Six Ways to Care for Kids During the Pandemic
By Suki Wessling
Throughout the time that I homeschooled my children, I also worked. Most of the homeschooling parents I knew also worked, at least part-time. A few of them were wealthy enough to afford professional childcare, but they were the exception to the rule. Most of us took part in the informal childcare economy that homeschooling often requires.
In this article, I’ll attempt to lay out a framework for a variety of ways to get care for your children during this pandemic, but of course, it will be necessary for you to look at your own household and think creatively. Perhaps these suggestions will help you put together a system that will not only provide you with the childcare you need, but also provide your children with education, friendship, and fond memories for their lifetime.
Childcare doesn’t have to be professional or institutional
Before large numbers of women entered the workforce starting in the 70s, plenty of families needed childcare, but there was little in the way of institutional childcare outside of the public school system. We have all grown up in a world that has a wide system of professional, institutional childcare, where lots of children are cared for in institutional settings. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Our grandparents—and modern homeschoolers—find childcare in a number of unexpected ways.
Work and study on flex-time
One of the most common ways that homeschoolers get care for their children is by changing their schedules to adapt to their families’ needs. Traditionally, we assume that work and school have to happen during the day. But many families have a lot of flexibility in that regard.
During my homeschooling years, I knew families where both parents worked shift work and so they would hand off the primary care and education of the children depending on who was working when. The beauty of this system is that children get direct parenting from both parents and form deeper bonds with them. In my house, when I was working in the evening my only answer to any question was, “Go talk to your dad!”
Lots of families I knew did their focused educational activities during evenings and weekends, leaving the kids to explore creative free time during work hours. No one ever said that school has to happen at a certain time!
Use online courses for breaks
Every working homeschooler I know uses the time afforded them by classes for work. I used to haul my laptop everywhere, from Santa Cruz Gymnastics to Henry Cowell State Park! Now that most of these activities will be closed or curtailed, online courses are another choice.
A couple of caveats: You can’t ignore your student during online courses. Online teachers can’t provide tech support or soothe an emotional child. That’s why I always recommend starting with fun, engaging courses in topics that your students love. You may get more focused time for work if you enroll your budding artist in a painting class than if you ask them to focus on an academic subject that they struggle with.
You will also have to retrain yourself and your management. If you’re used to being able to focus for long periods of time at the office, you might have to set up new systems that allow you to take up where you left off after an interruption.
Create a homeschool pod
Small group learning is the best way for kids to learn deeply and creatively. During my homeschooling years, our family joined with other families to create learning opportunities. These were also—we were not ashamed to say—childcare opportunities. Each parent would take one shift per week to share something that they loved. For example, in our nature club we walked from my home into the redwood forest and studied plants. The two to three other parents got time that day to work. The next day, a new parent would take over.
How you structure a group like this can vary depending on which resources each family has to offer. Some families hire a teacher/babysitter to lead the group some of the time. Other groups pay one of the parents who has special skills.
During times of pandemic, of course, group learning will require a certain amount of planning and trust. Your families will have to agree on your level of security and quarantine before you begin. You might agree on morning health checks by text before children arrive. You might hold the groups outdoors only, which will mean getting ready to haul out the rain gear.
Work on your family culture
People often say things like, “That won’t work for my kids.” And maybe they are right. Some children have special needs that will have to be accounted for. But a lot of the success of this system will depend on your family culture. If you are the parent who always did things for your children, it’s time to set up a chore list and a system of accounting for activities throughout the day. If your children are used to being able to interrupt you for any reason, it might be time to set down some firmer rules and enforce them through family meetings and collaborative problem-solving.
Focus on flexibility and creativity
This isn’t necessarily going to be easy. As of this writing, our local public schools suddenly announced that all courses would be remote for all students, throwing families into yet another round of confusion. Private schools have announced plans that may have to change with the epidemiological data. We are all having to make choices when none of our options seem to be good ones.
But generations of homeschoolers say that this can be done. Not only can it be done in a way that allows you to do your work, but it also can be done in a way that benefits your child and your family. Our family has many fond memories created with our friends out in the forest.
Personally, I’ll always remember the camaraderie, learning, and fun that came from trying to find childcare so that I could get some work done.
Suki Wessling is a local writer and teacher. Her two children, now grown, homeschooled and attended private and public schools during their education. She teaches online courses for gifted homeschoolers and writes about education, homeschooling, parenting, and gifted children. Read more at SukiWessling.com.