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Resources and Tips for Eastern Families Working From Home During COVID-19

Not an Eastern employee? Check out our more general tips for families working from home.

Last updated 5/4/20 7:38 am

Parents who are now working from home face particular challenges in meeting the needs of children at home, as well as Eastern students. Some children and teens are now expected by their schools to complete assignments and learning activities from home, which can put additional demands on parents who are now tasked with assisting children in using technology, understanding assignments, and providing homework help -- all while trying to do their own jobs. Parents of very young children are responsible for meeting the needs of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who require ongoing supervision and engagement, which makes getting work done very challenging and stressful.

Many children (and adults!) find it stressful when regular routines are disrupted. In addition, kids feel our anxiety and fear (and older children likely have their own, very justified fears about what is going on right now). With those things in mind, we've put together some tips for Eastern parents now working from home.

Two new resources from the state of Connecticut for families in need of support:

  • The CT Talk It Out Hotline is a place to call when you need someone to listen, understand, and help you sort through your feelings.
  • CHR launched the Hero Hotline for anyone struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
    1. Remember that your most important goal as a parent right now is to help your child feel safe and loved. To that end, it's critical that you set aside times throughout the day to provide children with undivided attention. Even teens need some time each day with a parent who is focused on them and not distracted by incoming email and social media posts. Eating one or two meals together as a family, without devices present, can be an important time to connect as a family - and for you to take a short break from your work. Younger children will need periods of undivided attention throughout the day, and opportunities for silliness and physical closeness. If you can carve out time for quality family interactions, children are more likely to be able to spend periods of time playing or doing other activities independently (depending on their age). 
    2. Children need to move everyday. Taking just 10 or 15 minutes for a dance break or to run around outside with your child could give them what they need to be able to play or read quietly for another 45 minutes. (And it's good for your physical and mental health, too.)
    3. Parents are not expected to be school teachers. Schools may be relying on parents to assist children in learning activities, but it is not realistic for working parents to be able to do their paid job for 7 or 8 hours a day and also become a homeschool teacher for 6 hours a day. It's just not possible. Before you beat yourself up about the instruction you're NOT providing your child right now, it might be helpful to remember a few things:
      • As long as children aren't spending all day watching TV or playing video games, they are likely learning. For example, during this time, many children are learning how to do things on their own that adults usually do for them. It's okay to gently suggest to your children that they try to figure something out on their own before they ask for help.
      • Older siblings will learn valuable skills when they help their younger siblings with schoolwork. 
      • Many older children can engage in some valuable self-directed learning during this period. Is your child really interested in anteaters? Now's the time for them to do their own research, reading, and art projects on anteaters.
      • Very young children learn so much through everyday routines. Rather than pushing chores off until after the kids go to bed, you might try involving young children in these chores and using them as learning opportunities. Children can help sort and match socks while you fold laundry, practice counting while setting the table, or learn about measurement and quantity while helping make dinner.
      • Everyone else is in the same boat. If your child doesn't complete every suggested activity the school sends home, it's unlikely that he will be drastically behind his peers when school starts up again. 
    4. You will likely need to be flexible with your own work habits. Staff who are accustomed to coming to the office each day and working for a set block of time will find that this just doesn't work when you have kids at home - and trying to stick to an 8-to-4 schedule and expecting your kids to be self-directed during that time is bound to cause stress for the entire family (and may actually be harmful for very young children who need ongoing supervision and attention). You may need to "chunk" your work, so that you get up early to put in a couple of hours before your kids wake up, then take a break to get everyone breakfast and settled into a period of activity. If you have very young children, you may be able to do some busy work while your kids are in the room with you - but work that requires more thought may have to wait until nap time.
    5. Remember that your typical office work day includes plenty of interruptions. Colleagues stop by to chat; the phone rings; you check something on your phone. These "interruptions" serve an important function of giving your brain much-needed breaks. Keeping this in mind may help you to reframe interruptions from a child as opportunities to take brain-breaks (while giving your child an important dose of undivided attention).
    6. Screen time can be a saving grace for when quiet is essential. Many of us are very careful with how much screen time our children get, for good reason. Remembering that these are extraordinary times may help you to let go of some guilt if your children are spending more time than usual looking at screens. For older children, it can be helpful to let them know in advance  what time they will have screen time, so they know what to expect and won't ask all day long. Lots of screen time is not recommended for young children (especially children under age 2), so save any screen time for times when it's really important for the house to be quiet, such as when you have an important conference call, are recording a lecture, or are trying to finish something to meet a deadline.
    7. We are all in this together. Every parent out there knows how challenging this is. Colleagues will understand if there is background noise during your conference call, and students will accept if your child's face suddenly appears in your video. No one expects everything to be perfect right now.
    8. You need to take care of yourself (the ol' "Put on your own oxygen mask first" advice). See tips below for managing your own stress and anxiety.
    • Child Mind Institute offers live video chats with expert clinicians, tips for helping children manage fears, suggestions for meditation practices for children, and many other resources.
    • The Hechinger Report has tips for families on what to do and not do while home with their children. The article points out how the most important role parents play right now is providing kids with a sense of safety and normalcy – and that is far more important than ensuring that children stick to a pre-determined schedule of learning.
    • Peace at Home Parenting has free online workshops for parents on a variety of topics, including helping children feel safe and tips for working from home.
    • The Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media has tips for talking with children about Coronavirus and tips for taking care of yourself and your child.
    • PBS Kids has tips for talking with younger children about Coronavirus, including suggestions for things young children can do to feel like they are helping (including videos about hand-washing).
    • The National Association of School Psychologists has tips for talking with older children about COVID-19.
    • ZERO TO THREE has tips for families with very young children.
    • Zero to Thrive has a parent's guide for coping with COVID-19, including simple, easy-to-remember tips for staying present with young children.
  • Eastern preschool teachers point out that creative activities can enable children to play more independently. One suggestion is to create “center-like” areas/bins (this could work with nature materials in a defined outdoor space as well). The National Association for the Education of Young Children has some ideas.

