The coronavirus pandemic has not only produced a health and economic crisis but a childcare and education crisis for American families as well. Although more schools opened their doors this fall than in 2020, the virus presents an ever-changing situation.
While the summer provided a glimpse of hope that the pandemic was drawing to a close, the rise of the delta variant soon proved that the coronavirus isn’t done with us yet. The pandemic situation changes rapidly and is vastly different in different regions of the country. The evolving situation means that schools and daycares could close without much warning, leaving parents to juggle jobs and full-time childcare once again. And some parents may have fewer options than before if they’ve already been ordered to go back to the office.
If you’ve been stressed by managing so many new responsibilities at once, you’re not alone. A March and April 2020 survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that 63% of families struggled to find childcare to keep working. According to the study, eight percent of parents reported taking paid leave to deal with childcare, and 11% took unpaid leave.
If your child is sent home from school once again, here are 10 tips for managing childcare and teaching during the pandemic.
1. Prepare for the unexpected.
Even if your children have returned to classroom education, their school could still close unexpectedly due to a coronavirus spike or outbreak. Have a plan to work from home, if possible, take a leave from your job or identify someone who can watch or teach your child, just in case.
2. Communicate with your employer.
Don’t be afraid to communicate with your manager or human resources department, so they fully understand the childcare and homeschooling issues you’re facing. They might be able to make accommodations to ease the burden.
But your employer won’t be able to help if you don’t have an open conversation and ask for assistance. Brainstorm several win-win ideas or plans ahead of a meeting with your company so you can propose a variety of beneficial solutions.
3. Be aligned with your parenting partner.
Make sure you and your spouse or parenting partner agree on childcare and teaching options. Stay calm and keep an open mind about creative ways to handle these unprecedented challenges.
Find ways to share your responsibilities, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Adjusting work schedules, seeking a different job, taking a leave of absence or hiring a childcare provider might be options to discuss.
4. Create a routine.
If your kids are sent home from school, creating and sticking to a daily routine could help them keep up with their schoolwork. Having dedicated times to study, go outdoors, have meals and do extra-curricular activities creates a structure that kids can rely on and look forward to.
If your children attend school virtually, they may complete assignments more quickly or more slowly than attending in-person. Try to focus on the quality of their education over the quantity of time they engage in distance learning.
5. Establish a study space.
When possible, carve out space in your home for education free of clutter, noise and distractions. Be sure it’s well-lit, equipped with a computer and has all the tools your child may need to complete their schoolwork or attend classes remotely. You may need to sit with and guide younger children while they complete online education.
If you don’t have an internet connection or have problems using technology, let your schools know. They likely have resources to help you stay connected.
6. Schedule social time.
Even if your children are spending more time at home, don’t forget that socialization is an essential part of their education. Allow them to connect with peers in a virtual atmosphere or a socially distanced in-person environment. More socialization options might exist for fully vaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
7. Explore childcare options.
Even under ordinary circumstances, coordinating childcare can be challenging. If your usual childcare provider isn’t available, you could consider:
- Hiring a nanny or babysitter.
- Sharing childcare duties with friends or neighbors.
- Asking a grandparent or other family member to look after your children part of the time.
- Enlisting one of your older children to watch a younger one.
8. Consider virtual solutions.
Entrepreneurs have created innovative ways to help families manage during the pandemic. For example, two companion services, SitterStream and SchoolStream, emerged during the COVID crisis with virtual options for childcare and education. Research how technology could provide solutions for your situation.
9. Seek out community childcare options.
Find out if any local government or business programs are available to assist with your childcare. In some areas, government agencies have set up emergency childcare centers.
Nonprofit agencies that can help you meet childcare demands are available in many areas. And you may find for-profit childcare centers offering free services for some parents, such as those deemed essential workers.
10. Stay in touch with your child’s school.
Even if your child’s school closes, their teacher is still responsible for a student’s curriculum and education. If you don’t get the necessary guidance and educational resources, be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher or principal.
If you feel isolated or uncertain about managing remote education, check with your child’s school staff for guidance. There may be additional school services that your child qualifies for while learning from home.
How can I get more help during the COVID-19 crisis?
If you’re juggling childcare, homeschooling and working on top of parenting, be patient with your family and yourself. Find time to:
- Get enough sleep
- Take breaks throughout the day
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy diet
Some schools continued meal services for students during the initial COVID lockdown periods, and may begin these services again if they are forced to close. Tap into available services that can reduce your stress and workload.
Here are some resources to help manage your health, mental stress and financial hardship:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service (SAMHSA) Disaster Distress Helpline
- National Institute of Mental Health
- FeedingAmerica.org has a map showing local food banks.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income and family size.
- Teladoc services can connect you to a therapist or medical expert by phone or video.
- Medicaid.gov is the federal health insurance program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income and family size.
- Healthcare.gov is the federal health insurance marketplace where you may find plans with substantial subsidies if you earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
- Benefits.gov has a questionnaire that helps you discover the benefits you’re eligible for.