We made some tough back-to-school 2020 decisions, didn’t we Mama?
They say deciding is the hardest part, but right now, the implementation feels practically impossible. Stop overwhelm, be more productive and successful, prioritize what matters, find balance, and thrive as a family, even as you do it all at home.
I created this checklist to facilitate WFH-virtual learning-mom life. It’s a thing. I know you are in over your head, I know you’ve been tasked with an absurd amount of work, I also know it is what it is, and it’s likely to last for a semester or longer, so let’s make the most of it, shall we?
First, a little reframe just in case you need it. Embracing what is will make everything better. We can fight it. We can deny it. We can begrudgingly move forward, but all of those options create a struggle or bring pain — no more wallowing.
We are 6 months into quarantine life. Six months. So, for those of you who haven’t accepted it yet, love you, but you’re in denial. I won’t say it’s the new normal, because that phrase is the worst, but we are living in a parallel reality, and we have to shift to survive, so let’s shift together — unite in motherhood — and let’s do this.
If we accept the situation, honor our decisions, and commit to staying positive, we can execute our plan, reevaluate as we go, and make the most of it. In doing so, we will set a positive tone for our children to encourage them to accept, embrace, and move forward gracefully too.
Do something fun together to kick off this list. Choose the workspaces throughout the house where each child and each parent will have a dedicated space for learning or working. Dedicate a desk, school supplies, laptop, and equipment so that there are no fights or complications. Clean up and organize the area, assemble the workspaces, then decorate for each person.
Use Canva to make a poster with the student’s name, school name, mascot, graduation year, and fun details, like the student’s favorite subject, animal, or a photo of something or somewhere that inspires them. Frame it or tack it above the workstation.
Stock up on pencils, notebooks, binders, clips, magazine holders, markers, clipboards, and anything else that will come in handy. Stock each station and create a cart or shelf in a central location with extras, likely near the printer (did you add paper and ink to your list?).
Create a system for what to focus on daily and weekly, so the kids know where to start each day, how to jump in with enthusiasm, and feel equipped to succeed.
Remove any distractions from the workspace — no televisions, toys, or pets. Choose semi-private spaces, but avoid bedrooms if you can. If children begin to misidentify their bedroom as a workspace, it may cause unnecessary stress or interfere with sleeping patterns. Make sure the lighting, background sounds, and airflow feel good, and your children can work uninterrupted for (relatively) long periods.
Ensure you have the right tech, wifi, connectivity, apps already downloaded, login information secured and bookmarked, a list of protocols, an understanding of how to use it all, profiles pre-built, and a plug-and-play set up, so each child can jump in the chair and get started without hassle.
We all know how distracting stops and starts can be for children and parents. Ease and momentum lead to effectiveness.
Download and print the student virtual learning handbook. Make sure to understand expectations from the teachers and administration. Print the teacher introduction or welcome letter and post it at each child’s workstation too. Note email addresses, contact information, important notes, and if the teacher has office hours or prefers to respond to students in real-time.
Schedule everything in a shared family calendar, like Google Calendar: appointments, start dates, deadlines, zoom calls, virtual activities, etc. Back into important meetings or events, include relevant supporting information, and troubleshoot any conflicts. Know your children’s preferences too.
If you have flexibility, choose to schedule your children’s learning times when they are at their best, when it’s easiest for them to focus. Or frontload the days and the weeks so that as the weekend approaches, everyone is winding down, not scrambling, or feeling pressure to complete assignments and watch videos to checkoff deadlines.
No eating at the workstations, but create plenty of break times. Keep a water bottle, ponytail holder, headset, and uniform shirt at the station for quick and easy access. Stock the kitchen with grab and go healthy whole food snacks and limit the sugar and processed foods.
Look for opportunities to connect as a family without screens. Schedule morning outdoor activities before everyone jumps on virtually. Put a 5-minute dance party on the calendar for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break at the same time every day (parents — dancing is mandatory). Spend 10–15 minutes in the garden after lunch, schedule PE, or create family fitness goals as part of the curriculum.
Time block your days. For the kids, follow the school’s lead, but use the blocks to focus on themes — English in the first block, for example, and Mandarin in the second. The less shifting you do throughout the day, the more productive you’ll be, and the better results you’ll have.
For the adults, follow the kid’s lead, but consider your clients’ (or boss’s) preferences too. Use blocks to focus on themes — work time can be broken up into client time, behind-the-scenes time, creative time, lead generation, etc. You’ll also want to schedule when you and your husband are available to support the children.
Moms typically have the privilege and responsibility of setting the tone for families, so be intentional. Book your days and weeks to your strengths, aptitudes, and preferences too. Function as your best self and honor your boundaries.
Work deadlines and appointments, self-care, healthcare, wellness activities, due dates, goals, and meetings are obvious markers, so start there. Then, break the days into blocks the same way you did for the kids and focus on high-ROI tasks to get as much done in short blocks as possible.
Limit distracting activities, like social media and inbox overwhelm, and delegate, outsource or automate time-intensive or emotionally exhausting tasks too — meal planning or prep, laundry, and budgeting all come to mind.
If Moms set the tone, dads activate it. They are the foundation. That usually means that dads support the moms and reinforce the family’s goals, by sharing the work, taking on some of the emotional burden, and being interchangeable in certain situations.
Dad’s job is vital, of course, but hear me out, only as crucial as mamas job, even if he’s the primary breadwinner, even if she’s self-employed or a homemaker.
Have you heard that idea about a team only being as strong as its weakest link? If Mama sets the tone but also bears all the burden, it’s a recipe for failure. Dad can carve the time he needs to balance productivity, output, and quality time.
Finally, schedule blocks for family time. That way, the kids are covered, Mom and Dad get what they need, and everyone also feels connected. This typically requires a mix of morning routines that make for good days, evenings that encourage rest, reflection, rejuvenation, and weekends and school breaks that inspire fun, pursuing passions, favorite activities, and exploration.
Troubleshoot what isn’t working, implement little improvements that result in big payoffs, and consider who might be able to help from outside the family.
Home may be where we live, work, learn, sleep, and eat right now, but remember, there is a big, beautiful world, full of incredible people, that will be accessible again; love, resilience, and perspective are vital.
Hang in there, Mama. Enjoy this bonus closeness — it may turn out to be one of the highlights of your lives.