Open thread on the adventures of homeschooling+work

by Ingrid Robeyns on April 3, 2020

In many countries over the world, working parents are now full-time caring for their children, often also teaching them, or helping them to stay focused and sufficiently organized to get their homework done. In many places the kids (and their parents) are for the most time locked up in their apartments or houses, which doesn’t always help to keep spirits lifted and to give kids possibilities to get rid of excess energies…

Since surely this must have led to funny, surprising, difficult or sad situations, let’s have an open thread to share your adventures. Simply responding that you think it is utterly exhausting trying to do two jobs at the same time, is also allowed :)



nastywoman 04.04.20 at 11:48 am

I’m not a parent
(yet) –
but I’m doing my best in homeschooling for the homeschooling of the 3 -(in words ”three”) children of my cousin – who very strongly expressed last week –
(jokingly) –
that after three to four hours homeschooling per day – she starts to hate them –
And as we can’t have that – I suggested a old Italian lesson -(of mine) from 2010: –

and as this lesson went ”splendid” – and are now ALL able to sing it together by heart –
we are trying to ”put the ante” – with ”Opera” –
(not ”Oprah”)

and – guys –
try to do this one:

and if y’ALL would join in – we could be completely ”fluent” in Italian –
by the end of the – ”Isolamento”?


Jim Fett 04.05.20 at 2:17 am

I live in NYC. My wife and I have been trying to work at home for 3 and 2 weeks, respectively, while caring for our 4 yo daughter. She usually is in pre-K at the local elementary school from 8-2 followed by daycare until 5:30-6. Using google classroom, her school is attempting some remote teaching. There is a check in for attendance in the morning and typically a couple activities assigned each day. These are often stories or videos and drawing a picture or collecting objects and talking about them. We are struggling. Our daughter has developmental and behavioral problems. It is very difficult to get her to pay attention and complete the tasks. She has OT via video conference twice a week but we can’t get her to focus and do the tasks the therapist sets for her. Our work is suffering because she requires near constant attention and acts out if not engaged (but even then). My wife will be laid off starting in May and we have financial stress (the stimulus bill will not significantly help us). So we’re trying to work, figure out how to avoid homelessness, and we’re trapped with a troubled and frankly abusive child. And I don’t know how we survive this.


Ingrid Robeyns 04.05.20 at 8:53 am

Jim Fett – I’m very sorry. I think there are many stories similar to yours out there (although being worried about homlessness is really a very big issue, and I really hope there will be a wait to prevent it!).
The model of letting us work from home might work for two-parent families with sufficiently well-behaving children who do not need a lot of attention from their parents, in a situation with enough space and other material equipement in the house, no-one being seriously ill, and no financial worries looming (and yes, I do know a couple of families to whom this depiction applies, and they seem reasonably happy). But for anyone else, it sucks.


nastywoman 04.05.20 at 9:48 am

”And I don’t know how we survive this”.

– as I have heard this now so often from friends from ”back home” – and I’m so lucky to be – probably in ”the best place to survive such a crisis” – is there a possibility to get your daughter a (same age?) friend she can interact with every day for one or two hours playing -(or learning – or singing) time – via Skype -(or Zoom) –
Some of the kids in my family are kept very busy this way.


Harry 04.05.20 at 6:58 pm

We have a 13 year old who is oppositional. But our older two are out of the house, and our jobs allow us some control. My wife has had to deal with a very traumatic event this week (which will continue to be traumatic for some weeks), which, though awful for all of us, seems to have had a benign effect on the kid — he is goodhearted, and understands that she needs him to be more compliant, and is genuinely trying. And I am fairly introverted so actually find the social isolation perfectly ok (when in college I regularly went weeks at a time talking to literally no-one). So, frankly, it has been ok. 5, or 8 years ago I just don’t know how we would have coped (and that is despite having masses of unearned privilege, and no real worries about job security, etc). I really feel for Jim Fett, and for many others for whom this is just awful.


Nicholas John Munn 04.05.20 at 10:54 pm

We only have one, who is 2.5 years old. So my partner and I can tag-team, one working while the other child wrangles. Occasionally the kid will condescend to watch Peppa Pig for an hour, at which point we can both work. I’d say we get 7-8 hours of work done a day (between us, not each).

