[Guest Blog] So Now You Have to Work from Home: Kids Edition

by guest blogger Jef Rouner

Photo of a bearded person's disembodied head as a lightbulb, on a table covered in a blue cloth on a blue background. Three lightbulbs sit scattered on the table.
Stock photo by Aliekber Ozturk, licensed via Scopio. Do not copy or duplicate.

As promised, here’s a companion piece to my guide to working from home by a parent, since that isn’t a topic I can knowledgeably discuss. Jef Rouner (Houston Press, Houston Chronicle, Cracked) agreed to step in and share his experience. Thanks, Jef!

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Congratulations! You’re your child’s teacher during super crappy plague time!

The onset of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 has changed the world in a matter of days. Suddenly, a lot of employers and other institutions who told us that working from home just wasn’t feasible decided to get really damn feasible the second they thought our proletariat germies might get all over their golf bags. It’s not as good as my plan for dosing the moneyed classes with MDMA in order to teach them the concept of empathy, but it’s a start.

Unfortunately, our new pantless work existences are thwarted, as many things are, by the presence of our children. Schools are closed all over the country, with dates of re-opening very tentatively scheduled sometime in April. In Texas, the STAR test has even been cancelled, and most of us would have bet on the lizard people revealing themselves as our leaders before that happened.

So your kids are home, and unless you want them to devolve into cave people who only look up from their favorite YouTubers to grunt their need for food at you, you’re going to have to put some effort into their schooling. How do you do this thing most of us very much want to not do? As someone who has had to balance a journalism career from whom and an incredibly needy gifted child, I’ll tell you my secrets.

Prepare for De-Schooling

De-schooling is a term my therapist told me about. It’s basically the process where your kid(s) transition from the highly regimented and structured group lessons of school into the one-on-one environment. Like any big change, this is met with whinging and obstinance. Have you ever watched an office institute a new policy on parking or use of the fridge? Same thing, but smaller and more high-pitched.

The best thing to do is allow your kids some leeway the first few days. Be aware that they are going to get in a little Fisher Price car and drive your patience right off a cliff. They are reacting to a sense of loss of structure and control. They are confused and worried. They are conditioned to think of home as the respite from school, not the place to do more of it, and that’s not even taking into account all the panic they are absorbing from all around because of the outbreak.

School’s have orientation days for a reason. Walk your kid through exactly how it is going to be going forward. Give them concrete schedules and expectations. They will feel far more accomplished than if they have to live up to vague goals. Needless to say…

Plan Your Lessons

Do not do any of this by the seat of your pants. Do not think you can pull down a storybook, read together for a few minutes, ask a small pop quiz and call it a day. That is better than nothing, but it’s not exactly helpful.

By now, your school district has likely put out a ton of activities and resources for you to use during social distancing. The STAR test may be cancelled, but all the prep stuff is still a good use of science, math, and reading skills. Teachers and school administrators know that downtime can have a severe impact on recidivism, so they’re generally on the ball giving parents things to supplement.

If your district isn’t offering those things, there are still some great ways to keep learning going. There are a ton of books meant to help kids during summer vacation such as Summer Bridge Activities and Brain Quest. Those are a good place to start. Have your kids do one or two pages a day.

Online, there are awesome math apps, some of which may have reciprocity with your child’s school. Prodigy and Fastt Math are the two big ones, and they have apps that can be downloaded onto a tablet. All of these are exactly designed to get kids learning at home. Browse Amazon or contact your local library for suggestions.

Limit Your Time

Most of us do not have time to be full-time teachers as well as heading the widget shipping department from home. How can you cram seven hours of school and eight hours of your job into one day without working yourself to death?

You don’t.

Seriously, this level of home schooling should take no more than an hour a day, two tops. You aren’t trying to replace the public school system or prepare them for their college entrance exams. You just want something that’s a bit more scholastic than Fortnite matches. Do it early, when your kid is fresh, and it will set them up to be out of your hair in grateful lethargy afterwards.

In my house the schedule is basically this:

  • 30 minutes learning activities from school resources or books.
  • 15 minutes math games online.
  • 15 minutes supervised reading (ask them to tell you what they just read).

That’s it. If you have the time, pick up one of those home science experiment books and try to do one a day, but with some supplies at a premium right now it might now be feasible. You can also watch them done on YouTube, which can almost be as fun. It takes a lot less effort and time to keep kids sharp than you might think.

Exercise is Really, Really Important

Children are like peanut butter in that at room temperature they solidify into immovable masses you cannot dislodge from the couch easily.

Make sure your kids leave the house at some point. If you’re a lucky homeowner who can just toss them into the backyard, great. If not, then consider setting a time to bike ride together for half an hour, or perhaps take the dog on a walk. Maybe play a game of Horse if you have access to a basketball and hoop.

Physical activity is incredibly important to good mental health. It produces dopamine and helps kids calm down. It’s not so much about “tiring them out” and giving their bodies the chemical needed to quiet the sense of unease and restlessness that leads to aggravation and shouting matches.

Whatever you do, make sure there is a P.E./recess element to your day. I can always immediately tell the difference between days my daughter has been let out to run and days she has not. The latter make me grumble about how no one will buy me a tranquilizer dart gun for Christmas despite asking every single year.

Do Not Try to Replace the Teacher

This is an emotional time. Like I said, changes are coming fast and hard and with no end in sight. Kids are still processing that.

It’s easy to get into a mindset that you’re going to sit down and grade your child and demand better work from them and otherwise turn into exactly the kind of control freak they do not need right now. We’re reacting to the crisis, too, and one of the ways we can express our panic is by coming down hard on the people in our care.

Think of this time like par in golf. We’re not trying to make holes in one or win tournaments. We’re aiming for good enough. This is the moment Hufflepuffs have all been waiting for. Keep your kid fed, well-loved, reasonably engaged, and exercised and they will be much more content and easy to deal with.

Set Your Boundaries, Too

The other side of this is that you have to be firm with your kids about when it is time for you to work. Again, set definite rules so they have less ambiguity. If you’re on the phone, they need to leave you alone. If your door is closed, you are not available for any non-emergency.

Be as reasonable as you can. No child is so considerate that they will not think that they just put on the dog an emergency worthy of your immediate regard, and you have to just be tolerant of that. Give them a lot of rope and save your stern voice for when it really needs to come out. Just as they are not going to be as good a pupil for you as they are for their teacher, you’re simply not going to be the best employee under these conditions. Remember: par. That’s what you’re aiming for.

Lastly, do consider letting your child speak to a therapist during this ordeal. Having a non-parental figure they can speak to in an organized way can help them get their emotions in order. I know it’s one more thing to do in a mad time, but it may be of more help than all the structured activities combined.

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Jef Rouner is a recovering rock star and freelance journalist from Houston specializing in weird art and fighting fascist groups. He is the author of the short story collection The Rook Circle, available on Amazon. You can tip him for this article through his Paypal at [email protected]