How to Work and School From Home During The Coronavirus Pandemic

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It feels like the world has gone crazy during the past few days in particular with the Covid-19 / Coronavirus Pandemic, with many countries closing their borders and implementing travel restrictions, thousands going into self or enforced isolation, mass closures of schools & universities and people being required to work from home where possible.

If you’re not already in lockdown, there’s a really high chance that it’s going to happen.

I was chatting with my kids about how we might need to be prepared in the coming weeks and months in case school closes and we need to work from home. Bright spark daughter pipes up “Mum that will be just like what we did last year!” And she’s right!

Sophie doing an online class last year in Thailand

We had weeks on end in South East Asia in particular where it was just too hot to go outside during the day, and we were all inside working and homeschooling and trying not to throttle one another… (joke. Mostly.)

We largely spent 24/7 together for 13 months, so we’ve got a bit of experience of what that can be like.

It got me thinking, we learned so much during our family gap year travels about making it all work and doing the remote work and school juggle. I asked on our Instagram channel if sharing some tips would help and it was a resounding YES!  So here they are!

PLEASE NOTE: we are not teachers, educational psychologists, relationship experts or human resources specialists! These are our opinions only based on our experiences. They may not work for you and your family, but hopefully will give you food for thought and some ideas for getting through this period.

Tips for working and schooling from home

1. Be prepared and get teched up

If you’re not already in lockdown, now’s the time to put together a plan for how this could potentially work. Factor in your ability to be able to work and school from home if necessary – how is your tech setup and most importantly your internet connection? Is it time to upgrade it where possible even if it’s only temporary?

One thing we found trying to work and school remotely was how frustrating it can be if you have a slow and/or unreliable connection. If you can speed it up at all, it’s totally worth it, particularly if you’re going to have to do video calls, uploading and downloading sizeable documents alongside the kids streaming their lessons or YouTube videos – no-one wants a bad buffering experience!

How well set up is your workplace for this – have they got a good business continuity plan meaning you can access everything you need remotely? Or is it a bit lacking? Have a think about how you might work if you can’t access your network. Have you got cloud storage for example and a place where you could temporarily collaborate with colleagues if necessary?

If you are going to be working on confidential or commercially sensitive information hopefully your workplace operates a VPN (virtual private network). If they don’t (naughty naughty), then consider subscribing to a VPN service that will protect your internet connection and sensitive information. We used Nord VPN last year when travelling and highly recommend it.

A bonus is Nord VPN allows you to watch global TV – so if you’re going to be stuck at home you might like to watch some shows you can’t normally access in your home country!

What’s your cell signal like? Will your local infrastructure handle a potential increase in calls if the whole country is calling one another on mobiles at home? If it’s a bit patchy, it could be worth purchasing a VoIP connection to lighten the load – for example a Skype number that you can forward your mobile to, allowing a better quality connection.

Even simple things like have you got enough plugs, chargers and cables for the devices everyone needs? The amount of arguments we had over this while we were away I don’t have enough fingers to count on! You could even think about colour coding them, so there are no disagreements around what belongs to who.

A bit of pre-thought here could save angst down the line.

2. Sort our your workspaces

One thing we found that really helped us get into a work and school mindset was to have a dedicated workspace. If you’re working from the kitchen table or bench then it can be too easy to get distracted, dry the dishes, put the dinner on, pat the cat etc, browse the pantry for a treat… and so on.

Of course not everyone has the luxury of oodles of space – but have a think about where you could set up a desk/s that will be solely reserved for working at. Sometimes in Asia we were in tiny one or two-bedroom apartments but we still managed to make it work.

If you’ve got a junk room or some spare space – even a corner in your bedroom or a nook under the stairs Harry Potter styles – now might be the time to get it organised and create somewhere where you can comfortably work from. Also have a think about the ergonomics of the space. No-one wants to come out of this in a couple of weeks/months with back problems or carpal tunnel problems!