    CECE researchers created a two-page handout of ideas for supporting math development in children from 3 to 8 based on math research done at the Center.

    Here is a beginning list of other websites that have ideas for non-screen activities to do with young children:

    • Hebron Schools has posted simple suggested activities for at-home learning with preschoolers.
    • New York City Department of  Education has suggestions of activities to do with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers - and reassurance that young children learn most during play and daily routines.
    • Truce Teachers has seasonal ideas for families to do together using everyday materials.
    • Busy Toddler has indoor and outdoor activity ideas for toddlers and preschoolers.
    • Outdoor Activities from Little Pine Learners has 100 ideas for things you can do outside that require little preparation.
    • Hello Wonderful has a list of easy indoor activities (some require more adult assistance than others).  
    • We Are Teachers has a list developed by a school principal of interesting things kids can do while at home (e.g., measure the area and perimeter of each room of your house).
  • When it's critical to have quiet time so adults can do work, here are some online resources for younger children (age 3+):

    • Amazon is currently offering Audible for free for children to be able to stream audio stories.
    • Scholastic Learn at Home has 20 days of free learning activities, broken up by age range (PreK/K, grades 1-2, grades 3-5, and grades 6+).
    • National Geographic Kids has science experiments, games, homework help resources, and videos on a range of subjects.
    • Many public libraries have e-books that can be checked out for children to read at home, as well as other online resources. The Willimantic Public Library is one example. The Mansfield Public Library provides access too BookFlix, which pairs a fiction book read-aloud with a related informational book. Your town's library may have something similar for residents. (Some may require you to enter a library card bar code, but some public libraries are answering emails and may be able to get you a code.)
    • Many children's authors are doing online book readings and other activities. For example, local illustrator Barbara McClintock has been posting videos of herself reading her books on her public Facebook page. One fun one is Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems (new video uploaded to YouTube every day at 1 pm EST). Story Time From Space features astronauts reading space-themed books - from space! We Are Teachers has assembled a long list of children's authors doing readings of their own books.
    • Similarly, many children's musicians are doing live mini concerts that can give children an opportunity for large movement (dance party!) For example, Laurie Berkner has live concerts daily at 10 am (and also songs for waking up and going to bed). “Mr. Lobster,” a music teacher in Somers, will be doing 30 minutes of live music each Monday at 11.
    • Many zoos and aquariums are offering free virtual tours, and some offer suggestions for associated learning activities.  
    • Cosmic Kids Yoga has yoga and mindfulness videos for children age 3 and up.
    • The Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut will be posting an adaptive online gym class for children of all abilities on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 pm.
  • Here are some recommendations from Eastern faculty and staff for online resources for older children:

