Everyday, homes across America are struggling with the balance of working, learning and living in the same space. The shifting needs of those trying to compete for the computer, time and attention of others has many patients seeking help in our office. I feel uniquely equipped to be able to give some advice to our patients on this topic. Our family has been homeschooling for the past 13 years, with nearly 10 of those years my wife has been simultaneously working from our house as the office manager for our office. With this experience, I want to share some tips on how students and parents can deal with the pain and stress associated with the struggles that 2020 has created.
Keep a Schedule
There is so much volatility now that consistency is more important than ever. Some remote learning setups require that the kids be on the computer certain hours — even regular school hours. Other setups simply require a log-on and completion of work in a certain amount of time. Although this variety may sound appealing in some ways, the lack of structure can put added stress on both children and parents working from home.
The answer: Make and keep a schedule.
Make a daily schedule and keep it, regardless of the type or place of learning. Set and keep a regular wake-up time. Set and keep a morning routine even if ‘school’ is in the living room. Set and keep an after school routine. In addition, set and keep a post-dinner, pre-bedtime routine whether there’s remote learning or traditional school learning. The structure supports a system of normalcy and being productive. Consistency in schedule will allow for the greatest results.
Remember though, schedules can fluctuate based upon needs. When large assignments or major work projects are due, alter the schedule as needed. This may include earlier or later work schedules, or maximizing collaboration with classmates and colleagues. The point is not to have a rigid schedule that is confining, but a schedule that is purposeful. Communication of everyone involved is also crucial to an effective schedule. Involve everyone in a pre-week scheduling meeting to best communicate needs and expectations of time and resources for the week. A five minute meeting makes a large difference in smoothing out the stressful bumps of the work week.
Create a Work Station
Dedicate specific areas within the house for school, work, and recreation time. This creates the setting for work; it’s clear what occurs in that space and allows the child or working adult to mentally put themselves in the space of work. This definition of area, along with clear start and end times, allows the brain to direct working energy towards productivity while allowing for relaxation during non-work periods.
For children, design the work area for schoolwork. Don’t hodgepodge something together and expect the child to want to be there, or to stay there, when learning from a home environment in which they usually have free rein to do whatever they want. In addition to the computer and headphones, make sure the workstation includes all proper supplies in one location so there’s no need to get up throughout the day to retrieve things that aren’t there: pens, pencils, markers, notebooks, water, and so forth.
For adults, having a space that can be closed off from other parts of the house is crucial. This allows for a quiet work environment during the workday and allows for the door to be closed when work time is over. Closing the work station for the home worker is key to decreasing stress. When the door is closed, attention can focus back on the needs of the house and the family. Being able to compartmentalize work and home is a key to the longevity of the at home worker.
Set Realistic Expectations
For children: Home learning is new and different for many people. Expectations need to be realistic. Most kids have not learned in this fashion. Most adults have not taught in this fashion. The lack of structure in the physical surroundings (not in a classroom) is a stress; the lack of socialization is a significant change (perhaps one of the most significant stresses), and the way content is delivered is different as well. The amount of adaptation required here is dramatic. As parents, that means it would be wise to modify and be realistic with the expectations. If you hold expectations to exactly what they were when in a school setting, it’s likely everyone will be disappointed and further stressed. So allow space and time for the adaptation and be flexible where and when you can.
For adults: Similarly, adults working from home can also expect many differences. A work day without child/pet interruptions is not likely. In fact, expect them to occur and embrace them as a tiny work break. These mental breaks help to keep you connected to what is most important in life and aids the prevention of becoming consumed by work stress.
Find Time for Movement
Create time and space for movement throughout the day. The body, young and old, needs to move. The body and the mind are under an immense amount of stress during this unique time of life. Movement increases blood flow, releases tension, shifts mindset, and increases energy. All of these changes are important to you and your child being in the best physical space to adapt to — and learn in — the new setting.
Make sure that you and your child are checked and adjusted by a chiropractor. The health of the spine promotes the health of the nervous system and supports the entire structure of the body. A growing child’s physical health directly affects their ability to withstand and adapt to the changes and to learn in this new setting. Likewise, the stress of managing a household while working, teaching, and maintaining normal daily activities for adults can take its toll. Routine adjustments and workouts help to reduce the aging process that physical and emotional stress produce.
Like it or not, things have changed in life and at school. Putting energy and thought into your at-home learning and work setup will ultimately pay off for them and you. Create a schedule and be consistent. Design a workstation and treat it as a classroom. Be realistic in what you expect and be flexible where you can. And remember to move, because movement is life.
The passing of 2020 will be celebrated by almost everyone. No one knows if the New Year will see a return to the classroom and to the office. If we are fortunate to return back to a “normal” life in the next few weeks, the tips laid out above can continue to be applied. Like many times in life, difficulty brings about adaptation and builds strength leaving us better off than before. Let us hope that 2020 spurs many of us to become healthier than we have ever been.
Daryl C. Rich, D.C., C.S.C.S.