Mum-of-two and former teacher Kristen Dias has been working from home since her daughter was born five years ago. Over the years, Kristen has come up with some simple strategies for working from home with young kids underfoot, and the last couple of weeks being at home every day, she’s taken it further. She shares her tips for getting work done while homeschooling young kids.
There are a lot of hours in a day
The kids aren’t awake for ALL of them (well, most kids aren’t). I get up very early, about 5.30am, which gives me a couple of hours of uninterrupted work time. (Don’t overdo this: if you’re exhausted, sleep till a normal hour). I then do another couple of hours after the kids go to bed (on the days I can keep my eyes open and am not snoring on the couch by 9pm). I also do this on the weekend, and get in a few hours while the kids are playing, or I ask my husband to entertain them so I can get some work done.
Work while the kids are working
Once I’ve set my daughter up with an activity, I can usually work on my computer next to her and just be available if she needs me to help occasionally. If it’s a science or cooking activity, then I need to be fully involved, but if it’s tracing letters, colouring or counting, I can usually sit next to her and work away.
Work while the kids are playing independently
There are many activities kids can do independently that don’t really need your interaction, but they often like to have you nearby. As I write this I’m sitting in the backyard (I hope a bull ant doesn’t bite me like last week!) while my daughter is on the swing.
Set up the kids to get their own snacks
If you have very young kids, you can set up a ‘snack station’ on a low table that they can reach. I’ve done this with both my kids since they were one year old. I set it up with a variety of things they like, such as tomatoes, cheese, sultanas, crackers and fruit pieces. I also put their water bottle on the table. I take them to the table and show them what’s there for them to eat. As the kids get older, I’ve taught them to be more independent by getting the snacks they like from the fridge or cupboard directly. You need to make sure the snacks you want them to have access to are on a low shelf (a good idea to keep ‘sometimes snacks’ out of view). I take a break for lunch and we all sit down together to eat, but if they just want snacks throughout the day, mostly they help themselves.
Be flexible about where you work
There are many places you can work if you have a laptop and headphones, or even just your phone with email and video chat. I do work calls in the car very often while I’m driving the kids somewhere (obviously, that is much more limited at the moment since we are mostly at home in isolation).
As mentioned earlier, I work beside the kids at the kitchen table while they’re doing some school work or independently playing. I take my computer outside while they’re playing outside. I keep my computer on my knee and sit next to them and work while they watch TV or a movie. Even just with my phone I can answer emails and chats about work while sitting with the kids.
Make a deal with your kids if you need to do some really important work uninterrupted
Depending on the ages of your kids, you can just be really open with them and tell them you need to be on a call and they can’t interrupt you for a few minutes. I wouldn’t recommend doing this too often. But if I set my kids up with a movie and snacks and ask if they think they’ll be able to let me work quietly for a while, they are pretty cooperative. The two-year-old asks the five-year-old for help. I also tell the five-year-old we can do something together when the toddler naps if she helps me out now. You can also resort to rewarding them with stickers or an activity they really like later in the day.
I do let my kids have screen time because they really like it and it keeps them engaged while I get some work done. There are lots of apps that are educational on the iPad. For example, my daughter’s school follows Jolly Phonics, so I have searched for some Jolly Phonics apps for reading and writing and there are a lot. She also has a subscription to Mathletics through the school which she enjoys. I have Bee-Bot, which introduces kids to the concept of coding. I also let my kids watch TV, and also do some exercise via YouTube. There is a program called Cosmic Kids Yoga which they really enjoy, and it calms them down at the end of the day. I join in myself sometimes too – they find my unco yoga moves pretty hilarious!
Know when your kids need you and be present
You may be reading this thinking, gee, does this mum interact with her kids at all? I’m not necessarily highly emotionally intelligent, but I do try to keep in tune with what my kids need. Luckily they are not exactly subtle when they need me. My son will slide between me and my computer screen and say I want to sit on your lap, or I want to cuddle you. When he does that I know that’s it for work for the moment and I just need to put the computer down and be present with him. My daughter will get exasperated at times and say, “Mama you’re not looking!” (or listening), so I try to understand that she really needs me then, and stop working for a while.
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Written by Kristen Dias. Kristen is a mum, teacher, former expat (she taught in India for six years), corporate education professional and entrepreneur. Kristen recently started Travel Karma, a business that provides travel activity kits for kids. Kristen’s family is all about adventures, new experiences, and creating unforgettable memories. Follow Kristen’s family adventures on Instagram and Facebook.