There are always evenings… which is, unfortunately, not much of a change from normal


anonymous 04.06.20 at 12:07 am

“The model of letting us work from home might work for two-parent families with sufficiently well-behaving children who do not need a lot of attention”

Now imagine how schools function every day. In a classroom of 24 kids, what are the odds that all of them are ‘well behaving who do not need a lot of attention’?



J-D 04.06.20 at 2:08 am

Now imagine how schools function every day. In a classroom of 24 kids, what are the odds that all of them are ‘well behaving who do not need a lot of attention’?

Negligible, obviously, but you must know that or you wouldn’t have asked the question. So why did you ask the question, what was your point?

The point I would make is this. It’s difficult to get a handle on how well ‘the model of letting us work from home’ works without thinking about what it means for that model to ‘work’; it’s difficult to get a handle on how well school works without thinking about what it means for school to ‘work’. What ‘the model of letting us work from home’ is supposed to do, what counts as success for that model is, I think, a different question from what school is supposed to do, what counts as a success for school. Both of them are questions worth thinking about.


eg 04.06.20 at 3:42 am

We have two teenagers at home. The 18yr old is sullen, but independent enough and is taking Gr12 courses that are passably suitable for distance learning. We are hopeful that something approximating normalcy will have returned by the fall so she can go away to University as planned.

The 14yr old is struggling. Getting him out of bed is a challenge, as is any sustained effort where school is concerned. Worst of all, Gr9 math is on the timetable this semester which is disastrous for an indifferent math student.


Ray Vinmad 04.06.20 at 8:10 am

Solidarity Jim. My situation is a little similar but perhaps easier. My youngest and most challenging child is falling behind academically, and acting out in some troubling ways. He was learning to read but is losing ground daily. There is no instructional guidance from his school so I must homeschool him and don’t have the knack for keeping him on track. He was always a bit of a worrier and is now developing more pronounced anxiety. He asks us all the time if we are going to die. He also physically lashes out once in a while, and has broken down suddenly into heart-rending sobs that suggest he’s overwhelmed in some way by the limited knowledge he has of the pandemic.

He cannot handle being alone right now, and he cannot play alone. If he is alone in a room he gets anxious and yells for us. He wants to be with us at all times. He goes from hyper to lethargic.

My husband and I have to continually hand off the child to each other and still somehow manage to appear professional on zoom and keep up with our work.

Kids are much calmer and happier if we can do sports but they shut down the parks. The weather has also not cooperated. There’s only so much running up and down our street that our youngest can do. The other kids are older and holed up in their rooms, not doing any physical activity at all. We try to get them to go on walks, etc. with us but they are resistant and we don’t have the energy to fight about it. They seem more depressed than anxious. It’s a little heartbreaking how much they perk up if someone manages to arrange a video chat but we never got them smartphones and it’s not the way they standardly communicate with friends. They use laptops but don’t get to connect with other kids on the apps.

I’m finding myself becoming overly permissive about virtually everything–food, TV, swearing, chores. I find myself regretting my refusal to get them smartphones since they are now so much more socially isolated. It could be fatigue but I simply couldn’t bring myself to obsess about perfect nutrition and forbid them TV when they are essentially grounded for the next month. I hope we can get back to baseline when this is all over!

The stress of the situation is taking a toll on extended family as well which adds to our sense of being overwhelmed. Others in my family are single parents but handling children and working at home and others are anxious about the sudden loss of economic security. The more fragile people in my family are doing poorly. It seems essential to always answer the phone since there is so much going on and they need me more.

What mainly distresses me is that I am unable to get enough of my work done in any timely way. Other events unrelated to the pandemic have intruded into our lives. These would be distracting in normal times but seem overwhelming now. Something has happened to my bandwidth and I am unable to concentrate.

Consequently, I lose my shit more than I care to admit. I don’t lash out at the kids but instead become overly distressed about minor incidents. This increases my children’s anxiety. It’s harder to hide one’s failings in this small apartment we never leave.

One of our kids is getting flack from school for not having the right work space, and we received a nasty email from a teacher. He is holed up in the only room we can give him right now with a sort of lap desk/beanbag. The teacher wants to be able to see the children sitting upright at a regular desk. We only have one desk which my husband and I now use for conference calls and other work. This child also needs to be in a room where he can lock the door so that the younger child will not bother him during his online classes. We cannot move this desk back and forth between rooms. The teacher told us to buy a desk but furniture stores are not open.

