An expert offers tips to help you work from home with children

An expert offers tips to help you work from home with children

According to Education Week, school closures because of the coronavirus have impacted at least 124,000 U.S. public and private schools, and it has affected at least 55 million students.

“These are unprecedented times, and we’re all going to need to improvise a bit,” said Ana Menda, assistant professor for teaching and learning at the School of Education and Human Development. “I hope people learn that they need to be flexible, because the world is changing in front of our eyes by the minute, and we need to think about the children.”

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) and Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) announced closures on their respective websites. Until then, here are seven tips to help you adapt.

1. Be flexible. 

Experts recommend creating a schedule to manage priorities and expectations. While Menda agreed, she thinks families need to first be flexible and forget about existing time frames. “You don’t have to think of the five-day workweek,” says Menda. Without the disruptions of classroom changes, recess, and bathroom time, families can do more in less time. 

“If you can, do a little every day and create a schedule that mimics the needs of your family,” she said. Not every family is the same. Depending on the age of the children and the nature of parents’ work, each family’s needs will look different from the next. If you’re a perfectionist, now is the time to work on letting things go. “Some days will not be productive for anyone, and we have to learn to be okay with that,” she said.

2. Laugh out loud.

In 2017, Robert Kelly, political analyst and professor, became known across the globe as "BBC Dad'' when a video of his children interrupting a news broadcast he was filming from home went viral. Things will go wrong, and maybe they’ll even go viral, but Menda recommends keeping things light in the home. 

“You have to lead by example, and what we don’t want to do is make the situation more stressful than it is,” said Menda. There should be time weaved into the day to play games, laugh, and do something you wouldn’t normally get to do on your average weekday. And, if the children—or family pet—make cameo appearances on your Zoom calls, that’s OK, too.

3. Tap into your resources.  

Online learning will look different for everyone. Some schools are sending children home with learning devices and tools, while others are providing materials with less structure. Regardless, parents will need to tap into resources they may not have accessed before. “Virtually, there are more resources to support your child’s learning than I can list,” said Menda. To complement the county school district’s learning plan, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and WLRN Public Media launched At-Home Learning, a new educational programming schedule on WLRN-TV. The new weekday television schedule began airing on Monday, March 30, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Parents can find a number of online resources through the University Libraries to help K-12 students with homework, find educational and entertainment activities, and provide recommendations about staying healthy and informed. Find things to read through OverDrive, watch educational videos on Kanopy. Learn a new language in your free time through Mango Languages

Also, don’t forget about Netflix documentaries, podcasts, PBS, YouTube, Scholastic, and others. “Regardless of your child’s age, you’ll need to break up the routine,” said Menda. Walks outside and doing puzzles, Lego’s, and art projects are a few ways to break up the day. Many museums, including the Lowe Art Museum, offer virtual programming at no cost. “Look at art online and have a conversation with your child about what’s going on in the piece,” she added. “The resources to support your child’s learning outside of coursework are almost unlimited.”

4. Some screen time is fine.

“The screens are where parents can find some of the most educational experiences,” acknowledged Menda. She recommended limiting the screen time to balance play and learning. And, if some days require more leisure activities  and less reading, refer to tip number one.

5. Put on your oxygen mask first.

Menda tries to take time every day for herself. Whether scrolling the latest internet memes or taking a long, hot bath, parents should carve out time for their own mental and physical health, she pointed out. This includes eating healthfully and limiting screen time. Binge watching the news will likely cause increased anxiety. If you’re not well, you can’t be there for your family. 

To stay connected to what’s happening at the University, read correspondence from Human Resources and University Communications, News@TheU, and the coronavirus website. The employee FAQs provide guidance for University faculty and staff as we continue to monitor COVID-19. If you’re feeling anxious or in need of support, access virtual services from the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program.

6. Think of ways to help others.

“Children that have families with resources will likely be okay,” said Menda, “but for children with access to fewer resources, this will be tougher.” M-DCPS—which has supplied more than 56,000 devices to students to support distance learning—will provide free meals for its students. BCPS district distributed 82,000 laptops with internet connectivity to students.

Menda recommended looking for ways to help others, if you can, or to get the help you need. The Miami Herald lists shared resources to help those affected by coronavirus. The University activated The U Responds, our university emergency response effort, to help our students, support our research efforts, and enhance care for our patients and frontline health professionals in response to this pandemic. The Florida Community Development Legal Project shared a list of COVID-19 resources, which includes information for Miami-Dade and Broward counties and links to statewide and national assistance for nonprofits and small businesses.

7. Find the silver lining.

Working and teaching from home will likely offer some families the opportunity for quality time to do things together that they simply couldn’t in the pastsuch as eating dinner as a family, exercising, or playing games.


Ana Menda is a professor of teaching and learning with a Ph.D. in special education. She also has a master’s degree in bilingual and bicultural education.