How to Maintain Your Business (and Sanity) as School Starts – 2020 Edition

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When I started writing this blog, I started it off with, “It’s that time of year again.” But then I deleted it.

Because it’s not “that time of year again.”

Yes, school is starting very soon, but it’s anything but “that time of year again.”

This time there is a sense of dread topped with the anxiety of what will be instead of a sigh of relief that summer is finally over and I’ll finally get some well-deserved “me time.” This time I’m searching for masks that my kids can wear instead of drowning in a pile of school supplies with a maniacal smile on my face. (Okay, I’m obsessed with school supplies. Don’t judge me!)

Photo by VisionPic .net on Pexels.com

Instead of bringing my kids to their schools to meet their teachers and getting them excited about the school year, I’m scheduling Zoom meetings with their teachers and transforming my dining room into what I hope will be a comforting homeschool classroom for my 13-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

But more than just experiencing the uncertainty of being a parent during the COVID pandemic, I also have the challenge of being a work-from-home parent. As a freelance editor, my days are spent managing my writers and my kids – and in a few weeks, I’ll be homeschooling, as well.

So, how are work-from-home parents supposed to maintain their business, make sure their kids are safe and properly educated, and remain sane through it all? 

Switching Gears as a Work-from-Home Parent

There is a common misconception that parents who work from home have it made – that we are able to tend to the needs of everyone in our household immediately while also getting all of our daily work done with no problem. After all, we don’t even have to put clothes on to go to work.

This couldn’t be more wrong, though. Most work-from-home parents that I know spend more hours a day working than people who work outside of their homes – and those that work outside the home typically have the luxury of their work not following them to their couch.

The fact is that working from home is still working. We are expected to do our job to the best of our ability, just like any traditional job – even when we work for ourselves. And, usually, the beginning of school means precious, silent, uninterrupted hours full of focus and productivity.

Most work-from-home parents that I know spend more hours a day working than people who work outside of their homes.

But COVID has changed all of this. Now, we are prepping for school during a pandemic. This year, we are left with the difficult decision of whether to homeschool our children, take advantage of blended learning, or send them to school every day.

I know the determination and discipline that it takes to work from home and be successful, though. And with a few adjustments (and the following tips), I have no doubt that you can transfer the same energy into this unprecedented school year and come out (fairly) unscathed.

The Homeschooler

One way that some parents are choosing to educate their children this year is by homeschooling them. Luckily for most, schools have prepared for this and are providing the curriculum for kids to learn at home, and many are using online services like Zoom and Google Meet so that teachers can still connect with and teach their students.

Homeschooling children that aren’t used to being homeschooled is crazy hard. If your kids are anything like mine, they listen much better to a teacher than they do to you. I hear the words “I’m hungry” and “I’m thirsty” and “I’m tired” every 3 minutes. Literally. Getting them to do work is like pulling teeth.

If you’re struggling with getting your children to do their work so that you can do yours, there are several things you can try to motivate them, such as:

Use Sticker Charts

Use a sticker chart to track rewards for completing each day’s work. The rewards can be adjusted so you can use a sticker chart for both younger and older students. Create a system where your child gets a sticker for a specific accomplishment – for a younger child, you can give stickers for completing assignments; for an older child, you can give stickers for making a passing grade on assignments. 

Once the child has a certain number of stickers, they can “exchange” them for a reward. If your child is fond of toys or Steam gift cards, offer that as a reward. If your child is more fond of money, you can assign a monetary amount to each sticker they get for them to collect what they’ve earned at the end of each week. 

Plan an “End of the Month” Outing

Since COVID has forced many people to stay home much more often than normal, planning an outing at the end of each month can be a great way to motivate your children to get their work done and do their work well.