That said, the children are often very sweet with us and with each other. They are trying very hard to be helpful, get along, and are often very patient with us when we are at loose ends. We are feeling extremely close as a family, and even though the littlest one is anxious he’s also delighted to have his parents around constantly. We are enjoying the extra time we have together in spite of my bleak description. We are realizing how much of our lives we spend commuting and love that we don’t have to do that. It is foolish to complain about anything when so many people are struggling so intensely.

I would like to get on top of it all, create schedules, routines, normalize our daily life but the homeschooling plus feeding everyone plus dishes plus work is making it a house on fire kind of situation every day. There’s almost no downtime. I would love any ideas and advice people have about how to create structure and motivate my kids to stay academically on track under these unusual conditions.


Saurs 04.06.20 at 10:32 am

Hark at anonymous, who thinks he invented a clever hypothetical educators haven’t been grappling with since a dogs’s age.


nastywoman 04.07.20 at 12:45 pm

And Great Britain is just – GREAT:


KT2 04.08.20 at 2:05 am

Jim Fett. I sympathise. No idea how developmentally delayed so my possibly silly suggestions may not suit yet it sounds like any may assist.
1) 4yo to make damper /bread w sultanas / fave nuts dried fruit.. Just flour, water lots of kneeding – an hour! – then roll in tarnnies place in oven. Let 4yo do it all on a shower curtain. Chuck kid / curtain and you – in shower. Curtain dangerous for a 4yo.
2) tell OT to send all materials to you to do. Repeat.
3) slow tv? Ala long train journeys for 5hrs?
4) music if you can stand pots and pans being played by a 4yo with uniqueness.
Sleep whenever you can.


JanieM 04.08.20 at 7:26 pm

Jim Fett — it feels glib to be making suggestions; your situation is difficult beyond my imagining. But I’ll offer one thought. If the “pre-school” commitment and activities are making the situation harder, then why not take a break? Four-year-olds aren’t legally required to be in school, and if there was ever a situation where it made sense to take advantage of that flexibility, this would seem to be it. (But obviously, only if it would make the situation easier for you rather than harder.)

@Ray Vinmad: One of our kids is getting flack from school for not having the right work space, and we received a nasty email from a teacher.

This is appalling.

Old CT discussion of homeschooling here. Not written with current dire straits in mind, but maybe there are some useful ideas buried in there.


Miriam Ronzoni 04.09.20 at 2:03 pm

We are among the lucky ones who have a nice, house and a (very) small back garden (3×6 m). We bought a trampoline during the first week of lockdown. It takes up two thirds of the garden, but it is totally wort it. The weather is also cooperating, and we live in Manchester, hence that is a really, really special gift – we have been eating outside for every meal (in the small bit of space left by the trampoline) and that really is not normal in the North West of England in April, or ever. So, on all of the above, I feel we ave been really lucky and privileged.

Re homeschooling/childcare, there have also been some interesting things I noticed. We have an ex preemie (born at 31 weeks), Summer born almost 7 year old born in a multilingual household who was schooled much, much too early and had a ver difficult time, especially in Year 1. Well, there still is a lot of acting out and resistance, but the progress he has been making in the past 3 weeks, working only 2, max 3 hours per day but with a lot of individual attention has been quite noticeable. Of course, again, it is a privilege that we can do that, but it just confirms all the misgivings I had about the British school system: starting later, in smaller classes and with much shorter School Days (but sticking to a generous afterschool provision) would make so much more sense. Oh, and primary school teachers are heroes.

I feel a bit guilty about my three year old. She has actually been very cheerful and cooperative, having less tantrum than usual and learning to play independently so much better, but she really does get less individual attention.

So all in all a positive story I guess. We are exhausting and working long hours and being ridiculously unproductive at our own stuff but I feel I know my kids so much better. But I also know that tomorrow I could be writing the very same story with a totally different spin, so please don’t think I’m gloating – tomorrow you could be me and I could be you.


