What strange times we are in. Many of us are having to adapt and learn quickly how to cope with working life from home combined with childcare and education. I am working from home as a single mum with three boys, Dylan is 12, Josh is 10 and Jack is 7. Here are my coping strategies and guidance.
Structure is your friend
I suggest that you ask one of your children to write a timetable each day. What time do they want to do schoolwork? What time for lunch and free time? And what time for exercise? It gives them some ownership and will hopefully be more likely to stick to the timetable. Create a structure for yourself and your working patterns as well. Early morning is a great time to get a couple of hours of work done (when its hopefully calm and peaceful). My children like to chill out watching YouTube or a film early on, this is perfect quiet time to crack on with work.
Throughout the day can be more of a challenge, so its important to grab those 30 min/45 min slots when they are focussed on their schoolwork or running around the garden doing their PE. I have had quite a few calls and meetings when I do need quiet, at these times I absolutely let them watch YouTube or play on their tablet or the Xbox!
Early to bed will also be a huge help to working parents where another couple of hours can be done once they are in bed and asleep. It’s a huge juggle that requires very different ways of working. Some days will be easier than others!
Do not beat yourself up if the timings go wrong
I honestly thought that we could do two hours of Maths, English, Science per day. Turns out we can’t do it, especially with the younger children, around one hour is their limit before they get bored or angry.
Every child is different. Instead focus on fun things that can be classed as learning, colouring in, crafting with the recycling box. Or even Minecraft, that has some excellent free to download educational world, e.g. the human eye.
Board games are brilliant
They fill time and can be good for learning. We are big fans of The Game of Life and Scrabble here. The boys love the money element of The Game of Life and the decision making and are quite happy to play this by themselves now that they know the rules! My 7-year-old has learnt that he will earn more if he takes the university life path! They get very excited at the end when they count their piles of cash.
The daily walk
Or run, or bike ride has been a saviour in some of the more challenging days. We go out every day and it is the highlight of my day getting out into nature. I save it for mid afternoon by which time the boys are like caged animals and really need to escape, run around the fields nearby, climb trees and breath in the fresh air. We have experimented with treasure hunts as well, where I give them a list of things in nature to spot and tick off.
We have done a lot of baking!
So far, we have made pancakes, cupcakes, marble cake, Victoria Sponge and Chocolate Chip cookies. This is a perfect task for all my children, each really enjoys baking and the licking of the bowl. Here is my perfect recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies, I can promise that they will not stay uneaten for long.
Keep a spending diary and share it with your children
Mine is on the fridge and I update it at the end of every day with how much we have spent. The daily act of keeping a record is making us mindful about the amount we are spending, we also talk about what we are saving.
The boys are missing football, saving around £100 a month of petrol costs. Missing school means no train costs, a saving of around £50 a month. And no trips to the cinema or trampoline park are saving around £100 per month. It’s not all saving though as we have treated ourselves to a pizza delivery.
At the end of each month I will comparing our spending to our monthly budget. In normal times I have a budget of £920 per month which cover all monthly spending including essentials like groceries, petrol, school dinners, clothes. I then include an element for more random costs like school trips, birthdays, Christmas, dentist, vets, car servicing.
I know this month we will spend no where near £920. I estimate more like £400 based on my spending diary so far! Any savings will be moved straight off to my emergency savings. Times are so uncertain; any spare money is going straight into an easy access emergency savings account.
I have had a panic day about money. What helped me put it into perspective was taking a prudent view of my income and expenses for the rest of the year and doing a very basic cash flow forecast.
For each month I worked out a worst-case monthly income and compared that to my expected monthly expenses. This gave me clear information by month where I could move more money into my emergency fund and other months where I would need to use money from my emergency fund. You can then work out what cash flow position you will be by the end of the year. It’s a very reassuring exercise.
Find learning in household tasks.
I have got the boys writing a list of dinners they would like using the ingredients in the fridge/freezer, chopping up vegetables into shapes, counting the money in the coin jar. They have also been a huge help with decluttering the garage, utility room and cupboard (of doom) under the stairs. They have discovered long forgotten toys and sorts equipment that have kept them amused for hours!