So you are stuck at home, the children aren’t in school, but you still need to get some work done. Here’s some advice from a Dad.

Trust yourself

When you get your child’s report card back it all seems like a very well thought out and scientific evaluation process. Here’s a little secret: it’s not. But busy administrators need simple numbers to rank not only the students, but the teachers, principals, schools, and even countries! The irony is that “one size fits all” fits no one at all.

Testing can be useful if it is used and contextualized properly. But as a parent, you probably know your child better than they know themselves. It’s a problem in that you know them so well, you can hardly put into words what you know about them and how they will react to things. But this intuition is unique and yours alone. So you are the only one that can be trusted to know what is working for you and your child. Use this power to your advantage and don’t stress about what a particular day’s activities might mean for the far future.

Take it easy

Do you remember your time in school? Have you ever volunteered in or observed your child’s classroom? If so, you’ll know that the amount of formal learning — whether it’s a lesson or one-on-one — is quite limited in classrooms with upwards of 30 students.

There is a large variability among countries, but taking the average, students spend less than 1000 hours per year in the classroom. How many of these hours are effective? That’s impossible to say. But certainly less than half of them would involve direct teacher-to-student interaction. What does this all mean? It means, realistically, your children are getting — very roughly — 1.5 hours of formal learning per day (averaged over the year). The rest of their day is lost in thought, socialisation, and play. (These are arguably as important as formal learning for creating intelligent, healthy adults, and we’ll come back to that next.)

Since you are giving your child(ren) your mostly undivided attention, the amount of formal learning at home need only be a couple of hours at most. Some might breathe a sigh of relief. Ah ha! But what are you going to do with the rest of the day? Well, more learning, of course. The philosophy in our house is anything that is not mindless consumption of media is learning. This might involve playing board games, making a meal, playing hide-and-seek, drawing pictures, building with blocks, and so on. But make sure the child is choosing the activity — curing your own boredom is an essential skill many people are now realizing they don’t have! Remember: you can tell if mental or physical tools are being used and developed simply by observing.

Be proactive

In our house the order in which the activities play out can make a huge difference. We could do the same thing on two different days, in a different order, and one day could be great while the other terrible. Here are rules of thumb we play by.

  1. Don’t start the day with media and distractions.
  2. Do the formal stuff first. If your children aren’t keen on breakfast, do this first. If they are hungry as soon as they wake up, do it immediately after breakfast.
  3. Don’t end the day with media and distractions. If only for your own sanity, but also probably for a healthy sleep, end the day in bed with some calm reading rather than trying to tear a child away from their favorite movie.
  4.  Every activity ends in disaster if allowed to go on long enough. Whether it is copying out hand-writing exercises or playing an addictive app on the iPad, eventually a meltdown will occur. Don’t allow something to go on too long before a break happens. Try a walk, a stretch, or a snack to break up the day’s activities.
  5.  One activity must be completed and cleaned up before the next begins. This is not only to emphasize good organization and concentration, but also necessary if you are a parent working from home. The day simply cannot be a chaotic mess that requires your own constant attention.
  6.  Consistent with the above rules, the rest of the day is completely unstructured.

Be flexible

What works and doesn’t work isn’t something you are trying to find as if there were a fixed perfect schedule out there. Routine is important. But as we are all keenly aware now, those change. Hopefully they don’t have to change so abruptly often, but they will change. Adapting to change is generally something humans are good at, and successful people seem to be better at.

Your job is to find what works, while still working, knowing that what works will ebb and flow. Your children will be watching you now more than ever, learning how to react and deal with uncertainty, change, and boredom. It’s not going to be easy. And that’s why these might be the most important lessons your children receive.