Think about what might make it a nicer space to work from – can you get a cool potplant or fresh flowers, a lamp to improve the lighting if necessary, a favourite photo or pretty desk calendar – anything that makes the space inviting to work from.

Likewise if you have kids who are going to be at home, think about where they will work from. Will it be their bedroom or elsewhere? Encourage them to personalise their space as well.

3. Establish boundaries and rules of engagement early on

I’ve seen so many (tongue-in-cheek) comments on social media from parents going “being locked up at home with my kids and trying to work is my worst nightmare! We’re gonna go stir crazy”. I totally get it! So it’s really important to establish boundaries right from the start about how this is all going to work.

If your partner is going to be working at home too, you need to make time to sit down and discuss the logistics of everything and how you’re going to manage this. Are you going to have turns at kid minding/supervising? What does that look like? Don’t make assumptions and communicate clearly so everyone’s on the same page and there will (hopefully) be no resentment about sharing the load.

Talk to your kids (and partner /other family members if necessary) and establish expectations – particularly if you still need to take business calls. This is where the dedicated workplace comes in handy.  Chat to your kids and explain that when you’re at this space and on the phone, you can’t be interrupted unless it’s a real emergency.

Cos everyone remembers this guy right?!…

If your kids are older, explain to them that this isn’t a chance to slack off, sleep in til midday, watch Netflix or hang out online with their mates. There’s still work to be done and it’s important they keep up with their studies.

I think in these times it’s really important to have frank conversations with your employer also, especially if you are on your own or your partner can’t work from home for whatever reason. What are their expectations around your outputs, priorities and deadlines? Does everything need to be done strictly in the 9 to 5, or can you mix it up a bit to cater for having your kids around too? Which segways nicely into…

4. Go with the flow, be flexible and don’t aim for perfection

These are not normal times people, so cut yourself a bit of slack. It’s going to be challenging to make this work, so be kind on yourselves and your family and accept that life isn’t going to be perfect all of the time.

Wherever possible be flexible if that helps. When we first started our homeschool/work remotely routine I was determined it would be just like what we always did. Everyone up/dressed/breakfasted ready to start work and school at 9am. Work for 2 hours, have a morning break. Work another 2 hours, have a lunch break. Work another 2 hours…you get the picture.

Well, it didn’t work like that. Inevitably we would be 5 minutes into the lesson and someone would need to do a poo (sorry TMI). The maths lesson that we had thought would take 30 minutes only took 10. So what would we do to fill in those extra 20 minutes? Then someone would be hungry or need a drink of water. Then someone’s iPad app would crash mid-exercise and there would be a meltdown. A pencil would snap and need sharpening. You get the picture. All I can say is:

TEACHERS ARE SAINTS AND WE SHOULD PAY & VALUE THEM MORE!

Remember as well, particularly for younger kids – how much of a school day actually comprises solid learning of core maths, reading and writing skills. You might be surprised to know that 1.5 – 2 hours is sufficient and what we aimed for while we were travelling. Think about it – a day at school encompasses so many other things than just these skills.

The dynamic at home will not be the same as it is at school where there are other kids and social contact and a buzzy environment. Your kids will likely act different to these different circumstances and that’s ok – it’s a big change for them too.

This might not be what you want to hear, but if you can be a bit flexible with your work commitments, then maybe that needs to happen so you can deal with the kids. Can you start work at 5.30 or 6am and get a few hours done while your partner does the morning routine then swap for a bit? Can one of you do the night shift – work from 5pm to 10pm? You get the idea. If you are able to be flexible like this, then it could really help with stress levels.

If you’re a clean/neat freak, accept that the house is likely going to be more messy than normal with everyone hanging out there 24/7. This isn’t forever, and it’s important not to sweat the small stuff.

