Tips From A Home-Schooling, Remote-Working Mom
With Vermont schools now closed, many parents are facing a daunting reality. In this installment of Brave Little State, a veteran home-schooling parent and remote worker shares her wisdom.
Note: Our show is made for the ear. As always, we recommend listening if you're able.
Full disclosure: This episode of Brave Little State was supposed to be about home-school regulations. It was nearly ready for your ears. But it’s clear that this moment is calling for something different.
So we’re sticking with the home-schooling theme, but shifting focus to the situation a lot of parents are facing right now. (Much gratitude to question-asker Sue Leroux, for her patience.)
We decided to record a phone call between two longtime friends. Hollie Friot of Barre and Sara Blondin of Worcester have known each other for 28 years, since they were freshmen in high school. Hollie is a veteran home-school parent who works from home as a legislative analyst and church school director. Her kids are Amelia and Olivia are 10, and 8, respectively. Sara is a financial advisor who works at an office and sends her kids to public school — or did, until this week. Her daughter Jordan is nearly 10, and her son Christian is 7.
Their conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
SARA BLONDIN: Alright, so my first question for you, Hollie, is just to sort of focus on our younger children. So my 7-year-old is definitely strong-willed, and I’m most concerned in this new environment of home schooling with how I'm going to minimize our battles. So that would be my that would be the first place I would want to start in this conversation.
Take breaks (and eat snacks)
HOLLIE FRIOT: Well let me preface this just a little bit by saying — even for home-schoolers — this is sort of a new world for us, too. We're never home this much. So even for me, I'm finding that the tried and true needs some changes these days, too.
So, anyway, when you're doing whatever the schools are wanting you to do — take a lot of breaks. I think the really young ones, maybe, can handle a few minutes of doing some concentrated schoolwork. Some kids might really love it. But I know your son, and my daughter, need some time to move around and just get some of their wiggles out.
Snacks are another big one.
When I see my youngest starting to melt down, and needing some extra care, sometimes she's just needing food. Honestly, just have some chill time, and have something to eat and get your mind off of doing school.
And I think the biggest one probably is just that, for any kid in any grade, most of the home-schoolers who I know aren't sitting down and doing lessons from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., you know, which the kids don't in school either. There are a lot of transitions and a lot of downtime. So don't expect that you're going to have ... a 9-to-3 day where your kids are focusing on school.
SARA: That helps a lot with the either strong-willed children or younger children.
Ask your kids what interests them
SARA: Let's talk a little bit about our older kids, because I know our older kids are both similar in age. Mine is almost 10, and yours is almost 11. And they, you know — correct me if I'm wrong — I would define both of them as sort of more independent learners, and they can take on more work. So my question is, how do you know when it's enough, or how do I challenge my daughter but not expect too much or put too much stress on her?
HOLLIE: Oh, gosh, that's a stumper, Sara.
SARA: I'm sorry!
HOLLIE: Let me think. You know, I guess the first thing is, if you were a full-time, all-the-time home-schooler, I would answer this question maybe differently for you. I think the best thing I would say to this is, number one, if your teachers have sent work home, do that. Reach out to them for support. And if there's further you know, I'll put in quotes, “work,” that you want to do with your children, ask them what their interests are. Maybe they have something that they've really wanted to learn about for a long time, and this is the perfect opportunity to take a deep dive into something fun for them, and explore. Maybe that means going outside and studying some things in nature or, doing what you can around the house while we're sort of all on our own. So I think that's what I would say at this point.
Do schoolwork in the morning
SARA: What about your daily schedule? Do you try to follow some sort of a structure?
HOLLIE: Yes. For my family and for a lot of families I know, if you're doing schoolwork — and particularly for the younger kids — do it in the morning. A lot of times, if you're trying to do a lot of stuff after lunchtime, their energy just isn't there anymore. So definitely for the younger kiddos — and by younger, I mean 8 or 9 and younger, and maybe even some 10- or 11-year-olds — that morning time is going to be when you're really doing your work.
