Going back-to-school typically ushers in excitement from parents who are eager to have routines back in place and children impatient to see their classmates again. The 2020 school year for most of the world looks very different and a lot of the usual excitement and anticipation has been replaced by the stress of the unknown.
Even during normal circumstances, managing households, school, extracurricular activities, and work can feel overwhelming. Throwing a pandemic into the mix has left us all at times feeling exhausted and short-fused.
We recently chatted with Ladan Ahdieh, a Speech Pathologist in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax County schools, on how she and her family managed everything in the first few months of the pandemic… And now as the fall school year approaches how she’s been preparing new systems to manage her work-from-home needs and the virtual learning needs of her two 5th graders. Whether you’re setting up your children’s virtual school space or your work-from-home “office”, here are some of our big takeaways from our convo with Ladan that could help set you up for success heading into the fall:
Designate a clear space in your home where “work” or “school” is to happen. Now that the boundaries between work, school time, and home life are nearly nonexistent, an intentional space for these activities creates a physical structure to separate your “work-life” from “home life” and support a more focused environment.
Set boundaries around the parts of your workday that require uninterrupted time. Interruptions are inevitable, especially when you are juggling your own workday with supervising little ones as they learn remotely. Whether it’s a portion of the day designated for quiet time or a “Meeting in Progress” sign on the door, identifying your availability at home supports the same opportunities for productivity and focus that are created when designating your physical space.
Roll with the Punches
Go easy on yourself and those around you! This is all a bit strange and everyone is figuring out how to adjust to this new way of life. There will be awkward Zoom meeting interruptions, days, when you’ve had it with your designated work-from-home space and emails, will be answered from the couch, and even moments when you realize that you’re at home systems need to change to meet new needs. It’s okay! You’re doing your best to show up for yourself, your family, and your colleagues – you got this!
Read the full interview below:
A bit of background on you! Anything you might want to share about you, your work, or virtual learning requirements:
“I’ve been a Speech Pathologist for Fairfax County schools in the Northern VA area for 18 years and for the last 4 years I transitioned to working as an Educational Diagnostician-testing children (22 months to 5 years old) to determine if they require special education services. Our office is comprised of Speech Pathologists, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Audiologists and we work as a multi-disciplinary team to test children with special needs and support families through the special education process.
I must say that when schools closed during this pandemic, I was truly at a loss, thinking “how is this going to work?” Our job relies on in-person interactions and being able to connect with our little ones through play and reciprocal activities as well as structured tasks. It’s hard enough in person to engage them!!
Amazingly-over the last 5 months, our team has been working tirelessly to figure out a system where we can support our families via a virtual platform, and we have begun to successfully test children through video conferencing and guiding our families through these evaluations/observations.”
What are some of the frustrations as a parent who is working from home while simultaneously having to help/teach your kid(s) during their virtual learning?
“Oh boy, where to start?? There are constant interruptions, many are legitimate, many are just random unnecessary interruptions that they can take care of on their own (they are rising twin 5th graders). Even though I have sat them down and explained how important it is that I have certain blocks of time where I cannot be disturbed, inevitably-they will forget. Case and point—just a few days ago I was evaluating a 2-year-old child on line with a Vietnamese interpreter as well who was on the call—one of my boys came right in and with a loud “whisper” began asking about a possible playdate with a friend. LOL. When I asked him if he had lost his mind—he stated “I thought you were watching a YouTube video”. So…we continue to work on this. Every. Day. Mind you—I even bought a sign from Etsy in RED that I hang on the door to my dining room (now my office) saying “Virtual Meetings in Progress…Do Not Disturb”. You see how well that worked out.”
Do you have a designated workspace and or school space in your home? / Could you walk us through the work/learn space you’ve set up?
“I have taken over my dining room table which has become my desk. Last Spring when schools shut down since we really had no idea it would last this long, things were random—boys would take their laptops and sit at the kitchen table sometimes, other times they would go in their bedroom and sit on their beds or—they would go downstairs to their playroom and sit in a bean bag chair. For me, it was the same-sometimes on the couch, sometimes in my dining room. It was very chaotic and really wasn’t conducive to learning—but we were all in a bit of shock during those few months and trying to process what was going on…and school was only online for an hour a day. Unlike how it is going to be in the Fall. We have bought desks and chairs for the boys which will also be in our dining room and they are really excited to have an “official” space. I really believe it makes a difference for them.”
During the pandemic has it been easier to create order and systems or harder?
“It has absolutely been harder—there is no “break” between work life/home life and that has been one of the most difficult aspects for me (of course outside of not being with my colleagues!). Everything just seems to flow into each other and it has taken a LONG time to create some semblance of order going into the Fall.”
Do you feel like you have a system in place or does it feel chaotic?
“Yes—I’m actually feeling good about my setup and it really makes me happy to see the boys excited about SOMETHING with this start of the school year (they are patiently waiting for their desks and chairs to arrive from Ikea). They want to make their space their own.”