Podcast: ConnectSafely.org CEO Larry Magid chats with parent and veteran educator Kerry Gallagher about tips for parenting and educating kids at home.
By Larry Magid
With many communities under a “shelter at home” order and others smartly taking precautions, a great many people are now working from home. And, if they have kids, their kids are at home too, now that most schools have closed.
The kids may be working as well. Many teachers have given out home assignments while others are conducting online classes or directing their students to interactive learning tools.
This is a hard time, but it’s also a time of opportunity to spend more time with our families or housemates and get some new experiences, including using tech tools, entertainment sites, video conferencing services and other online resources. It’s also a time for going for walks (with safe distance from others), get some exercise at home and maybe try out a meditation app like Headspace or Calm, which — for a period of time — can take your mind off the news.
Working and calling from home
If you’re working from home, make sure you have a good and secure internet connection and that your Wi-Fi can reach any part of the house where you need to work. If not, you can get a Wi-Fi extender or “mesh network” to extend your Wi-Fi.
You may be spending a lot time on the phone. Chances are you have a smartphone, and you may not have a landline. I cut my landline years ago, but I do have an Ooma Telos adapter that lets me make and receive calls via the internet using a standard phone. The device costs about $80 and there’s no cost for service other than taxes. All U.S. calls are free, and international calls are heavily discounted. Another handy calling tool is Google Voice. It’s a free service that assigns you a phone number that you can configure to ring up to five phones each time someone calls. It’s a great way to be reached without having to give out your real phone number, and it’s also great if you have more than one phone line. You can also use it to make outgoing calls, including cheap international calls, and if you have Ooma and Google Voice, Ooma can be configured to display your Google Voice number as your caller ID.
If you work for a large organization, your IT department has probably already briefed you about the tools they offer. But if you’re with a small business or organization or even a group of friends, there are a lot of great collaboration tools that are free or inexpensive. Google Hangouts is a free service that lets you have a video call with 10 people. There are educational and business versions that can handle more people. The Zoom video conferencing tool, which is popular with businesses, has a free option that lets you make video calls for up to 40 minutes ($14.99 a month buys you unlimited length calls). I have had several video calls since I’ve been hunkered down at home and they really do help me feel better connected than just voice calls. Anyone with an iPhone or iPad can use FaceTime to video chat with another iPhone iOS user. There are Android, iPhone and web versions of Google Hangouts and Zoom.
Cloud-based file sharing services like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and iCloud can be used to share files between team members. The file can live on your device but also in the cloud and on other co-workers’ devices. Google Drive is a great collaboration tool because there is an option for multiple people to work on the same documents, spreadsheets and slides, even at the same time if desired.
If you have kids at home and are working at home, you may need to create some space. If possible, work out of a room not used by others. If that’s not possible, make sure your family understands that this is your work space and, if you have a shared computer, make sure you have your own account on the device so that others can’t get into your files. At home, this isn’t so much security advice as protecting your system from accidental damage from others. Be sure you have a good backup system, like the online backup and collaboration services I mentioned earlier.
Also respect each other’s time. Your kids need to know that you’re working and at times not available for any non-essential interactions. And you need to give them some space as well. Still, try to take breaks from your work to spend time with your kids. You can go for walks or bike rides, as long as you keep a safe distance from others. You can find a helpful podcast about parenting and working from home at larrysworld.com/stuckathome.
And those tools I mentioned for professional conferencing can be used by you and your kids to help break the isolation. If your kids are missing their friends, consider a video conference. In the aforementioned podcast, Kerry Gallagher, an assistant principal at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts, and education director of ConnectSafely, said she’s helped her young children set up virtual play dates with their friends using Facebook Messenger Kids to communicate with friends and family because of its fun filters, reactions and sound effects that can be used with video chats. There are also parental controls that limit who your child can interact with.
If you have teens, chances are they’re using social media. You do want to make sure they’re balancing their time, but Gallagher says that you should probably cut them a little bit of slack during this period to help them avoid being socially isolated. Encourage them to use these tools creatively, perhaps creating a public service video on Snapchat, Instagram or TikTok about the importance of washing your hands or keeping “social distance,” not just to protect themselves but others, including people who are highly vulnerable.
I can’t think of a clever way to end this column other than hope we can all stay healthy and keep our sanity as we get through this period, which indeed we will.