We woke up early on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year only to learn that our home internet was out! Since we were all planning to spend the day learning and working online, we had a few moments of panic. Luckily the internet came back on before long and held steady the rest of the day!
I had planned every detail of virtual learning at our house, but there was still something out of my control. It's good to be reminded that no matter how well we plan, the unexpected still happens. I think this school year may teach us all that lesson many times over! Because there is so much in life that we cannot control, it is helpful to be organized because that gives us the capacity to handle the unexpected when it comes our way.
Whether your kids are doing virtual learning at home full-time or their school has a hybrid approach where just part of the week is e-learning, being a parent of a school-aged child this school year is going to be a challenge! I am trying to use organization to help make the experience as smooth as possible, and I thought I'd share some of my ideas with you.
Challenge # 1: Not enough workspace
We are excited to have my older son's best friend and his younger sister joining us for virtual learning. It gives our kids some socialization and makes their school day much more fun! But we had to get creative to fit everybody in our home and still keep distance between them.
We live in an 1800 square foot, nearly 150 year old house with no spare bedroom or office. On days when I work from home to help supervise the school day, there are six people to fit into the space! We decided that we wanted everyone on the same floor, so we are not using bedrooms as classrooms. Because of that, not every kid has enough room to have all of their books and supplies next to them at all times. We solved that problem with a set of plastic drawers labelled with each kid's name. The drawers are on wheels so if I want to get rid of the school look, I can roll them into the laundry room!
We decided that since most of the school day will be spent on Google Meets with headphones on, it didn't really matter if kids were in the same room because they rarely have to talk out loud during live class. We set the two older kids up in the kitchen and the younger two in the living room in a configuration so no one gets in anyone else's videos!
My husband works in our bedroom on a slim table that we set in front of a window, and when I'm working from home, I work in my craft area. Even though it's a little crowded, I made everyone their own nameplate for their space to define it as theirs. I got acrylic frames for photo booth pictures for less than a dollar, then used scrapbook paper and some markers to make every "desk" a little special. At the end of the day, the kitchen kids have to put everything in their drawer so my family can eat dinner at the same table, but it works!
Challenge #2: Confusing schedule
We have two different schedules with different break times for the elementary and the middle school, and then there are alternating days for certain classes - it gets confusing fast! I got two white boards and two inexpensive easels (check the photo frame section for these) to display the schedule. I used different colors to help the kids easily find their next class. For the schedules that alternate, there is a magnet that indicates what day it is. We have one white board in each room to keep kids on track.
I also created a printable daily schedule that lists each class time, class, and code for the live video session as well as check boxes for other daily requirements. These were great for the first week while everyone was getting used to their schedules. After the second week, we probably won't need these anymore and can just maintain a list of codes for the videos.
One thing I love about virtual learning is how much extra physical activity the kids are getting because they can go outside and play, go on a bike ride, or just get some sunshine during breaks. But it's important for them to stay on schedule, so setting timers is a great way to help kids manage their time and get back to their seats in time for the next session.
Challenge #3: Tech Issues
I work in IT for my day job, so I am used to tech issues! The biggest lesson here is to teach your child how to fix issues rather than fixing them all yourself. It's amazing how even young children can learn to troubleshoot an issue when you take the time to show them how. Before school starts, go through their device with them and explain the basics. Don't assume they know how to open a new tab on a web browser or even turn down the volume. Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on.
We've already run into broken links, unknown passwords, and pictures and videos that wouldn't display. Teachers have been very honest that this is all new to everyone, so don't feel bad about asking them for help or letting them know when something isn't going quite right - but be nice!! Taking a photo of exactly what you are seeing on your kid's device may be more helpful than trying to explain it in words.
Slow or overloaded internet will surely be a problem at some point. If that happens, try limiting video to only when it's needed. Most teachers have a recording if something goes wrong and you can't participate live. You may have to roll with it!
"Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on."
Challenge #4: I have to work!
Many of us are working parents, and work doesn't just stop when school starts. We are in unprecedented times, and employers are trying to make accommodations but still stay in business. There are some who can't work from home because of the nature of their job. This is where we have to stick together and help each other out! I'm fortunate because my husband works from home, but I am trying to be very aware that he has a full time job and as willing as he is to be a teacher as well, I need to pitch in where I can. I occasionally work from home to give him a break, and I also review schedules for the next day and make lists, monitor homework assignments, etc. the night before so the days are smoother.
No matter what kind of job you have or how high up you are in an organization, all employees are just people and many of them are parents dealing with virtual school. Even those who don't have kids themselves, have a child or teacher in their lives and can understand the challenges of juggling work and school responsibilities. Several times a week on conference calls, I hear someone's child in the background or someone on the call has to excuse themselves to help with a school issue. It doesn't bother me a bit - I get it! We are all trying to do our best, and no one can deny that our kids' education is important.
To help stay focused at work when you are at home with school-aged kids, set them up with everything they need before you start your workday. Designate your own workspace and clearly communicate when kids are allowed to enter that space and at what times they need to be quiet. You may consider a sign or visual reminder of these things for younger children. Schedule your breaks around the kids' breaks so you can check homework, answer questions, and enjoy seeing their faces in the middle of they day. You may need to talk to your boss about working an alternate schedule. If there are hours that you need to dedicate to school, is it possible you could work some in the early morning or late evening to make up for that time?
None of us know how long we will be dealing with virtual school, so I encourage you to identify your top challenges and come up with strategies to address them. Organize yourself in other areas of your life to give you more room in your day to deal with the challenges at hand.
Have a great school year!
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!