How To Manage Home Schooling If You’re A Working Parent, According To The Experts

Home schooling is tough on everyone, especially if you’re juggling your own work, too. To help you manage the load and get through this third lockdown with your sanity in check, we asked the experts for their advice – plus, seven women balancing motherhood with a busy career told us how they’re getting on.

Create A Designated Workspace 

“Having separation between your workspace and personal space is important for both children and adults. If you have enough room, create a dedicated workstation for your children. It’s not only a fun way for them to create their very own ‘working from home’ space, but it will also help them understand which areas of the house are for work, and which are for play or downtime,” advises Charlotte Davies, LinkedIn careers expert. “Whether it’s the dining room table or a desk in their bedroom, it’s important to have a specific place for your child to work,” agrees headteacher Ben Evans, “A small desk is great if you have one, but any area that indicates a space for learning will provide the necessary separation between home and school.”

Stick To A Routine

Establishing a good routine is one of the most important things when it comes to home schooling. “Routine, structure and reassurance will ensure children continue to make progress while at home – setting a few key ground rules from the outset will make life easier for everyone,” explains Ben. “Once again, families face considerable pressures in balancing their own jobs with home schooling, which is no easy task, especially for those with younger children. However, you shouldn’t put undue pressure on yourslef to replicate the day-to-day life of school at home. It’s much more important to stick to a good routine and set regular times for breakfast and lunch. You should also encourage your child to get dressed just as they would if they were going to school – it’ll help create the right mindset to start the day.”

“It’s also important for your child to get into a good routine as children like to know what they are doing and what’s expected of them,” says child development expert and psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer. “Regular patterns give children a sense of control and predictability which is even more important in times of uncertainty. Before setting up a routine for the family, have a discussion first to make sure it works for everyone in the household. It may be tricky if you have children of different ages but creating a realistic plan and seeing it through each day will benefit everyone.”

Take Regular Breaks

“As the weeks go on, home schooling may become more difficult for children, so accept that your formal learning time may become shorter and their playtime and breaks may need to be longer and more frequent,” explains Charlotte Gater from Explore Learning. “Regular snack breaks will also keep their energy up, as well as short five-minute exercises – star jumps, or gentle stretches will do the trick. Even if you end up with slightly less ‘lesson time’ overall as a result, the time your children do spend learning is likely to be better quality as they will be less restless.” Equally, it’s a good idea to ensure that older children are actually taking regular breaks, rather than having endless hours of screen time. “At secondary school, the average lesson is around 40 minutes long, but the ‘real work’ might be condensed into just ten minutes” says Greg Smith at Oxford Home Schooling. “By setting routines, which include taking regular breaks, children will find it easier to stay focused, engaged and make progress.”

Follow The Curriculum

“It’s important to try and cover all of the subjects your child is used to learning about, but don’t worry too much about spending an equal amount of time on each,” advises Greg. “As a parent, you will naturally have greater knowledge in some areas than others and it’s fine to lean on these more heavily. However, your child may have interests in subjects you are less familiar with, and it would be a shame if they were unable to continue learning about these during this period. Avoiding these topics altogether could result in your child losing their passion. If you’re unsure about any content, it can be quite refreshing to do some research yourself and learn something new, before passing on the information to your child. If you have primary school children, there will be more flexibility in their curriculum, but it’s a good idea to follow their day to day activities as much as possible.”

Make The Most Of Other Resources

Most schools will provide a set amount of virtual lessons, but there are also lots of online resources at your disposal, too. The BBC, for example, is currently providing daily televised lessons for school children of all ages. CBBC has a three-hour block of primary school lessons from 9am, covering a range of subjects, while BBC Two is running two hours’ worth of educational programmes for secondary school students every week, which will include Shakespeare plays, science lessons and history shows. “BBC Bitesize and Geography Games are also great tools for delivering educational content in a fun, engaging way,” says Greg. Look for online resources for parents, too. “The Home Learning Hub from the Good Play Guide offers great tips and advice for parents on how to engage with their children,” says Dr Amanda.

