Back when my now 13-year-old daughter was entering kindergarten, my husband and I decided to homeschool her. We homeschooled her until she was in 4th grade at which point we decided to send her to public school (which she wasn’t happy about). This year, the decision to keep our children home has been made for us. Our four daughters, ages 13, 10, 9, and 6, are currently all enrolled in public school which, for now, is 100% virtual.
The lessons I learned from homeschooling my daughter years ago have helped ground me a bit this year as my family embarks on virtual learning. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, and I still have plenty of concerns. But my experience has made me optimistic, and dare I say excited, about what this opportunity holds for all of us facing the collective challenge of virtual learning, whether fully virtual or in a hybrid situation. Even if your kids are back in school full-time, this year is sure to look different for your family, too. Here are some of my strategies to survive — and thrive — this school year.
Set Your Expectations
When I started homeschooling, I had all of the plans! A color-coded schedule, enriching and fun activities. But, it didn’t take long for those plans to crumble. Why? Because they suited my ideal, and not my reality, which included other kids to take care of and a full-time job. I quickly learned that I needed to be flexible with my expectations.
One of my favorite ways to visually see the expectations on a daily basis for my children and myself is to use a system called Post-it: Sort it. Here’s how it works: write down everything that needs to be done in a day on a sticky note. Be sure to include activities that you or your child want to do. Then with your child, sort the stickies into three groups: Fun, Should Do and Non-Negotiable. Look at the categories. Are you allowing them to have fun at all? Or is everything a non-negotiable? Are all the activities realistic? Get input from your child. What might be considered fun for you may not be for your child. This method can help you see your expectations for yourself and your child, and from there you can assess whether it’s reasonable.
2. Get Organized
There are two pieces to this one: organizing your space and organizing your time.
If possible, dedicate a space for your child to work. If there isn’t a separate space, try to designate a place where your child can put their laptop and work away at the end of the day. Make sure all of the passwords and logins are easily accessible and visible. It’s also useful to have a calm-down space where kids can take some time to settle their emotions away from stimulus.
It helps having a routine for both you and your children. I like a time-management strategy called “chunking.” With chunking, you choose a designated time for “recess,” for example, when you’ll all close your laptops and go out and kick a soccer ball together. Commit to a specific action that will signal specific events in your and your child’s day and try to stick with it, allowing for some flexibility, too.
3. Understand Your Thoughts
How you think and feel determines how you behave and take action. This can especially affect how you handle the challenge of this school year. For example, if you’re feeling anxious, you may blame your anxiety on your child’s school situation. But that may not get to the root of your anxiety. Maybe you’re actually anxious about not having time to help your child, or that your child won’t listen to you. Once you figure out your thoughts behind your feelings, you’re better able to manage those feelings and work on the root cause. And, you’ll be better able to support your child.
Your ability to communicate effectively can set the foundation for a good relationship, whether it’s with your partner, children, or coworkers. If you have a big meeting at work, talk to your children ahead of time. Explain to them that you won’t be available during a certain time, and come up with ideas of how they can work through issues if they arise. Celebrate your children if they’re able to honor that time. Similarly, if you have family commitments, give your manager and coworkers a heads-up, or mark your calendar.
5. Set Your Family Vision and Values
A family vision is a statement about what your family wants and how you’d like to achieve it. Just like a company’s vision often reflects the values of a company, your family vision can ground you and your family. In order to be effective, your family vision must actually represent and reflect your family, not just some aspiration.
When creating a family vision, it’s important to involve your kids! Ask questions like: What does family mean to me? What are some great characteristics of our family? What are some qualities we need to work on? What do we need to do differently to achieve this? What makes us unique?
After you have the vision, don’t just frame it and walk away. The utility comes from referring to the statement regularly. My kids take turns reciting our statement at dinner, then they each share what they did that day to embody one of the values on the vision statement.
There isn’t one prescription for virtual school that will fit all families. Figuring out what works for your family will take time. Be open to making mistakes along the way. And remember to take care of yourself, too. (You can find resources for parents at Ginger Roots). You’ve got this! And even if this year has more bumps than you’d like, remember that you’re part of a larger community of parents and caregivers all in similar situations, all doing the best we can for our kids.