5. Don’t stress out if your kids don’t do all the schoolwork

OK so controversial and some people probably won’t approve of this – but just try your best and don’t stress if your kids don’t get through all of their schoolwork. It’s different everywhere and hopefully most places have some form of online learning where your kids can interact with their teacher online. But there’s still likely to be a degree of work they’re going to have to do independently. And given these really, really weird circumstances we’re all in, they might not want to/be able to get all the work done.

Please don’t stress if it means for a few short weeks, or even months your kids aren’t learning at 100% like they normally do. Everyone is in the same boat here. Your family’s mental health and happiness is more important than causing world war three over completing a piece of work.

Admittedly our kids are younger so not at exam level / make or break educational stage – but sometimes we went for weeks last year where they weren’t doing any formal learning at all (ie maths, literacy). Guess what – they’ve come back to school after a year away and are doing brilliantly. There’s always time for them to catch up if they get a bit behind and we’re all in the same boat here.

 

A good day doing some remote learning. It’s not always going to look like this, so take a deep breath and go with it!

 

This might be a good time to think outside of the box about what we consider “learning” and “schooling” to be. If your kid is going to through a tantrum over doing maths and wants to play with her/his Lego, then think about how you could factor some maths into it eg angles, counting/multiplication/division. Instead of completing a set piece of literacy work – let them choose the topic if it means they’re going to be reading or writing or researching.

Do some baking together – that’s maths, science and literacy all in one when you read and follow a recipe, measure out the ingredients and put them all together in the correct order.

Let them watch a bit of TV/Netflix/YouTube if it’s educational or will contribute towards their personal growth and development and growing their EQ. If it’s going to make them feel better about themselves, and give everyone a bit of a break then let them FaceTime their friends, or do a bit of Roblox or Nintendo. All-day every-day of your confinement probably isn’t a great idea, but a little bit to get you through this is all good in our book!

I’m sure there will be haters for this approach, but honestly we would say just do what it takes to get by and through these times without any damage to your relationships!

We used some great apps and programmes last year while travelling that you might like to check out below in the resources section.

6. Make sure you get an opportunity for time out

Most of us spend a few hours a day or less together as a family unit, so it can be a HUGE shock to the system when you’re together 24/7, especially in unplanned circumstances like a pandemic and there’s no beach, pool or kids club to go hang out at.

For everyone’s sanity, make sure you can get some time out to relax or do an activity you enjoy. Whether this is locking the bathroom door and having a soak with a good book (to get away from everyone else for a bit!), doing some exercise in your yard, balcony, garage, wherever if you’re able to, putting on some headphones and listening to some music or a podcast (preferably not about Coronavirus!) to tune everyone out – do whatever it takes to get some “me” time.

If one of you tends to do more domestic chores than the other, then maybe this is a good time to have that chat about sharing the load a bit more to avoid any resentment when you’re confined at close quarters! Consider switching things up a bit – it could be the perfect opportunity for the person who doesn’t do the online food shopping to give it a go, or take turns at putting the garbage out or cooking instead of only one person doing it.

7. Spend some time bonding

So this sounds counterintuitive to point 6 above, but you could think about using this time to do some proper family bonding – the old making lemonade out of lemons strategy. So many people’s lives are so busy all the time, this could be the perfect opportunity to slow down and spend some quality time together.

This is especially true if you’re not having to do big commutes during this period – if you normally do an hour a day each way to work, that’s an extra 10 hours a week you’ve suddenly inherited!

Take some time to hang out and reconnect with your kids – put on a movie and make some popcorn and all hang out on the sofa.

Dust off some boardgames or start a family UNO challenge. Find some exercise or yoga channels on YouTube and get the kids into it too. Leaf through old family albums and teach them about their heritage. Make a hut in the sitting room. The kids will love it and it will make life easier and hopefully the time pass more quickly!

Many people currently have their travel plans on hold until this blows over, so use that time to do some trip planning (SHAMELESS PLUG: this blog is a great place to get ideas). The travel industry is really hurting now, so there are bound to be some amazing deals coming up. Use this downtime to plan where you want to explore next, and get the kids involved!

