing better to do. Keep safe.
Hopefully, this has been helpful and given some ideas on how to tackle working from home and teaching your kids. I am a work in progress on this, and if you have found it useful, let us know and we can see what we can knock up.
Now, stay at home and wash your hands.
A list of helpful sites:
Chatter Pack did a super job at bundling together a whole load of sites,head over here.
I also got this list from Nick Wilsdon from group I am in. Thanks for sharing Nick 🙂
*Scholastic has created a free learn-from-home site with 20+ days of learning and activities.
*Pretend to travel the world..Go on a virtual tour of these 12 famous museums.
*This is the awesome free curriculum that we use. Everything from preschool activities to 12th grade is here! https://allinonehomeschool.com/ *
List of thinking games by grade: https://allinonehomeschool.com/thinking/ More awesome free learning websites that we like to use