There are only a few months left in the school year, but we don’t blame you for thinking that it might never end. With health restrictions preventing most children from being in the classroom every day, parents are hard-pressed to find solutions that make co-working at home with their kids a little bit easier.
With the help of educational innovator Vanessa Vakharia, founder and director of The Math Guru, a Toronto-based tutoring service, we’ve put together our top tips for optimizing your home as a co-working space for parents and kids.
1. Develop (and maintain) a routine.
Before the pandemic, many of us could rely on the everyday rituals surrounding work and school to break up the day.
A typical day might consist of rushing out the door, jumping in the car, dropping the kids off at school on the way to work, and maybe stopping at the gym on the way home.
Vakharia says that these physical changes helped us to emotionally and mentally shift gears throughout the course of a day and that we could all benefit by recreating aspects of our pre-pandemic routines at home.
Try setting an alarm as a substitute for the end-of-day school bell.
It turns out that a big part of creating a pandemic-proof routine is training your brain to shift away from school or work at the end of the day without the physical relocation that we’ve all become attached to.
“At school, the bell rings at the end of the day. It’s something that kids look forward to and that you can have fun with,” said Vakharia.
To help compartmentalize your day at home, try setting an alarm as a substitute for the school bell or play music after you close your laptop.
Once the shift to the end of the day has begun, close it with a ritual to match.
Vakharia suggests having your child tidy up their desk or corner of the dining room table. The ritual of setting up their desk in the morning and tidying in the evening then becomes an important part of the daily routine.
You can sell them on the routine by making it seem like a fun “grown-up” way to start and end the day.
2. Commit to communal decision-making.
Vakharia likens working at home with your kids to being in an office with coworkers.
“Just like in any co-working space, everyone’s needs should be respected, and each person should have a say.”
Take the time to have a family meeting and set some ground rules. You can turn your rules into a written contract and post it on the fridge so that anyone can reference it at any time.
Be sure to include your kids by asking them to create three rules of their own.
“Making kids a part of the decision-making process helps them feel a lot better about the fact that they can’t hang out with their friends or be in school,” said Vakharia.
3. Be intentional in crafting your family workspace.
One of the biggest problems of pandemic homelife is that we don’t always have dedicated spaces for working, learning, and relaxing.
“Everything tends to get mushed together into one thing,” said Vakharia.
Kids think going to work is really cool.
To lower noise levels and give everyone some breathing room, designate a room with a door for video calls.
To ease the transition to remote learning for your son or daughter, cordon of a section of your dining room table and make it their office.
“Remember, kids think working is really cool. They are so excited to be like adults and go to work,” said Vakharia
Try thinking about what you'd need in an office and provide it to them.
Put a framed photo of their best friend or a stuffy on their desk.
That doesn’t mean turning your dining room into an office replete with swivel chairs, cubicles, a water cooler, and the smell of stale coffee; there are plenty of small things you can do to help them feel like grownups.
A glass of water, a jar of pencils, their workbooks or binders, and sticky notes will do the trick. They’ll be better organized and have everything they need to make it a successful day.
You can make it fun for them, too.
“You can get really cute with it—put a framed photo of their best friend or a stuffy on their desk. Give them a plant or a good luck charm,” said Vakharia.
4. Use the five senses to your advantage.
Vakharia says we can use sensory cues to help train our bodies and minds when it’s time for work and time for play.
Because it mimics sunlight, cooler color temperature artificial lighting can help you concentrate during the workday, but it may also keep you up at night.
To help you unwind, Vakharia recommends switching to your ambient or “chill-out” lighting or candles after hours for a more serene vibe.
Refresh your air with a scent diffuser. Vakharia goes for energizing scents like orange, grapefruit, or ginger mint during the day. “When I put my work down, I like to shift to a milder scent like lavender which tells my brain it’s relaxing time,” said Vakharia.
As she works, Vakharia likes to have instrumental classical music playing in the background because “it’s soothing and keeps me focused”.
To switch gears after work, she’ll stream one of her favorite Bon Jovi or Heart albums—and crank the volume. (In addition to her tutoring business, Vakharia sings lead vocals and plays keytar for Goodnight Sunrise, a Canadian alternative rock band.)
Touch and taste.
It can be simple as taking the laptop off the dining room table at the end of the workday. Put placemats down, add candles, and food. Suddenly dinner beckons—no laptops allowed, and you can shift into downtime.
5. Stay active.
Vakharia says that the everyday activities we once took for granted—getting away from the desk, moving around, taking breaks and lunch, socializing with classmates and colleagues—not only make us more productive, they support our well-being.
“In offices, you take breaks, you shift around during the day, you have a lunch hour. Kids have recess! We schedule those things into our day because they serve a purpose—people need to get up and move around,” said Vakharia.
The good news is that you can simulate most of that at home. Give your kids recess at a specific time; they can play in the backyard or cut loose to a dance video on YouTube.
Parents can keep an eye on their kids wherever they are in the home by using ecobee’s SmartCamera with voice control, which also allows for two-way talk if you need to remind someone they should be doing homework, not streaming Netflix.
6. Keep everyone comfortable.
With the pandemic, the home has become a new front in the never-ending battle over the best office temperature.
The reality is there is no one-size-fits-all temperature; people work better at their preferred room temperature, and some family members may like the home hotter or cooler than others.
To avoid frequent and frustrating family squabbles, Vakharia recommends setting the temperature for the comfort of the family member who likes it cool.
“I would prefer it to be cool, and other family members can put on a layer if they want. After all, you’re at home and you have all of your layers available to you,” said Vakharia.
ecobee thermostats let you easily set a daily thermostat schedule to keep your home cooler for daytime activities and toasty in the evening when you’re curled up with a book.
7. Check in weekly to see how things are working.
Even if you’ve committed your family co-working rules to writing, they should never be set in stone.
Just like at work and at school, routines can change for the better and allow greater productivity all around.
Maybe your kids need more time outside than was initially thought, or perhaps you need to move your workspace further away from everyone.
Check in with the whole family once a week to keep tabs on what is and isn’t working.
While it may seem a little tiring to constantly evolve your co-working practices, try and focus on the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel—vaccines are being distributed, and your family won’t be cooped up forever!
Vanessa is the founder and director of The Math Guru, a super cool boutique math and science tutoring studio in Toronto, famous for its unique approach to the design of its educational space. She is also the author of Math Hacks, a new book that totally makes math fun, stress-free and relatable for young kids and parents, and the host of Math Therapy, a podcast that works through guests’ math trauma. She has a bachelor of commerce, a teaching degree, and a masters of math education. She appears regularly at conferences globally and on national television and news outlets as an expert in math education. Her #goals are to be Lady Gaga-famous and to totally change math culture so that STEM is finally as cool and accessible as basically every single Taylor Swift song ever. She failed Grade 11 math twice, which was the best thing that ever happened to her.