Talk To Your Employer 

“The events of the last year have meant many companies are more understanding about the challenges of working from home with children,” says Charlotte. “Speak to your manager about any potential concerns and discuss how you can address them together. Almost four in ten parents have worked outside normal business hours in recent months due to looking after their children, and 20% of parents have cut their normal working hours, so it’s evident that employers are open to flexible working to help you balance a working life.” If you have some flexibility within your role, look at splitting up your day to try and make the balance possible – “You could try working early in the morning or when your kids have gone to bed,” suggests Dr Amanda. “And don’t feel guilty if you need to let the kids watch a bit of TV so you can get some work done. As long as you’ve established a good routine, it can be used as a treat to reward good work while earning you some time to answer those emails.” 

Keep In Contact With The School

“It’s important to remember that schools are not just open to the vulnerable and children of critical keyworkers, they are also there to support every pupil in school – parents should feel able to contact them for advice and support as needed,” says Ben. “If you have concerns, whether educational or pastoral, contact your school rather than worrying at home. Look to the positives and the opportunities to extend your children’s knowledge and part of their learning where you can, but don’t put too much pressure on this. It can be counterproductive to home school in a stressful environment, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling.” You can also reach out to those who are also in your situation, such as parenting peers or online communities.

Look After Yourself, Too

“Use your support bubble, be kind to yourself and manage everyone’s expectations,” advises Dr Amanda. “If may seem obvious, but you can’t look after someone else if you’re not looking after yourself.” Getting a good night’s sleep is also essential. “We know when we don’t get enough sleep, we find it harder to concentrate,” says Greg. “Ensure you’re getting plenty of shut eye and time to switch off in the evenings, too. You can also try short daily meditations during your breaks which can dramatically reduce stress levels – a factor that’s been proven to exacerbate tiredness and reduce memory retention.”
 

Here, seven parents share their experiences and top tips for juggling home schooling and running a business…

“I’ve experienced every emotion home schooling my three- and five-year-old children. We've had precious moments but also some awful moments with lots of crying and shouting. I've gone to my bedroom and had a little cry on my bed a few times. My son’s school has been amazing though, his teacher sends us brilliant videos and resources each day and he has a weekly Zoom call with his class – I don't know how teachers manage to keep 30 children quiet and engaged. I know how quickly these early years fly by, so I'm trying to see this time as a gift and to soak up quality time with them while I can, rather than putting lots of pressure on myself to keep up with every single bit of schoolwork. I’ve found it challenging working at home at the same time, but I try and stick to a routine – I tend to work first thing in the morning for a few hours, followed by another few hours in the early evening while my husband does bath and bedtime. It’s a total juggle but I know I’m very lucky as there are lots families in less fortunate situations. The most helpful thing I've done for myself, while having no childcare, is to set aside specific blocks of the day when I can work so I can be fully present when I’m off duty. It never works when I try and play with the children while having one eye on my emails. Us parents need to be kind to ourselves and encourage each other, rather than focus on our shortcomings. Don't let other families creating papier-mâché masterpieces or cardboard castles make you feel inferior. Your children don't care, they just want you to be there with them.”

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“Home schooling has been incredibly stressful – the kids are not enjoying it, and neither am I. What's frustrating is they just don't want to work at home the way they do at school. When they're at home, they see it as a time to relax and play with their toys. It's hard for them to understand why they have to stay at home, and they are seeing it as a punishment rather than a necessity. Not being able to give the kids our full attention while working from home has been hard too, but we’ve learned you can’t do it all. During the first lockdown, we had a lot of guilt, so this time around, we've allocated alternate days for the kids and for the business. I home school on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while my husband does the reverse. I also try to make deals with the kids, but always make sure the work gets done. I let them watch TV or play football when they want, but they have to sit down and finish their schoolwork afterwards. Taking turns with my husband has been a huge help – we feel a lot more productive this time.”

