Canceled summer survival tips: work from home + parenting edition
June 4, 2020 8:17 PM   Subscribe

We are limping to the end of 3 months of homeschool + working from home, and the prospect of 3 months of summer vacation + working from home is bleak. I am looking for tips, ideas, commiseration, and suggestions for how to make this time easier and more enjoyable for my 7-year-old, my husband, and me.

We are keeping a tight lockdown bubble due to the uncertainty of COVID19 + our kid's rare genetic disorder, plus we’re in Minneapolis where everything else is uncertain right now. I work from home full-time and have anywhere from 2-5 hours of inconsistently scheduled conference calls per day. My husband spends a couple afternoons per week at the office and, when at home, has several hours of conference calls per day as well. Obviously there’s lots of work to do between calls. Our kid started out surprisingly OK with homeschool but has definitely gotten more frustrated with the whole experience of stressed out parents who are burned out on multi-tasking, missing his friends, general boredom, and a cat that does not want to be hugged every 10 minutes.

What are other parents of elementary school-aged children doing to keep the peace at home, especially now that any structure of school/distance learning is gone? Have you found any self-directed projects that have kept your kids engaged without you needing to constantly assist or troubleshoot? Our kid is teaching himself to play piano via iPad app, which is frankly awful for conference calls but pretty amazing in all other ways. Are there any other types of “leveling-up” skills activities we should look into besides video games? Have you found a backyard toy that has partially made up for closed pools and playgrounds? Any advice for only children who are too young to get much out of video calls with friends? We are struggling lately to make it through the day without tears or yelling, so any tips would be appreciated.
posted by Maarika to Human Relations (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
We’re not in as tight a quarantine situation as you, but we’re both FT WFH, have a couple of higher-risk people we’re trying to protect, and have an eight-year-old who has Had It. We’re limping through the summer with some very small-group camp situations, some time at grandma’s, some vacation time taken by one parent at a time, and a lot of stressed-out multitasking. It sucks. It’s taking a huge toll.

One thing we considered was hiring someone to come in for part-days and babysit, but we didn’t get super far; if we hadn’t found some just-enough camp situations we were reasonably comfortable with, we would have gone through and tried to find someone who had a similarly small bubble. Obviously any situation has risks, but that seems lower if you trust that the person.

Good luck ...this situation is garbage.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:28 PM on June 4, 2020

The folks I know in similar circumstances have essentially traded TV and games against learning on a 1:1 basis. I'm not saying this is a scientific answer or anything, but they've held their lives together by saying OK look, if you do 20 minutes of Khan Academy, you get 20 minutes of MLP, and so on, with unlimited "outside time" (where applicable). A weekly "gift" (bribe) helps keep the schedule ("you didn't finish your lessons this week, so no toy on Friday. Maybe you can get it on Saturday if you work hard and finish six prizes in Khan Academy"). And always, always, always, "I'll play with you for half an hour but you have to study for half an hour first, or you can go play in your room instead."

As a cautionary message, some of them (tech world, so schedules are more flexible than elsewhere) have also gone into swing shift mode, where each parent gets X hours of uninterrupted work time by shifting their schedules dramatically into the night. This has the obvious drawback of limiting common time between adults, and after 3 months those couples are right now in the process of giving up and trying to find relatives they can move in with. So maybe don't try that.
posted by aramaic at 9:13 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

For a price, there are plenty of virtual camps and online classes that will replace some of the structure school was providing. I’m helping to run online camps and classes and some of the kids seem to like it. It is definitely not for every child.
posted by likethenight at 9:18 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

We just gave up on the schooling this week, because it no longer felt tenable juggling wise & we felt the little benefit to our kids did not outweigh the stress (us) and misery (kids, especially the 13yo). Our kids are now on summer time. We both work full time from home.