To use an outing as motivation, this is what you should do:

  • Choose and announce the outing at the beginning of the month. Make sure that you choose something you know your children will love. Some areas still have lots of limitations, so you may not be able to go bowling or mini-golfing. However, you can go fishing, go on a nature walk, or have a picnic at the park with all of their favorite foods.
  • Set the “goals” for the month that your kids must reach to be able to go on the outing. You can ask that they wake up on time every morning, complete a predetermined number or percentage of assignments, or maintain a specific grade point average.
  • Visibly track your children’s progress as the month goes by. You can use a dry erase board, a calendar, or even a sticker chart – just make sure that they can see their goals being met.
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

Remember, though, that children are little humans – and humans can and do have bad days. So, implement a plan to allow them some leeway when they are feeling sick or having a bad day. 

Make Time to Join Them

More than anything, children do what they see. One way to encourage them to work is to bring your laptop in their “school” area and do your work alongside them. Even better, plan your work days to start after their school days are complete so that you can actively sit with them and cheer them on while they work.

Don’t just expect them to learn everything online; think like a teacher and:

  • Show them how to make flashcards for vocabulary words and multiplication tables.
  • Find Youtube videos or interesting stories related to their history lessons to make them more interesting.
  • Help them organize their notes, notebooks, and binders to keep their work neat and together.
  • Read the story (or part of the book) they are assigned to them – complete with fun voices for the characters.
  • Let them help you cook lunch, allowing them to learn math and science simultaneously.

The biggest difference between homeschooling and going to school on a campus for a child is there is no teacher around to guide them. Therefore, take the time to connect with them like a teacher would to help them learn and grow.

The Blended Learner

Some schools are adopting an alternating schedule for students that relies heavily on “blended learning” – using both a physical classroom and the internet to teach lessons. The entire student body is split into two groups that attend school on campus on alternating days. The point of this is to decrease the number of students in the classroom and on campus each day.

While this method still allows children to maintain some semblance of a structured classroom with a teacher, it remains to be seen how well it will work because children must do lessons and complete assignments on the weekdays that they are not at their physical school, as well. 

One risk of this style of learning is the disconnect that can result from a student having to continuously switch between a structured classroom setting and a more lenient home setting. 

To make blended learning work for your child, you can try the following:

  • Have them wake up at the same time every school day – both classroom and home learning days. Keeping a morning routine is crucial.
  • Get them a planner. A planner can help them (and you) keep track of what needs to be completed at home and what is expected to be completed at school.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher. Not only can their teacher give you tips on how to get your child through their work while at home, but the teacher can also make sure that you always know when important assignments are due.
  • Remind them to continue good hygiene habits at home. They may not have to wear their masks while at home, but making sure that they regularly wash their hands at home can help them get used to washing them more often at school.
  • Schedule an hour or two of study time for each home learning day. Depending on your schedule, open a block of time either in the morning or the evening to help your child look over notes or discuss what they are learning. 

It’s impossible to recreate the classroom in your home, but it is possible to encourage your child to follow the same schedule every week day, keep their assignments organized, and practice good hygiene to make a blended learning schedule easier.

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

Bonus Tip: Get your kid some cool masks to wear on the days they go to school, like these:

The Masked Pupil

For those parents who will be sending their kids to a physical school campus every day, my advice is much different than the advice I’ve given so far. For you, there is no doubt that your child will be given an excellent education from a caring and attentive teacher. 

For you, the focus shifts from ensuring your child learns what they need to learn to ensuring your child’s mental and physical health allows them to be able to focus on learning. With all the false information and conspiracy theories circulating alongside the actual facts and news, it’s challenging to know what you should believe and which advice is correct. 

I cannot tell you which conspiracy theories are real or which advice you should take. What I can tell you is this – COVID is a significant threat to the mental and physical health of everyone, and helping your child feel safe and secure enough to enter a classroom every day is vital for their success.

Why? Because you know exactly how hard it is to focus on something when you are nervous.

Be mindful of what you say about the pandemic in front of your child….If you show fear, your child will show that same fear.

Classrooms in 2020 are going to look much different than normal classrooms. Some regulations I’ve seen for schools in my state include:

  • Students must wear a mask all day
  • Students must be seated at least 4-6 feet apart
  • Teachers must plan for some students to get COVID
  • Monitoring of students and school staff for COVID symptoms
  • Cleaning and disinfecting schools more often

(More on Louisiana’s guidelines for reopening schools can be found here.)

