The right routine can make your life feel like a well-oiled machine, even if you’re struggling to extract the most time from each day. But when the kids are home from school, even the best family routine can fall into total disarray. Time management for students must include a contingency plan for sick days, unexpected breaks, and any other time when your usual schedule just isn’t going to work. Here are some strategies to preserve your sanity and your study time while your kids are home with you full-time.
Sooner or later, every parent learns that a routine is their best ally. Establishing a routine might feel impossible when your usual way of doing things no longer works. But it’s moments of stress and chaos in which routine becomes especially important. A predictable day helps children know what to expect, easing anxiety and mitigating many behavioral challenges that stem from frustration.
Your family routine also gives you more control over your life. You can set aside time for phone calls and meetings, map out your study plan for the next few days or weeks, and schedule time to attend online classes. A routine doesn’t have to be highly structured or heavily authoritarian, either. Merely establishing blocks of time for daily activities—studying, playing, getting dressed, eating meals—lends shape and purpose to each moment.
Choose a Routine That Works for Your Family—Not Someone Else
It’s tempting to organize your family routine around the work or school day. There’s no real reason to do that if it doesn’t work for you. You don’t need to work 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and your kids don’t need to study 8 a.m.-3 p.m. As long as everyone’s basic needs are taken care of and each day has a predictable structure, you can choose a schedule that works for you. Some strategies for making the most of each day while opting for a nontraditional approach include:
- Try scheduling alternating blocks of playtime with your kids and study time away from your kids throughout the day. Rather than completing everything at once, you may find yourself working or studying until late in evening, but with many playtime breaks in between.
- Carve out time after the kids are in bed or before they get up to accomplish your most important work.
- Embrace short bursts of working. You can do homework while your kids play with their toys, especially if you occasionally chime in or jump on the floor to play with them.
- Swap out roles throughout the day with your spouse. You might take on a majority of the responsibility during the morning hours while they tend to the kids in the evening. You can even alternate the bedtime routine each night, or find other ways to give one another time to do non-parental tasks.
Responsible Screen Time
Although rewarding, parenting isn’t always the easiest job. It can make juggling school, work, chores, and everything else on your plate feel like an overwhelming to-do list. Although most experts advise that parents should limit kids’ screen time—especially while children are very young—not all screen time is bad. If a few extra hours in front of a screen help you stay calm and present and support you to earn a living or complete your degree, this extra screen time is good for your family.
Some strategies to make the most of screen time include:
- Talk to your kids about the media they consume. This encourages them to think critically and fosters meaningful family discussion.
- Try online educational resources to keep your kids busy and their minds engaged. Cosmic Kids Yoga features stories and kid-friendly yoga, while Scholastic offers an assortment of online learning resources.
- Consider letting your kids play video games. Some studies show that video games offer clear benefits, such as spatial reasoning, critical thinking, and better coordination. Try playing the games together first to ensure there is no harmful material.
- Ask your kids to do something with their screen time, rather than simply watch cartoons. For example, you might encourage the child who has been asking for a new pet to assemble a presentation about why they need the pet.
- Encourage your kids to do something else while they watch TV. Some kids need background noise or a sense of companionship to really enjoy coloring or building Legos. So pull out their toys and let them enjoy the extra stimulation.
Know That You Don’t Have to Do It All
There’s a reason that parent, teacher, extracurricular coach, student, and worker are typically separate roles. No one can do it all. Pressuring yourself to do it all can feel overwhelming and lead to stress, and it won’t set you up to be successful in any of your roles. So when the kids are home on an extended break, you may have to lower your standards a bit. The day is a success if you knock out basic tasks and everyone feels safe and loved.
Parents with a partner should also try to support one another whenever possible. After all, your success in school will ultimately benefit the entire family in the long run. Lean on your partner when you need the extra help, and return the favor when you’re able. And if you’re not getting sufficient help, speak up.
Finally, remember that there’s no shame in asking for help. A babysitter or loving family member can get you a few hours to study or work from home. Consider it an investment in your well-being and your kids’ happiness.
Understand That Education Takes Many Forms
It’s easy to feel pressure to fill your child’s day with “educational” activities. The truth is that kids don’t need to spend all their time in structured learning. In fact, most evidence shows that kids learn best when they’re playing. Counting ladybugs is a math lesson. Making up stories about clouds fosters creativity. Arguing with a sibling encourages critical thinking. Find ways to make everyday moments into opportunities for learning.
Unless your kid has schoolwork they need to do, you’re under no obligation to force them to complete worksheets all day. When you make learning fun, it may motivate kids to dig deeper. Try explaining to your preschooler that the caterpillar you saw today will one day turn into a butterfly, then read to them about the topic or ask them to draw a picture about what they saw.
Get Older Kids Involved
Your older kids can and should help with your younger kids. Try asking your high schooler to do a 20-minute science lesson with your grade schooler or enlisting your middle schooler’s help with supporting your preschooler to get dressed and eat lunch. If you're having trouble motivating your older kids, try some cold, hard cash. A boost in their allowance may inspire more helpfulness, and it’s likely less money than you’ll pay a babysitter.
Help Kids Practice Independent Play
It’s easy for parents to feel guilty when they are juggling so many other responsibilities at the same time. If you find yourself in a similar situation, rest assured that you’re doing a great job—and understand that it’s OK for your kids to play independently. Parents today spend twice as much time with their kids as parents did 50 years ago. So stop pressuring yourself. Kids need a chance to have independent play, too, so they can master creativity, try out new ideas without a parent commenting on every movement, and learn to solve problems on their own.
You can encourage your kids to play on their own by reserving some special items for solo playtime. Invest in coloring books featuring their favorite characters, a prized set of figurines, or a cool playset. Then bring these options out only when you need some peace and quiet.
Try a Closed-Door Policy
Everyone needs a quiet space to work. You’ll be more motivated and less distracted if you get a few hours a week of quiet time. So institute closed-door work hours—either while another adult watches the kids, the television keeps them occupied, or an older child plays babysitter. Prepare your kids for this closed-door time, and remind them that it needs to be interruption-free. They may protest and interrupt at first, but practice makes perfect. Keep trying—you got this … and so do they!
Being in the right state of mind is a key ingredient in the recipe for academic success. When you’re managing kids, schoolwork, and a job, it’s tough to disconnect from your distractions and get to work. But with the right program, you can do it.
SNU’s online degree programs make time management for students easier by allowing you to review coursework on your own terms, when the time is right for you—without the distraction of little feet scurrying under your desk. To learn more about succeeding with virtual courses, check out our free guide, What to Expect from an Online Degree Program.