How to keep my school-aged kids redemptively occupied so I can get things done.
By Rhonda Dunn
My family and many families across the nation are working at defining a new workspace; it is a space that includes different faces to share our work and different spaces to do our work; it is a place now where we both live and work. Change is difficult for everyone, and adjusting our work and family life to accommodate this new blended family—where the complexities of our work family are now shoulder-to-shoulder with the complexity AND chaos of our family family—is difficult. But, as we keep reminding our own kids, we can do the hard stuff. The history of this world has seen pandemic before. Our God didn’t and hasn’t slipped out the back door or put his head in the sand; He’s still the same then as He is now and is for us still. We need to be careful and intentional, for sure; but we don’t need to panic. (Remind me of that tomorrow afternoon when I’ve lost my ever-lovin’ mind, will you?)
Over the past couple of weeks, I find myself reflecting on farm life; I lived on a farm for most of my childhood, and I can’t think of a more fitting example of a “work at home” situation. What I have been remembering is how my parents managed the business of the farm and the business of the family. (Let me just disclose this one small but important fact before I go on: my parents sold the farm and got out of the business when I was about 10. So please hear what they showed us about managing the family. The plan to manage the business of the farm? Well, that might not be so helpful.)
HERE’S WHAT I’VE TAKEN FROM THEIR EXAMPLE:
1. Share your work with your kids whenever you can.
My sisters and I went to the fields with my parents. We baled hay with our parents, helped move and work livestock, and helped with the general maintenance of the farm. We couldn’t do our mom and dad’s work as well as they did, but we were a part of it. If there are any tasks that are a part of your work that your kids can do, like stamping envelopes, filling orders, videoing a lesson or training session for you, let them help. My son has recently learned the glory that is Grammarly by watching me use Google.docs. Life changed.
2. Chores are all hands on deck.
When it came to the daily work of feeding, gathering, and cleaning, everyone in the house became an essential employee. At four o’clock, we put on our chore clothes and carried buckets and scooped….lots of stuff. We employ the same expectations at our house, but now more than ever. This is one part of how it looks in our house, and of all the adjustments we’ve made, this is my second favorite: our kids now have the responsibility of making dinner for the family. Each kid takes one night of the week, and she/he must plan (including a grocery and supplies list), prepare, and execute the meal. We have them work from simple children’s cookbooks (our kids really like the Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook, but you can also find simple recipes here or here). Here’s why this is important: first and foremost, we are a team, and this helps us reinforce the fact that every person in our house is important and essential, but not any better—or any worse—than another teammate.
Here is a link to an article from Focus on the Family about age-appropriate chores; we’ve taken some of these tasks and put them on popsicle sticks and the kids have to draw a chore each day while dinner is being prepared or while dinner is being cleaned up. This does take attention and intention on the front end, but we are getting better every day
3. Re-think the way you structure your day so that you can do your heavy mental lifting when the kids are asleep.
My mom was working on her master’s degree while we were still on the farm. Several times, I remember getting up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water from the kitchen and Mom was working on school: reading a textbook, writing a paper, or studying for an exam. She always saved the hard, concentrated work for a time that the house was quiet, and this is a practice that I have incorporated ever since our family became a family. I know that there are some parts of my job that I can do while also helping my kids with lessons or supporting chores. I also know that there are some parts of my work that I cannot do well with distractions. Those tasks I try to get finished before they wake or after they are asleep for the night.
HERE’S MY NUMBER ONE FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS WHOLE EXPERIENCE
“More and more God is turning my face toward my children, in that my husband and I are THEIR most essential person on this earth. (I am late to the game, I know, but better late than never, right?) Right now, I don’t have the day-in, day-out support of their teachers or coaches. It’s my husband and I, coaching and guiding and teaching and disciplining them every hour of every day.
Here are just a couple of other things that came to mind as I have been reflecting on what we have learned the last couple of weeks as our work space has changed:
1. There are some times in the day that are non-negotiable work-time for us; we need to have a plan for that.
Right now, our kids wake up to a list Monday through Friday. (This is probably how I edged out my husband in the tiebreaker for the Un-fun Award in our house.) They each know what he/she needs to get done during the day. However, they still get stuck, distracted, off-task, and ornery. My husband and I have tried to schedule our day so that he takes care of his work obligations in the morning and I take care of mine in the afternoon so that one of us is able to help and re-direct (mostly re-direct) the kids when they get off-task.
But let’s be real: sometimes you are going to need to get them settled somewhere because you are flying solo at home and you need to attend a meeting on your laptop or listen to a seminar or help a co-worker or make a call. Here are some really good resources that we have found just in the past three weeks that we’ve found interesting and engaging:
National Geographic 360 Virtual Tours—these videos are anywhere from two to ten minutes long and give your kids a glimpse of forty-seven different places all over the world.
“Crikey! It’s the Irwins”—we found this on YouTube and it is about the Irwin family and the Australia Zoo.
STEM activities—These are awesome because they require some research and some planning—on your kid’s part. Always require your young Einstein to submit a supplies list and plan for approval before he is allowed access to any baking soda, Mentos, or carbonated drinks.
Audio Books—You don’t have to be the only voice your kids hear reading to them.
Need to *ahem* do a quick assessment of learning and progress? Follow-up questions are suggested here.
And honestly, no judgment if Disney + is at the top of this list. Some days are just tough and you gotta call in the reinforcements.
2. Use the tricks of the trade that your kids are already accustomed to.
Our kids’ school uses an incentive program with “Caught You Being Good” tickets. Teachers and administrators have little green tickets that they can hand out to the students when they are “caught” demonstrating positive behavior that aligns with the school’s culture: Be Ready, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible. At the end of the week, each student puts his/her name on the back of every single ticket he/she earned that week and enters it into a drawing for treat. For K-4th graders, this is highly motivating. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s teacher and talk to him/her about classroom management and motivational tricks. Believe me, they know your kid. And also believe me when I say your kids’ teachers miss them. Oh, how we miss them.
Finally, hang in there and don’t give up. Even if you fumble in the first quarter (and/or the second, and/or the third, and/or the fourth) doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve lost the game. Get your team back together and get back on the field. We’re going to mess up. For our family, our hardest part of the day is the transition after lunch. I’ve messed up time and time again, but this is a great chance for me to demonstrate how to authentically apologize when I drop the ball. Re-assess, re-group, re-organize, and re-do. Just don’t give up on your team.