For my family, we get up in the morning, everybody has breakfast, and for our family, my kids really love me reading to them. So after breakfast, we'll put dishes away and everything, and then we'll have some time where we're sitting on the couch together and I'm reading a chapter in a book to them. And then after we do that, we sort of break up into doing our individual work.
And after we're done [with] work, we have dogs. So their job is to take the dogs out in the yard and play with them and have a walk. That's, for me, when I check messages, I get back to people on emails. Maybe I’ll do a quick little bit of work while I can and, you know, then get lunch going. After lunch, usually we'll have a little free time, downtime or they can just sort of do whatever they want.
And then after that, often my older daughter, who's 10, almost 11, she's sort of gotten to the point where a lot of the stuff that she does for school, she can do some more work in the afternoon. And usually that, — you know, I'll say “work” ... sometimes that involves research. ... Something she's actually doing right now is a project on animals and about their behavior socially, and she's picked bees. So later this afternoon, she is watching a documentary on bees.
And in that time having some quiet time in the afternoon, especially if all of your kids are younger, if it’s possible. And I can think of mom friends I know who are, like, totally laughing at me right now, because sometimes getting the kids to do that is a huge struggle, you're just thinking, “Right, yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” But I found for me that, you know, setting up something quiet for even 10 minutes, sometimes they were able to get into whatever they were doing. And some days it lasted longer. And some days, the quiet time is, you know, it doesn't work.
SARA: Yeah, I think that's really helpful. But the reality is I'm still expected to fit in an 8-hour workday on top of that. I would love to hear how you manage that, just fitting in your job and what's expected of you for work responsibilities.
Expect to work early in the morning or late at night
HOLLIE: I wish, first of all, there was a magical answer to that. I know that people listening are probably hoping that there is. I can tell you there's not, unfortunately. You know, if you're trying to fit in an 8-hour day and that you're home-educating your kids and just managing — I mean, not even adding educating your kids onto that, even if you're just home with your kids and you're trying to make breakfast and make lunch and, you know, let the dogs out and all the things that come with being home — there are a massive amount of interruptions in your day, now.
So the way I get my work done is honestly a lot of early mornings, a lot of late nights. I prefer to work at night more, actually. I'm more of a night owl, which means sometimes I sleep in a little later. And if you're able to do that in this environment, go for it. I mean, do what you can do to make it work. If you're in a situation where you need to be available during the day — I'm not a big proponent of of media and like screen time myself, but — you know, there's days that I've had to turn to that, too. Maybe you put an educational movie on for the afternoon, or, let's face it, maybe a not-educational movie for the afternoon, just so you can get some work done and get a few hours in. Flexibility, I think, is the key word for all of us.
SARA: So, I was going to ask you if there's anything that you've learned along the way that would save me from learning the hard way?
HOLLIE: Gosh, some of the things I do during the day are... my kids get one glass that they use during the day. [Laughter.] It's their responsibility to wash it out, because otherwise they are just loading my sink and everywhere with dishes, and it just turns into a disaster and mess really quickly.
SARA: The one glass a day, I might have to use that.
When things get tense, go outside
HOLLIE: And I think this is easier as the weather's getting nicer: get them outside. You know, just because we are trying to, you know, kind of stay away from folks a little bit these days, you can still go outside. And I found this when my girls were young and I find this now that they're getting a little older: If you're having a rough time, just going outside — and even if people are really resistant to taking a walk or doing anything active outside — just getting some fresh air sometimes really just changes the scene.
And I think my other advice would be to take care of yourself. I just think of, you know, when you're on an airplane and they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before others. I think as work-from-home parents, it's stressful. You’re trying to answer to other people, and get work done. You might be staying up late, or waking up early. If you can rest, rest a little bit. I mean, sometimes the laundry is secondary to your sanity. Or always, maybe!
Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio. Our digital producer is Elodie Reed; we have engineering support from Chris Albertine. Special thanks to Matthew Smith, and to Hollie, Sara, Amelia, Olivia, Jordan and Christian for helping the cause and recording themselves at home.