In this post, you will find tips for working from home with a toddler, during the current coronavirus crisis. While all schools and daycare centers are closed in Germany due to the virus, this is a survival guide for parents who are working from home.
With the outbreak of coronavirus disease, almost all schools and daycare centers (KITA and Kindergartens) are closed in Germany. In Bavaria where we live, they are closed until after Easter holidays (19.4.2020). But who knows what is going to happen or if the closure will be extended by then. In general, I think it is a good thing to do because it will help slow down the growth of infected cases. However, if both parents are working full-time, how are they going to survive the five weeks without childcare support? Five weeks is not a short time, especially when you have to work from home with a toddler!
Elderly people are the risk group
As you know, coronavirus is dangerous for elderly people. It means that we should avoid asking grandparents to take care of our kids during this period. This is to protect them from getting infected by the virus. This situation makes it even more difficult for us working parents. How are we supposed to work from home with a toddler for five weeks?
Minimize our social contacts
Another challenge from the coronavirus crisis is that we are recommended to minimize our social contacts as much as possible. Since the virus is highly infectious, we can help to slow down its spread by reducing our social contacts. On the other hand, it means that it is even more challenging for us in terms of childcare support…
Sharing a babysitter
Without the coronavirus, we would have organized a shared babysitter. It means that we would invite some other kids from our neighborhood to our place, and hire a babysitter to look after them all together. We can then share the cost of that babysitter with our neighbors. It is an economical way for childcare support when the daycare center is closed. You can find a babysitter from your area with this website.
However, at this moment, due to the coronavirus, I would not recommend it unless you have absolutely no other solutions. Interaction with a babysitter and other kids can increase the chance of virus infection.
I love playdates. We usually invite kids from our neighborhood to our place for a playdate. My daughter loves playing with other kids and it is also easier for me when she has interaction with other kids. I can have some time to work while they are playing with each other. Besides, we also take turns with other parents so that I can take the kids one day and someone else can do that on the other day. This gives every parent some free time every other day and it is very helpful especially if you need to work from home.
But again, playdates are not ideal at the moment as we need to minimize our social contact. I would wait a bit until we organize our next playdate again. It is better to be bored than to feel sorry.
Tips for working from home with a toddler
So, now that we know babysitters or playdates are not ideal solutions. How do we survive these five weeks without our daycare center, while working from home with a toddler? I know that the easiest way is to turn on a TV show or give our kid an iPad. But we really want to minimize our screen time. Actually, we don’t even have a TV at home and I have never given my daughter any screen time until now (she is three years old).
Below are tips we find useful while working from home with a toddler:
1. Rotate toys
Kids get bored of their toys very fast. When my daughter gets a new toy, she is super excited about it for the first one or two days. But afterward, she loses interest completely and forgets about the toy. One way we discovered to make her interested in her toys for longer is to rotate her toys regularly.
We bought some big boxes and sorted her toys in the different boxes. Every day, only one box is put in her play area, and the rest of the boxes stay in our basement. We change the box in her play area every three days. Whenever a new box is put in her play area, the toys are like new to her again. The “new” toys keep her busy for a while and I can take advantage of this time to work.
2. Use toys that encourage independent play
We use toys that our daughter can play by herself. What I can really recommend is a tiptoi pen. This is an electronic pen that can interact with tiptoi books. When my daughter uses this pen to touch a picture in the book, the pen will explain the picture, read a story or sing a song to her, etc. She can even play a game with this pen. For example, the pen may ask her to find certain animals on the page and she has to look for the animal with the pen.
This is a really good digital audio leaning system and a great alternative to screen time. Different tiptoi books focus on different learning like music, numbers, color, etc. We have now three different tiptoi books at home and my daughter never gets tired of them. She can easily entertain herself for half an hour on a book, while I try to work as much as possible during that time. This is really a lifesaver for us!
Other toys like Lego or puzzle are also great for independent play. I usually ask my daughter to sit next to me and play while I am working with my computer. I give her some comments from time to time, e.g. when she needs help with the puzzle. So, it makes her feel like I am playing with her together.
3. Encourage kids’ imagination
Toddlers are very creative and they love to be in their imaginary world. They love to imitate what adults are doing. For example, my daughter has many stuffed animals in her play area. Sometimes, she likes to read books to them just like how I read books to her.