Miriam Ronzoni 04.09.20 at 2:06 pm

Jim Fett: is it an option to take a break with the pre-school stuff? Sounds like what your girl is being asked to do is not really appropriate to where she is at and your overall situation? I have some experience (see above) with the long term consequences of early schooling, if it is at all possible to let it go and just let her play, my advice would be to seriously consider doing just that.

Really sorry about the rest, stay strong, and keep us posted if you want.


ph 04.09.20 at 3:35 pm

One good thing to do is try list-writing. As in, what does my perfect world look like. Getting people/kids to draw, or list things they like, or wish to do, offers some effort to establish where we are emotionally, or existentially. What desserts would I eat? How many, what flavor?

I just finished sorting through an explosion of stress and work. And writing down what I need to do exactly to get through the first day, then the next helped a lot. At our house, everyone is taking gigantic time-outs – as in school and work can wait. Rush-rush? Not so much. Boss is stressed? Keep her at a distance – avoid unhealthy, unhappy people whenever possible. Make the kids the center of everything and just let them go nuts – everything can wait – then start putting small pieces of structure in place.

Yes, yesterday we didn’t get up early, but today we’re going to make a special breakfast today together. And then more nice things are going to happen.

Children do not have the skills to manage energy and confinement without adult help. And we can’t be perfect for everyone, (ourselves, especially) so we have to pick our battles. Outsourcing parental duties doesn’t make anyone feel good, and so perhaps taking a few extra days off – because the circumstances really are unusual is best. Small challenges, small goals, clear-beginnings with clear-endings and lots of variety. Indoor exercises are essential and these can be games, pillow-fights, child-proof a room for some rambunctious stress-releasing tag, group murals on news print, or old newspapers – crafts etc.

And yes, schedules and structures need to be written out down to the ten-minute stage – four-to-five hours of structured activity per day balanced with free time. Some repetition works well. The key is to keep the activities short – ten minutes of any game – cards. Locate some resources. Not having a plan, or set of solutions is only going to compound the challenges, and waiting for the kids to ‘adjust’ on their own is a non-starter.

No need to feel blue – everyone is learning how to cope with the new reality – get through it with any half-ass, imperfect plan, the fact we’re investing time and energy in the kids and making time for them, over our own ‘important’ interests will make everyone feel better.

Prayer doesn’t hurt, either. Good luck with it all, gratitude lists actually work, btw.


ph 04.09.20 at 3:55 pm

Quick addendum – any teacher is scolding anyone – especially a student – for improper conduct while being locked inside a box – is demented, I mean really, really badly.

The stress I alluded to earlier is multiple platform lesson-planning for a large number of online classes run by the technologically illiterate, myself included.

The health of our students – emotional, mental, and physical is/should always be our first and (during this crisis) our only concern. Any a-hole educational ‘professional’ unable to grasp that simple fact ought be kept away from all children until she or he can return to something approaching sanity. Can’t express how destructive and unhelpful this behavior is for parents and children alike. We can always make up missed class tasks, and if the work doesn’t get done on time – I’m positive the roof over your home will still be there, and the sun still shining.

Really, really unprofessional on their part. Knowing how and when to take the foot of the gas is an essential skill of responsible teaching. Hang in there, you sound a lot saner than the adults you’re compelled to deal with. And feel free to copy my remarks to them all.



ph 04.10.20 at 12:17 am

Daily doing a nice thing for others. Kids compile lists of folks (elder relatives, immediate family members trapped in the same space?) they know, like, love, admire. Start some simple handwritten letters, coloured, with drawings, paste-ons.

Powerlessness, frustration, and a sense of despair are probably doing much, much more damage to families and children than any disease. Older folks/neighbours may feel forgotten, and often are. A kind note from a child can help A LOT. Yes, all caps. And the child feels she or he is making a difference, having a real positive effect, keeping cool when all around are losing their minds.

Crises test us and I think that we’ll all discover something new about the world and ourselves, and our children as come out the other side, as we surely will.

After the crisis we can resume our regular programming of tribalism, 24/7 toxic hate, and otherwise going ape-shit over nothing at all.

And as my adieu: - –

Take you families and friends on a tour of the world’s great galleries. Endlessly enjoyable and educational, too. Get lost in the Louvre or the Met, why don’t we?

Send that to your teachers.

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