If you are a parent of a child that is attending school this year, be mindful of what you say about the pandemic in front of your child. Remember, if you show fear, your child will show that same fear. But if you allow yourself to be an example of how to lessen the chances of contracting COVID to walk out into the world with confidence, your child will pick up on that, too.

Here are some other ways to help your child feel less anxious in their classroom:

  • Get them a mask that is comfortable for them to wear to lessen the chances of them pulling at it or taking it off in the classroom.
  • Answer all their questions about COVID truthfully and help them understand the facts. You can sit down and research answers to their questions together.
  • Monitor their social media. There is an abundance of misinformation about COVID – especially in the form of memes – circulating on social media. If you see anything that is false or designed to incite fear, let your child know that the information is not true. Better yet, go back up a tip and research with them to “debunk” the misinformation.
  • Make it a point to ask them how they are feeling – and do so often. Asking your child how they are feeling is sometimes forgotten because many parents think that their child will tell them how they feel. But that is not always the case – especially with harder emotions.
  • Purchase a fidget toy for them. These toys give your child an outlet to channel nervous energy, allowing them to be able to concentrate.

There is only one thing that is certain about this upcoming school year: Not a single parent knows what they are doing. (I can tell you with confidence that if a parent claims to have everything together for this school year, they are lying!) But if we all work together and stay connected with our children, they will succeed. Children are nothing if not resilient.

Maintaining a Successful Business

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering where my advice for maintaining a successful business as a work-from-home parent during a pandemic-stunted school year is. I haven’t forgotten! I’m just the kind of mother who feeds her kids before she feeds herself.

Working any job from home requires loads of self-discipline and masterful planning. And therein lies the problem with the upcoming school year – we have no idea what to expect! I know that, in my parish, our schools’ plans for the year have changed at least 4 times in the past 3 weeks. No one knows if they need to buy uniforms and backpacks or pajamas and extra snacks.

Getting ready for an unpredictable time requires adaptability. As Captain Cold says to Barry Allen in the CW’s The Flash, “There are only four rules you need to remember: Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan.”

For this school year, my friends, we are throwing away the plan.

Prepare for Busier Days

The first thing any work-from-home parent can expect with the start of a school year is to have busier days. After a few months of unstructured summer with only your work to-do list to worry about, you will suddenly have more alarms set, homework to help with, tests to study for, and maybe even hours of homeschooling to fit into your already full days.

And while I am not a Pinterest mom and I fully believe that chicken nuggets and fish sticks are food groups, our kids cannot survive on processed foods alone. (Or can they?)

Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Start adapting your schedule now. If you know how you will be handling school with your child this year, go on and get a head start on the routine.

  • If you will be homeschooling, start scheduling your working hours around the hours you expect to be homeschooling. 
  • If your child will be on a blended learning schedule, implement that alternating schedule now. On the days that your child will be at school, pencil in your appointments and working hours during the day when they will be gone. On the days that they will be learning at home, focus more on placing work hours in the late afternoon or evening.
  • If your child will be attending school every day, adjust to that schedule now and leave your evenings free.

It will take a few weeks to get everything worked over to your new schedule, but the most amazing part of working from home is that most of the jobs are very adaptable. If you’re like so many of us writers, bloggers, and editors, you are your own boss, so adjusting your schedule will be that much easier.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to add in some family time on your schedule. Even if you have to block out a couple of hours to get a board game in, your kids will thank you for taking the time to have some fun with them! My family is quite fond of Trivial Pursuit Family Edition.

Give Yourself a Period of Adjustment

The hard truth is that it doesn’t matter how much you prepare for something, there will always be a period of adjustment. You must remember to not be too hard on yourself while you are getting used to your new schedule. 

If I’m being honest, 2020 has been like that part in a horror movie where you know something insanely scary is about to jump out because the music is getting super intense – except the scary thing jumps out and the super intense music keeps playing because 2020 is just not done with you yet.

It’s been a full-on anxiety fest the entire year.