In her daycare center, she has a morning circle “Morgenkreis” every morning, where the kids sit in a circle and sing together. When I want to gain some time to work while the daycare center is closed, I ask my daughter to do a morning circle with her stuffed animals. She will organize each animal a seat, take the guitar and sing to them. She will also discipline them if any animal is not behaving. It sounds funny but I gain some time to work while she is busy with her animals.
4. Creative artwork
Sometimes we need to be creative. My daughter always finds new activities very interesting. For example, we introduced the below artwork to her. It was great as it could occupy her for quite some time and it was not too messy for me. I asked her to sit next to me and showed her how she could glue her “car”. She was then very busy with tearing and gluing next to me. This activity requires only minimal supervision and I can work in parallel by her side.
5. Healthy snacks and meal
I take advantage of my daughter’s mealtime to catch up with my work. She loves eating and can eat several times a day. It may take her half an hour to finish her meal, and I use that time to work beside her. I always plan and prepare the food beforehand so that she can eat when she gets hungry. Fruits like mandarin and banana are also great snacks. My daughter loves to peel the skin by herself (and she is slow). I can buy some time to work when she is having her fruits.
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6. Establish a daily routine
It is important to have a routine with my daughter. She knows what to expect every day and it makes my day easier. For example, she has breakfast every morning after she gets up. Then it is music time and then indoor playing time. Lunchtime is around noon and followed by a nap. In the afternoon, it is outdoor playing time, snack time and then indoor playing time again. Afterward, it is dinner time, shower and bedtime.
Following a routine can help your toddler to know what to expect and she is also more likely to take her nap, which means that you have more quiet time to work. You can also plan your work tasks accordingly based on her activities.
7. Play in the bathtub
Another trick I use when I need some time to work is to put my daughter in our bathtub with some water and toys. She can play by herself happily for half an hour there. Of course, I need to be with her for safety reasons. I have a seat in our bathroom where I can work with my computer, while she plays with water.
8. Turn on kids’ music
My daughter loves listening to music, singing, and dancing. When I turn on her favorite music, she will be very excited and she will sing and dance along. This gives me some time to work on tasks that are possible with background noises.
9. Align with your partner
Your partner needs to know what kind of support you need from him or her. For example, when my husband comes home from work in the evening, he will take care of putting our daughter to bed. It means that I can use this time to focus on my work if needed. Similarly, he can take our kid to the playground on the weekend so that I can catch up on my work during a very busy time.
10. Start working early
My daughter usually goes to bed at 8 pm and gets up at 8 am. When I need some quiet time to work, I get up at 6 am. This gives me around 2 hours to concentrate on my work. I find that I can be really productive and get a lot of work done early in the morning before she wakes up. I am also less stressed to start my day with her when I know that part of my work for the day is already done.
11. Plan your work wisely
Make a to-do list every day and cross out your tasks once done. This helps you to be organized every day and have an overview of what still needs to be done. It is also motivating to see more tasks are being crossed out. Sort your tasks by the level of concentration you need. For tasks that don’t require much concentration, you can do them in parallel while your kid plays next to you. Plan to do tasks that require a lot of attention during your kid’s nap time, in the early morning before your kid gets up, or in the evening after your kid goes to bed.
12. Bring your work outside
If the weather is good, you can let your kids play in your garden while you work there at the same time. In our garden, we have a slide and a swing. Our daughter also likes to play with her sandbox and Bobbycar there. What I do is that I bring my computer to our terrace and just work there, while watching my daughter play.
If you do not have a garden, you can also go to a playground where there are not so many people around. This may not be optimal if you need to work on your laptop. But maybe you have some documents to read? You can print them out and read them on the playground, while your kid is happily playing outside.
13. Relax, relax, and relax!
I understand fully how it is to work from home with a toddler. Even when I follow all the tips above, it works better some days and sometimes I just feel like nothing works. When you have this feeling that it is impossible to work anymore, try to relax and just put your laptop aside. Spend time with your kids and give them 100% your attention they need. You can catch up with your work again once you can. There is no point to continue working with a crying kid next to you. Work is work and it is not more important than your kid.
Think about it positively. When will you have the next chance to spend so much time together with your kid? It is a great chance to bond now!
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Do you also work from home with a toddler? What works best for you? Leave a comment below and share your tips and experience!