Tips on Balancing Virtual Learning and Work for Parents

by Julie Bogart

Image credit: skynesher/Getty Images

Whether you are a “homeschooler” or a “temporarily-at-home” schooler, the COVID-19 confinement is daunting! For many, there are no more soccer practices, piano lessons, or math classes. No trips to the zoo or park days with friends. Kids and adults alike are staring at the same four walls, and they sometimes start to feel like they are closing in.

It’s especially challenging for “working from home” parents. For those with kids going back to an in-person classroom only part time, or continuing with entirely virtual learning this fall, you need to provide an education while earning a living — and at the same time deal with the anxiety of getting sick! I know a little something about that. I raised five kids — homeschooled them and ran a business at the same time.

All of us look for ways to foster learning and play. We don’t want to simply pacify our children while we hover over our computers. I hated it when my kids fell into the dreaded “wandering nomad syndrome” — kids who glaze over and complain that there is still nothing to do. I wanted them to be meaningfully engaged, and I wanted to get my work done, too, without feeling resentful of their reasonable interruptions or guilty for not being more attentive.

I have three tips to help you help you and your kids experience the new normal of homeschooling as a gift, rather than a punishment.


Ask Your Kids to Help You Make a Plan

Include your kids! Help them know that you want them to have a satisfying time at home, all while you also keep earning money. Ask them for ideas of what they’d like to do while you are working. Ask them how they’d like to resolve a conflict without involving you. Ask them what kinds of foods you all can prepare ahead of time for them to eat that won’t require you to open boxes or pour drinks.

Consider using a timer to let them know how many minutes straight you will work before they can interrupt (barring injury!). When it rings, take a break with your kids. Touch base, see what they built or read or watched while you were working. Then re-up for the next chunk of time.

Kids asleep in bed are the least likely to derail you. If you have flexible working hours, consider getting up early or staying up past their bedtime. If you have a partner, work when that partner is on duty. If you are both working from home, swap who will be supervising the kids (try not to work at the same time). Naptime is difficult to enforce with older kids, but may be essential to your ability to work. Try audiobooks, music, and a box of books to page through that only comes out during that quiet time.


Keep It Special

When national tragedy hits or a family member is stricken with an unusual illness, we remember that experience for the rest of our lives. Adults often feel the stress and anxiety at a more profound level than children. Our kids count on us to create for them a life of peace and meaning. We want them to remember this time as good even if it was uncertain and odd.

Working at home and providing their education is a challenge and can mean high levels of stress. Set aside specific toys, crafts, games, or television shows for your work times. Instead of all the toys being available, save some just for the working hours. Help them look forward to that time as a time of good stuff, not a time of taking you away from them.

For instance, is there a LEGO set that they can only work on when you are working? Are there coloring books or tangrams or modeling clay that only comes out when you need them to be happily occupied? Save certain television shows or video games for your work time. Or, if your kids are old enough, a lengthy board game is a perfect way to help kids stay immersed in an experience while you work.


Fold Academics Into Play

If you are worried that you are now responsible for their education on top of everything else, don’t panic. You may be able to fold learning into many of those meaningful activities. Now’s the time to play all the board, video, and card games. Reinforce math skills with dice, cards, Monopoly money, and Battleship coordinates. Trust that you are helping your kids think about strategy and calculations, predictions and percentages.

If you worry about your child losing precious time to grow as a writer, consider the timeless art of freewriting! Create a little writing support group as a family. Set a timer for three to five minutes, pick a word out of a hat or pull a quote from a book, or write about any topic under the sun — everyone, parents and children together. Let yourself go, writing as fast as possible, without worrying about punctuation and spelling. For now, enjoy the catharsis of self-expression. On Brave Writer, we have a 7 Day Writing Blitz you can download for free to help you play with words and grow your young writers. You don’t need a lot of writing in order to grow as a writer.

Read to your children, ask them to read to you. Throw a poetry teatime! Set the table for tea and treats (even cinnamon toast works!) and read poems to one another. If you don’t have any poetry books, print poems from the Poetry Foundation.


Learning at home is different than school and it’s especially challenging if you are working from home. Our lives wrap themselves around the learning. It comes from a more organic (and often more memorable) place. Everything can teach anything and anything can teach everything, if you have the heart to see it.

Keep going! Keep working. I’m rooting for you.