So, it’s understandable that there will be some hiccups in your plan. (Throw away the plan, remember?) Sometimes you oversleep, sometimes you make a mistake in scheduling, and sometimes your child decides at midnight that it’s time to have an emotional breakdown. 

Give yourself a period of adjustment. If you make a few slip-ups during the first few weeks of school, don’t dwell on them. Simply take a breath and tell yourself that you will allow yourself a certain amount of time to get used to all the new daily responsibilities. 

To help you keep your work on track and continue to hit your goals, consider the following:

  • Double up on your reminders. If you normally write your appointments or deadlines in your planner and put them into your phone, go one step further and record them a third way. Personally, I like to write things on Post-It notes and place them on my computer screens – it’s colorful and visible!
  • Give yourself 30 minutes of time between each activity you have planned for the day. Having this extra half hour can help to make sure you don’t miss an important meeting with a client or forget to brush your hair before a Zoom parent-teacher conference.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate. If you have a partner at home, you can have them help out with the added duties. For example, the two of you can switch out homework help at night so that you have an extra couple of hours for either work or yourself every other day. Your kids can help, too! Assign them an extra (reasonable) chore to do each week. Do you have a parent that wants to spend some time with your kids on a weekend day? Let them go and enjoy the break for a few hours!

There are many ways that you can lighten your load, but often, you aren’t sure of those ways until you are overloaded. This is why giving yourself a period of adjustment is essential. Gauge what your new days will consist of and go from there!

Don’t Neglect Your Mental Health

I spoke about caring for your children’s mental health earlier in this article, but it is just as critical for you to take care of your mental health, as well. What’s that saying? “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Well, it’s true.

At this point you’re probably wondering how in the hell you are going to fit “me time” into your newly jam-packed days full of building your business and helping with schoolwork while also making sure to allow yourself time to adjust, time to cook, and time to shower?

I’ll give you my answer for everything: Plan for it!

It could be as little as 10 minutes of time to yourself to meditate and center your thoughts, or it could be as elaborate as a 3-hour, scalding hot, bubble bath complete with scented candles, scattered rose petals, and your favorite slow jams. 

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

The thing about “me time” is that it doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it.

Some advice for maintaining mental health is:

  • Know that failing doesn’t make you a failure. Failing to continue toward success after failing makes you a failure. So, if something does happen and you miss a deadline or forget about a scheduled client, do not allow that failure to unravel you. There are a million other deadlines you will make and a million other clients you will schedule.
  • Schedule a special self-care routine at least once a week. Choose a routine that makes you feel refreshed; it could be blowing out and straightening your hair, giving yourself a facial, or doing some yoga. Whatever you choose, stick to it and do it at the same time every week. Your body and mind will begin to look forward to the pick-me-up, and the satisfaction that routine gives you will only grow.
  • Make time for your friends – even if you have to see them over Zoom. Having conversations with your friends can help you get away from the monotony of talking to clients and customers and bring you some laughter. If COVID allows, try to plan a dinner with friends. If restaurants aren’t open in your area, you can have a pot-luck at your house.
  • Go outside. Set aside some time to sit outside and read a book or meditate in your backyard. Getting away from your computer screen is a fantastic way to legitimately take a break from work. (Make sure to leave your cell phone inside!) Since I’m from southern Louisiana, I am partial to sitting on a porch swing and drinking iced sweet tea.
  • Good physical health translates to good mental health. Make sure you eat a nutritious diet, get enough sleep, and allow yourself time to get over sickness. 

For more ways to keep your mental health in good standing, check out “9 Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health Today” at Psychology Today.

School Days Don’t Have to be Scary

The beginning of the 2020-2021 school year will bring unpredictable times that require quick adaptation to rapid changes, but as work-from-home parents, we must remember that we have the upper hand. We are used to molding ourselves and our schedules to fit whatever opportunity (or hindrance) comes our way, perhaps more so than parents who work outside of the home.

The upcoming school days don’t have to be scary! You are more than capable of maintaining your business and your sanity during these trying times – just remember not to be too hard on yourself because we are all adjusting.

What are some ways that you are preparing for the school year? Tell us in the comments below!

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