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“As a mother of six, home schooling has been really difficult. I have 12-year-old twins, a ten-year old, a six-year old, a three-year old and a four-month-old baby. The endless laptop war with my three older girls has been particularly frustrating and with so many children, it's very hard to keep on top of what time their Zoom meetings take place every day. The calls take up most of the day and I like to make sure they get some fresh air, too. For me, it’s not one trip to the park, but often three or four as they are all on different schedules. My younger child has found it very unnerving to be so present on a computer. She just got the hang of it during the last lockdown, then went back to school and has now had to get her head around it again. Although it’s a real challenge, it’s great to see what my children are learning – I’ve really enjoyed getting involved in the English and art stuff. I’ve even set up a laptop station with my three older girls to create more of a grown-up office vibe. Since the first lockdown, I’ve tried to me more organised – I bought a whiteboard to write down the children’s schedule and I make sure the fridge is filled with lots of healthy snacks. As for me, I manage to get a lot of work done in three hours each day and I’ve realised I don’t need to be at a screen all day long. Juggling home schooling and running my own health and beauty PR business has been tough but knowing that I’m not alone is a big consolation. My advice to other parents would be to stay in touch with the school and teachers if you’re having problems. When I told our teachers my little one can get embarrassed over Zoom, she set up one-to-one calls with her instead – it’s worth remembering most teachers are finding it just as hard as we are.”

“During lockdown, arranging childcare and keeping two children under the age of four entertained has definitely been a challenge. My husband and I have very demanding jobs, so it was difficult to juggle both at the same time, while also looking for a nanny. As a parent, you often worry your children are not developing and socialising as much as they should be. Now we’re in another lockdown, I’m planning on being more structured with activities and creating a better routine. My two girls have grown up a lot during the past year and my eldest is starting to read, so I’m planning some more educational activities for her. Prior to lockdown, I only saw the girls properly at the weekend as I was always in the office or out for meetings, so I’ve really cherished the quality time we’ve spent together. Looking back, the first two months last year were hell, but we’ve found ways to adapt since then. My advice to others parent would be to try and teach your kids to be independent so they can do basic things for themselves and create a good structure for you and your and your partner. Alone time is so important, it’s really kept us sane.”

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“My daughter’s school has been really helpful, but one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced is helping my daughter navigate her lessons. Everything is on a computer now and my eldest, who is six, needs continual help. Although things are more structured than during the first lockdown, I often find I can’t get any of my own work done because I’m so focused on helping my daughter with her schoolwork. During the week I get up, get ready and sort out breakfast for the children as if it’s a normal working day but I find it hard to switch off and I get terrible mum guilt when I’m working. You just have to do your best and try and structure your day. I quickly learnt to let my daughter tackle her work on her own before I helped and that seemed to make a huge difference. It went from ‘mummy what shall I put here?’, ‘can you help me with this?’ and ‘how do I spell this?’ to blissful silence for 20 minutes while she did the work and then asked me to check it. It was a total game changer. As parents, we just have to do our best, try and be organised, and create good structure for ourselves and our kids.”

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“I have a seven-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, and I’ve had to work from home throughout the pandemic. A times, I’ve found home schooling difficult, but we’ve got into a good routine where we set aside time for a few hours of learning each day. It’s hard to ensure both children are feeling settled in their at-home routine, while also juggling my own work commitments, so I make sure to constantly check in on them to let them know they’re doing well and tell them I love them. This time, I’ve accepted we may get home schooling done, we may not, but being at home is an education in itself, and that’s okay. Also, there’s no point in feeling guilty that I’m not 'making the most of this time' – we’re getting through it, and that’s enough. Accepting that makes me much happier than the guilt of all the things I should have done. Parents shouldn’t feel like they’re on their own, so finding a virtual support network is a great idea. Now that our real-life contact is restricted, having regular contact with people is vital – the Peanut community is a great resource for all parents. Simply knowing others are going through the same challenges can be a huge comfort."

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“I have an 18-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, so home schooling has been a complete rollercoaster. My son has found the lack of structure and distractions at home very difficult. He suffers from ADHD, so concentration is hard at the best of times. As a working mum, trying support a business under the financial stress of lockdown while simultaneously home schooling was not easy. They may be in different school years now, but the challenges are still the same. I’m a single mum too, so working in normal times brings with it a lot of guilt, but lockdown home schooling has multiplied it ten-fold. However, I have loved having extra time with both my children. This time around, I’m trying not to ‘do it all’. Anything I can't get to immediately will eventually get done, just not as quickly. I would advise other parents to prioritise what’s most important and try to enjoy your time together – it’s a unique opportunity to have more time with them for a little while. For me, I’m trying to live in the now and appreciate the good things.”

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