You could even do some ‘virtual travelling’ by choosing a recipe from another country and giving it a whirl now you have a bit of time at home.

Resources

Outschool

We are big fans of Outschool and used this a bit last year to mix up our homeschooling. The platform has over 10,000 online classes taught by teachers/subject matter experts around the world, and the class is made up of kids aged 3 – 18 from around the world. There literally is something for everyone to engage with for a small fee, with many of the topics are things not covered in mainstream school.

This will provide a great platform for some social interaction with other kids if you’re stuck indoors.

Some of the amazing classes on offer over the coming weeks include:

– Women in history
– Beginners Coding
– Drawing dragons using math
– Harry Potter and the wizard writing class
– Forensic science
– College preparation writing for high school
– Studio Ghibli sketching class
– Introduction to veterinary medicine
– Debating class for Middle Schoolers
– Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief Novel Study
– Introduction to Spanish

and so, so much more! Check it out at Outschool.com

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is 100% free and a non-profit organisation that aims to provide free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. There is a plethora of maths, science and engineering, arts and humanities subjects on there, as well as test prep.

Prodigy

Our kids loved Prodigy – a free online maths learning platform that uses gamification to build their math skills.

Reading Eggs

Kiwi and Aussie kids will be familiar with Reading Eggs – a literacy online platform that’s used widely in our schools too for 2-13 year olds. You can sign up for a free 2 week trial.

Mathletics

Chances are your child might be using this one in class already as Mathletics is used by over 5 million kids in 14,000 schools around the world. If they don’t already have a subscription through school you can check out a free 48-hour trial to see if it works for your kids before committing.

Podcasts

If your kids are bored with reading, then the next big thing is to get them listening to books. Podcasts saved our sanity last year when we drove 20,000km around Europe and we all genuinely enjoyed listening to books and stories – many of them were super educational! We had an Audible subscription which allowed us to download two audiobooks per month alongside many free books.

One of our family favourites was “Smash Boom Best” from American Public Media which was educational debates on fun things like “cats vs dogs”, “chocolate vs cheese”, “Grand Canyon vs Mt Everest” and our favourite “pizza vs tacos”. Highly recommended by us!

Your local library

If you’re lucky enough to have a great library who has their resources online then totally utilise it! We downloaded so many books while we were away that the kids read on their iPad, along with audiobooks from here as well.

Our favourite boardgames and activities

Here’s a list of some of our favourite games and things to do if you’re a bit stuck for ideas!

UNO – the classic cardgame that we still love even after playing for hours on end.

Exploding Kittens – this is a goodie that the whole family will enjoy.

Rory’s Story cubes are fabulous for getting the imagination working – roll the dice and then make a story out of the picture that appears.

Twister do you remember playing this cool game as a kid? Now might be the perfect time to introduce your kids to it too (as long as you’re all virus free!)

Top Trumps – nothing to do with the US president but a fun card game that tests your general knowledge about a specialist subject. Our kids are obsessed with this game and play it often. There are topics ranging from predators, Harry Potter, Guiness World Records, Marvel characters, Greek Myths and more.

Pasta making – we had so much time recently in Italy learning to make pasta from an expert nonna (grandma). It’s a great family activity that’s sure to get everyone engaged and as mentioned above you can add some literacy, maths and science into this activity!

What about getting into making kombucha? Now could be the perfect time to get your scoby on and give your body a helping hand in these trying times.

 Art set – you can’t go wrong with a well-stocked art set to get creative and help pass the time.

  If like us you’re a bit sad that you can’t travel at the moment, then take a virtual journey through every country in the world with Lonely Planet. Our kids have this book and often pick it up to browse through it.

So hopefully you’ve found some of these tips helpful and practical to implement to get you through the next little while. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a speedy resolution to this terrible situation and of course thoughts are with those who are suffering at the moment.

We have a saying in the Māori language of New Zealand “kia kaha” which means stay strong.

Kia kaha to you all xx

 

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