This Covid-19 pandemic has clearly demanded adaptability most amongst other skills.
When parents are faced with yet another season of working from home (WFH) with kids at home on home based learning (HBL), there is undeniably dread and worry. Juggling your corporate role, parental role, housework and/or cooking, it just seems too much. Indeed it is.
On the bright side, we can only take it in our stride; we find our rhythm and adapt to the most feasible system applicable to our own family. Before we share some actionable tips to create a functional system to work from home with children, please do remember that there are no ideals and perfection in this season, we just wish to get through each day. Unscathed, may we add.
We will talk about cultivating independent play in our children, so that we can find blocks of time to work. Then we will touch on setting firm limits on our work time in order to focus on our work without our children on our laps or at our feet. After which we discuss the importance of planning a routine to bring structure to our days. And finally, we will walk through on nurturing gratitude to maintain our well being.
1. Cultivate Independent Play
Independent play is a gift that keeps gifting.
Having children who can play independently while you work from home can save you from the stress of dividing yourself between your work and your children as you do not need to attend to them as much. The process of guiding your children towards independent play may take some time and effort but trust us, this is definitely worthwhile.
Have you experienced sleeping in while your children play independently or work without your children tugging at your feet? We experience all of these in our family and there are some practices which have contributed greatly to this success of independent play. We hope you can benefit from them too. Remember, it is never too late!
To set them up for success for independent play, here are some actionable suggestions to practise:
Create an engaging play space
Regardless of the size of your house, it is important to draw out a play space for them; it can just be a small corner. The play space does not have to be big but their toys and resources should be neatly displayed, having a space for each resource - preferably 6-10 for each child (depending on age). You may intuitively think that the more toys we display for them, the longer time they will spend playing. Contradictorily, clutter can cause overwhelm for our young children, in turn reducing their play time as they move quickly from toy to toy. Clutter may also be overwhelming for us especially during this pandemic season whereby stress levels may be high.
Display a collection of open-ended toys with some structured toys
Open-ended toys develop open-ended play, which allows our children to express their creativity and imagination freely, without any restrictions. These toys fuel endless possibilities of play as they let their creative juices flow and cultivate independent play. They include blocks, art & craft materials, magnetic tiles, duplo/lego, sensory bases, to name a few.
Structured toys have specific purposes; they encourage playful learning of concepts. This will come in handy to reinforce knowledge and concepts they have already learnt in school.
Displaying both types of toys allows a more holistic development in our children.
Fill their love buckets every morning and at pockets of 5-10 minutes throughout the day
It is normal for our children to seek connection with us by wanting our attention. Even as adults, we seek for connection with our partners and friends, isn’t it? Start the day well by filling their love buckets; spend 5-10 minutes to do activities that interest them! It can be reading, drawing, building, whatever it is, as long as the time is dedicated to them.
As you spend more time away from them while you work, remember to top up their love buckets throughout the day, to pre-empt meltdowns (due to needing connection) from happening. Of course, always remember to fill your own love buckets too; without this, it is hard for the whole family unit to function during this season.
Do refer to our blogpost on “Engaging in Open-ended Play” for more details on how to cultivate independent play.
2. Holding Firm Boundaries
We set boundaries to let our children learn that during work periods at home, we’re not available to attend to their play needs (except safety issues) AND we can play with them at various intervals - their love buckets-filling time.
It is important to note that our children’s brains are not fully developed yet and they are not capable of controlling their impulses as well. They learn through our guiding process. They may continue to disrupt our work and it is our job to constantly hold our boundaries for them. Besides verbal reminder, you can also put fun visual signs like “Work in progress, do not disturb”, “I love you, see you later” or “Playtime in another 30 minutes” etc (visual sign tip inspired by Jacinth from @ourlittleplaynest), so that our visual children can remind themselves.
Look through the carousel for useful verbatims to set our boundaries.
3. Plan Routine and Structure
Besides the fact that children thrive on routine, we find that having a routine makes our day more predictable and less stressful. This in turn means a higher probability of us getting through the day smoothly.
Plan blocks of time so that there’s rhythm to your days. It does not mean planning a fixed time schedule, which might cause a higher stress level instead when you cannot keep up and steer off the schedule. Expect more flexibility and fluidity during this season, so we can manage our expectations better to lower stress levels.
Every morning after breakfast, our children dedicate half to one hour to do structured learning activities - can range from school books to home learning books to home learning activities. Then they have free play, which means it is independent play time while we work.
Then we have lunch and more independent play time before nap. Their nap time is the golden period of work or me-time, so cherish it!
After nap time and tea break, it is time for half to one hour of structured learning again, followed by independent play. Sometimes this block of structured learning does not happen when we’re too busy with work.
After which it’s dinner time then independent play time or family games time. All the blocks of independent play time allows us to work.
Then finally, bed time! Following this simple rhythm gets us through our days.
4. Prioritise & Manage Expectations
In 24 hours a day, with just a pair of hands (or 2 pairs for both parents), it is no doubt that we cannot possibly get EVERYTHING done.
Hence it is important to plan your priorities for each day. On days whereby you’ve plenty of meetings to attend to, you may need to remove blocks of structured learning time and replace them with independent play time. Or you may prepare #invitationstoplay
or #invitationstocreate in advance, so that you do not need to be with them physically.
We manage our own expectations and also that of our children, to let them understand the current situation we are in and the changes they may experience. We let them know that school’s out, we can’t meet our friends, we can’t head out like we normally do, we will stay at home a lot etc. We also continually reinforce the validity of having different (big) feelings that may creep up more during this season of adapting.
5. Reflect and Nurture Gratitude
Since Circuit Breaker in 2020, we continue to nurture gratitude in our children. We end the day with "What are you thankful for today?". We reflect upon our days and be grateful for what we have each day. This helps to set us up in the right frame of mind of appreciating what we have instead of dwelling on what we do not have. Everyone in the family gets a turn to reflect and speak.
During this pandemic season of staying home, our well being is really important. We have to feed our mental health, so that our cups are full enough to take care of other family members.
And so, this is our “mode of survival” system for this pandemic season.