I don't have many suggestions, but fwiw our 8 and 13yo kids have done better left to their own devices so far. We let them play video games after 1:30, which is the same as when we were doing school. They also do a chore every day. Otherwise, they get to pick what they do in the morn with the understanding that we both have to work so cannot devote a ton of attention to them. Some things that might help from our limited experience:

- building or creating activities if your kid enjoys them: Lego, Meccano, fun art supplies
- the trampoline in our backyard has been a huge success for us
- if your kid has any interest in coding, Scratch is a great learn to code program for younger kids and is free. Kiddo will likely need a bit of help initially but it is pretty easy once you catch on. You can buy a book with guides for making simple little games and so on, and I'm sure there are other guides online!
-if your kid is into reading, maybe get them a new series to work through. Our 8yo is really into comics & graphic novels and is currently reading all our old Garfield collections. Bad Kitty, Catstronauts, Dogman, and Diary of a wimpy kid have all been favorites.
-allll the video games

Good luck, I agree that this situation is garbage.
posted by DTMFA at 9:39 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think too that it would help if there is any way that you can find a family you feel safe bubbling with (i.e., WFH, has been isolating also). Even the very limited friend time our kids have had has been HUGE for everyone's sanity. This sounds extra hard for you, but it would be worth considering if it is at all possible.
posted by DTMFA at 9:52 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

My kid is 6 and we also have a 2 year old in the mix. We’ve been doing kids’ audiobooks and music on a device that the 6 year old can control. He’s not quite reading independently yet but he loves stories, and the ability to go off on his own and listen to a new story (or instigate a dance party to music of his own choosing) has been a helpful way for him to blow off steam. Also as much outside play as we can manage and walks every day.

This situation is poop and it’s crushing us. We are with you in spirit.
posted by beandip at 9:59 PM on June 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Well my situation is not quite the same as yours but it is challenging. I’ve got two preschool boys with special needs and we are completely isolated. I do school work with them for about 20 minutes in the afternoon.

So, things that have really worked for me:

Put on my own gas mask first. I’ve started getting up at 5am so I can exercise, have my coffee, journal and catch up on the news- do meal prep without being interrupted. It’s awesome. It was hard to start and I don’t do it everyday but it’s changed my life because I no longer spend the entire day with demanding people who are hard to please and since it’s such a boost for my mental health I’m easier to be around and they’re happier and nicer to be around.

Find some kind of deeply deeply exciting and interesting activity. Maybe magnatiles or scelectrix

Take some vacation days and remove all screens and switch off the television. Perhaps when the week is over he will be more inclined to engage with those activities again. My kids get sick of tv.

Maybe each you and your husband find one uninterrupted hour in your schedule to devote to some interest your child has. I’ve been spending a half an hour the last couple mornings sitting with my son discussing all the merits and interesting aspects to superzings. He prefers this over cartoons.

But a HUGE lot of books on eBay so he has a random library of books to explore.

(I preface the next few suggestions by saying I lived in Norway and love the idea of koselig,you may know it as hygge) it’s huge for facilitating close knit happy family feelings.

Make normal activities like eating lunch MUCH more elaborate and special... make a plan, let him help, enjoy the meal with him. Have delicious lemonade in a gorgeous jug. Maybe have him plan out a weeks lunches. This helps you because it’s something you have to do, and it can double as quality time and show you care.

When you offer a drink or snack, again, make it special and awesome. Get a great twisty straw. This shows you care and takes 3 minutes.
posted by pairofshades at 2:54 AM on June 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

We have been getting up at 3:45 every morning and then swapping back and forth who is on kid duty/half working once kiddo (almost 5) is up. We do a bunch of live zoom classes(dance, yoga) and also get art kits from a local arts center for variety in the arts and crafts space. We have also been doing reading on Readeo with grandparents, and that has been amazing. Your kid may be a bit old for the books. One grandparent also reads chapter books over zoom a couple times a week, and another does crafts a couple times a week.

Everything is also exhausting and hard and we have given up and a nanny is starting today. Hugs.
posted by rockindata at 3:22 AM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

If your back yard is suitable you might try some natural history projects like identifying birds, insects, even clouds.
Golden Guides are good and I sometimes find them quicker than adult field guides and Peterson First Guides are also useful. Five year old Botanizer Jr. once identified a new bird in the yard faster than we did. We have a live bug catcher like this that started an interest in entomology and I still use for catch and release in the house.

Another summer project could be a very small garden. Even 2' by 3' could hold a variety of flowers and vegetables. Planting only seeds might be too slow to show results so a combination of starts and some quick seeds like beans and radishes might be best.
posted by Botanizer at 4:21 AM on June 5, 2020

My kids are older (teen/tween) but we're all regressing a bit as time goes on, and I'm a single mom who has them FT for the pandemic, so here are some of my plans and ideas (also from when they were younger and I was SAHM):
- If you can, spend one solid 30 minutes totally focused on your kid in the morning. This could include a meal if it's just the two of you really focused on each other. But it does include cuddling, waking up together, talking, reading, playing, and just hanging out. This sets you both up for a healthy "push off" away from each other for some individual time.
- Definitely "time block" where you and your partner alternate being the one who fields any bids for attention from your kid. Whether that's splitting up the day, or alternating days, or alternating weeks -- whatever works for you best.
- Give your kid his own cool zone where he spends either the AM or the PM after lunch. Like, turn the LR into a fort area using the couch and chairs? Drape some sheets in his bedroom? Pop a tent in the LR or a safe yard? Something like that. It's his zone for whatever. You can have rules like 'no food' if you must, but generally grant it as his domain. Practice being very formal about knocking and requesting access to this space. At his age he will probably love that, and may start reciprocating.
- Audiobooks were reliably great for us. Looooong ones. I really recommend the Angie Sage Septimus Heap series, a few of the longer Roald Dahl books read by Jeremy Irons, My Father's Dragon, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Charlotte's Web read by E.B. White is also very good. With audiobooks, I find they can be more advanced than you would typically read because they come with the built in authority of a neutral reader who isn't stopping to answer questions and kids are more willing to ride it out and see what happens.
- Have a regular meal time if possible. Depending on your natural energy levels, consider switching your main meal (i.e., the one most demanding on you as a cook) to whatever time of the day best works for you. This could even mean eggs, beans, salad, fruit, some turkey, and bread for breakfast and then lighter lunches and dinners. Essentially: set yourself up to just coast during whatever part of the day is your low-energy time.
- For outdoor and active time, we've been doing a 7-minute bodyweight circuit like this or this one that I'm going to formalize after school ends.
- Time block for your kid, too. Mornings are active with you all doing the 7-min workout, time outside, playing in the dirt, etc. then time in his fort listening to audiobooks after lunch. Or vice versa.
- Stock up on small 'manipulables' and art supplies (maybe some plastic sheeting that you can tape over a coffee table or small kids table). Legos, cars, crayons, markers, construction paper, big coloring posters, or just things he can do if he gets fidgety while listening to audiobooks.
- Do you have a bathtub? Treat it like a sand play table and put him in with minimal water. Get some cheap cans of shaving cream and some scaled figures like the ones from Toobs and let him go to town on spraying the cream (in the tub) and playing with all the figures.
- For outdoors, a standard sprinkler was fun for my guys. Also those shallow pools. And just digging holes. There's another AskMe from a while ago about amazing yard play and someone suggested just ordering a bunch of dirt to be dropped in your yard, which always appealed to me. Maybe it's this question? Some of those ideas might be workable for your space.

Good luck - we are all rooting for each other.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:33 AM on June 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m auntie to an almost 7 and 4 year old. Fortunately I’ve been super sheltered in place, which means they have Camp Auntie starting to happen - literally we wil pitch a tent at my house this weekend, I’m taking pto Monday, and they get a break from their parents. The older one reads well and does a lot of that, but the little one can’t read yet. They miss school’s structure and their friends. I’ve been sending “homework” (worksheets/books or other tasks, like doing a science experiment), and they earn prizes (new books, toys, movies, a trip to my house) that way. They record a silly song video for family every week as a routine. It’s definitely a huge challenge...grandparents have been out of the picture since they’re all in their 80s, but agree, having another resource you trust is good about physical distancing that might take them occasionally is helpful if you can find one, and little rewards seem to be motivating. They don’t get screen time until after 3, but that may not work for all. Their mom has a white board and writes down 4-5 things they’ll do that day in the am, and they check off their progress daily.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 8:03 AM on June 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Found this a bit later but appreciate this post and everyone's responses. This is so hard and my standards are lower every day and I feel crappier about it every day. 2 working introvert parents with one extroverted 6yo. Except I don't technically work in the summer so I'm doing FT childcare right now, which is... not great... and my employer is still expecting work to be done in the summer anyway. We do the trading educational or housework for screen time but more on a 10 min. work for 30 min. screen. We try to leave the house every day even if it's just to go for a drive. Each night is a planned family activity- movie night, outside night, video game night, game night, etc. Our kid really hates being alone unless it is with a screen. And of course I don't want him on a screen a lot. Except that I just passed out for an hour and then laid here in a daze for 45 minutes because I can barely function and he's been happily doing computer games.
posted by wannabecounselor at 12:27 PM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

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