    • Oceans Initiative is hosting a virtual marine biology camp on Mondays
    • Scratch is a site developed by MIT where kids can learn the principles of computer coding in a fun, age-appropriate way.
    • Amazon is currently offering Audible for free for children to be able to stream audio stories.
    • The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will be highlighting an animal live on Facebook each day at 3 pm EDT and suggesting a related activity.
    • The Happy Scientist has kid-friendly videos on a variety of scientific topics.
    • Skytalk is an audio podcast with the latest astronomy news.
    • Periodic Videos has videos about each element on the periodic table.
    • Neuroscience for Kids offers games, activities, and experiments to help kids learn about the nervous system.
    • Khan Academy provides video tutorials and other supports for learning math (Note: As of 3/19, they are  requiring users to log in).
    • MERLOT provides access to online learning materials on just about any discipline (some for college/high school, some for younger students). 
    • Open Library provides access to digitized library resources (including some books for young children).
    • Films on Demand (available through Eastern's library log-in) provides access to thousands of movies, musical performances, news programs, and more.
    • The Kids Activities blog has a super long list of education companies currently offering free subscriptions.
  • (We'll keep adding to this list, so check back!)

    • Now is a great time to connect by phone or video chat with family members you don't usually have a lot of time to call. ZERO TO THREE has tips for making the most of video chats when very young children are involved.
    • Have a dance party, or listen to music while doing chores. If using Spotify, Apple Music, or other streaming service, try guessing which song might come next.
  • In order to meet your children's needs, you'll need to find ways to take care of yourself. Here are some basic tips:

    • Recognize your own fear, anxiety, and stress - and find a way to process it without involving your children. This may mean keeping a journal of your feelings or texting or calling a friend to vent or express your worries (out of earshot of your children - maybe you need to sit in your car while you call someone). If you can work through some of your own feelings, you'll be better able to discuss your child's feelings with him/her calmly.
    • Some adults find that it's important to spend some time alone each day to think (or not) - or even to have a few minutes to cry without observers. If your children are old enough to leave alone, it may be helpful to take a walk every day to clear your head (or even spend 15 minutes doing yard work). If it's impossible for you to leave your house, find a space where you can be alone for a few minutes (such as the laundry room, garage, or even the bathroom).
    • Spend a little time each day doing something that brings you joy, whether that is reading a book, playing an instrument, playing with your dog, or shooting a few hoops.
    • Get some exercise every day. Since gyms are now closed, you may have to adjust what counts as exercise (maybe now is the time to find out more about those 7-minute HIIT routines!) Running around the backyard with your kids may be your exercise - or you can find creative ways to involve them in your fitness routine (how many jumping jacks can everyone do?) Many families are using this time as an opportunity to explore hiking trails together - can you end each work day with a family walk (or jog)?
    • Eat healthy to the extent possible. You may feel you have even less time to prepare healthy meals, and you may be hesitant to go to grocery stores to get fresh produce. But the better you take care of yourself, the better you'll be able to manage stress. Similarly, it's important to watch alcohol intake during stressful times. While many adults are ending their days with a virtual cocktail hour toast, be mindful about over-indulging.
    • Limit how much time you spend taking in news about COVID-19. It's important to stay informed, but spending hours each day consuming dire news (including news shared on social media) will affect your mental health.
    • There is some research indicating that mindfulness activities can help adults (and children) manage stress. There are many apps for meditation and videos for yoga. Even spending 5 minutes each evening reviewing or writing down a few specific things that you're grateful for today can help.
    • Get help when you need it. As noted elsewhere, Eastern's Employee Assistance Program is there to provide support. Contact Human Resources for more information.
    • Lastly, go easy on yourself. Now is not the time to strive for perfection. Forgive yourself for serving cereal for dinner one night, for snapping at your kids when they start bickering, for sleeping too late to get in your exercise before work time. These are extraordinary times, and most of us do not need to be extraordinary, ourselves, as we struggle to just get through this. Be kind to yourself so you can be kind to your children (and any other adults in your household), and, as one preschool teacher put it, not "sweat the small stuff."

    Other online resources on taking care of yourself during this time:

  • Thanks to all the Eastern faculty, staff, students, and friends whose ideas and contributions appear on this page, including Jennifer Beck, Julia DeLapp, Steve Ferruci, Kendra Flanagan, Leisha Flynn, Matt Hancock, Amie Lopez, Helene Marcy, Niloufar Rezai, Heather Standish, David Stoloff, Teresa Surprenant, Sudha Swaminathan, Claudia Sweetland, and Jeffrey Trawick-Smith.

    The web resources listed on this page were gathered from a variety of sources, including:

    • Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut, Inc.
    • Child Trends
    • The "COVID-19 and Keeping Kids Busy" Facebook Group (and other Facebook posts)
    • National Association for the Education of Young Children
    • Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER)