How to manage working from home with a toddler in tow

by Lizy Oakes

So I think I have sat down and attempted to write this blog seven times now, and I suppose there is some irony in that. The title: How do you manage working from home and a toddler? Well…we are now over there weeks in to lockdown and i think it is fair to say…the process is not a smooth one!

Initially I thought I was super woman, I had a daily chart, I’d used Pinterest to look up things to do with little one, created folders of work, decided what home learning I was offering for each year group at school, chosen to lead my nursery Whatsapp group so that little one could stay in touch with her friends, decided I was doing Joe Wicks to get thin during lockdown, made my shopping list and prepped my meals whilst all the time dealt with, ‘Mummy?’ and ‘Darling have you seen.. ‘. It turns out that is not achievable.
 
I pride myself on my organisation skills, I have always been the ‘doer’ I like to plan my plans, I think it is my way of coping – which is probably a nice way of saying my coping mechanism is being in control, my anxiety takes over when I am not planned – something which my other half has had to learn to accept and negotiate too.

I AM A TEACHER IN A SECONDARY SCHOOL, TEACHING MY FIRST LOVE – DRAMA, AND I HAD ALWAYS THOUGHT I WOULD BE ABLE TO KEEP THE SAME LEVEL OF ORGANISATION ONCE I HAD MY DAUGHTER, HOW WRONG I WAS!

They tell you, but you just aren’t prepared for the complete life overhaul and when I returned to work when little one was 9 months I had to change, accept that being everywhere and the ‘ideal’, no matter what you see on social media or are told by others, just doesnt happen in reality – well not in mine. We all learn to do what works for us and get by one day at a time.

I think once lockdown was announced I reverted to ‘I must be in control’, everything wasnt normal anymore, not that ‘normal’ is a thing but my normal day to day. I had decided that in order to survive I needed to plan. All these people who are posting ‘my house is clean from top to bottom, what to do next?’, and ‘loving life in the sunshine with a glass of wine’. I was SO envious and I decided I could do that, I just needed a timed schedule. My other half, bless him, went along with my crazy idea even though he was still running his business full time from home. It took me about 5 days, and the realisation of having to get in the bath at 2am because I was in so much pain from going all out with Joe that, I couldn’t do it, I wanted to but if I was going to sustain this for the foreseeable then it had to be achievable.

The extension of the lockdown has been announced and I have not attempted to plan in any way shape or form, I have realised I cant control anything during this dreadful time.

WHAT I CAN DO IS SHOW MY LITTLE ONE HOW TO DEAL WITH STRESS, ANXIETY, ISOLATION AND CHANGE OF ROUTINE BY SHOWERING HER WITH LOVE AND SHOWING HER THAT MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH MEAN EVERYTHING DURING THIS UNCERTAIN TIME.

I find myself thinking of all the children at school, particularly those who I know seek solace in that environment and know that is what they would crave, so I need to be an example and positive role model.

So how am I juggling things?

We have probably watched too much television, eaten the wrong things, stayed in our pyjamas most days – or changed from pyjamas into other pyjamas, cried, tried and failed at potty training, got play dough stuck in the carpet, eaten too much easter chocolate, but we have made memories that I will remember forever. We have laughed so hard, I have heard my little one stringing together words that I didn’t even know she knew and also realised she is a true blend of her mother’s sass and her father’s humour.

I have also tried to remember that we will never get this time back, and as full time working Mummy I am counting my blessings that I get this time with my little girl and my other half. I am doing what I can, when i can for work and trying not to let myself stress too much. Whenever I see my other family, my school kids, I will help them – that is what I do, but for now I am responding to their emails and praising them for completing what work they can, they know I am here for them. I find myself talking about them more than ever, I miss them, I suppose teaching is a vocation after all, not just a job.

I’ve moved away from a minute by minute activity list and instead I just have a daily piece of paper, I write down things I would like to get done, I have worked out I am at my best in the morning so do what I can then. I try and have a different focus each day so today was numbers but other days I will do things focused on shape, letters, colours, textures and animals. I often do something based around a book each day – we will read the book and then I will pick an element of the book that links to the daily focus.

I feel I have actually learnt to accept during lockdown, accept that we are always one day closer to getting out of this awful time, accept I am normal for having crazy emotional rollercoaster moments, accept I am not a failure if I don’t meet my own crazy deadlines, accept my little one thinks I am the best Mum (even on days I don’t feel like it) and accept that I am lucky to be safe.

The benefit of learning through play

A word from reception teacher Danni Strange:

As a passionate Reception class teacher I love sharing and promoting play based learning experiences for young children. The Early years are paramount to children’s development not only for fundamental academic skills such as reading, writing and early numbers; the children also learn to negotiate, share, take turns in conversation and develop their own likes and interests.

So how is play dough beneficial for early learning?

Wow, the benefits of play dough… where do I begin? Most Early Years Foundation Stage settings in the United Kingdom have an area dedicated to play dough. To the naked eye this can appear to be a low level holding task, in fact what you’ll find is quite the opposite.

Creativity and Imagination:

First and foremost play dough is a creative medium that provides the children with unlimited possibilities in terms of moulding and expressing their imagination. Even from a young age, children create simple representations of people, animals and objects. This skill is a predecessor to the development of story narratives.

Social skills:

The play dough table is a great conversation station with children creating narratives around their objects, working through and discussing problems and also explaining their strategies and ideas for creation. It is important for adults to model this language while playing alongside their children e.g. “I am going to roll tiny balls of play dough to use for the eyes”.  Once the children have created their characters, they can create a story, there are some lovely examples of this in the Magical Forest blog post. Furthermore, if children are using play dough with siblings or peers it becomes the perfect situation to execute turn taking and the realisation that often you have to wait for resources.

Fine motor skills:

Play dough is incredibly malleable, durable and stretchy. For little fingers and hands the act of squishing, rolling and pinching all help to develop the muscles in their hand. Not only that, often when manipulating dough the children will use tools which requires control and precision. By enhancing the muscles in their hands the children are able to hold their pencil the correct way and have a firmer grip and better pressure when it comes to writing.

Mindfulness:

It has become increasingly important to equip children with the skills they require to identify feelings and to develop strategies to regulate these. One approach we are using is Mindfulness. The children are encouraged to focus on their breathing and to execute the ‘feel, stop, think, act’ process. Play dough is the perfect tool for this, particularly scented dough. The children can sit in one position focus on their breathing and complete repetitive actions such as rolling and squashing. We have found that as the children become more relaxed they are provided with a great opportunity to express and discuss their emotions.

Get to know our founder

What is your background?

I graduated in Cape Town with a BA in Creative Brand Communications specialising in Visual Communications and went into the giant world of advertising at one of the world’s top agencies straight out of college. I then moved to London and joined agency life here, working full time as a Senior Digital Designer and Content Strategist for another world leading company.

How did you get started in this business?

I have always wanted to start my own business and have had loads of different ideas over the years. Dough Animal was an over night thought and I knew I wanted to make it work. So when I left my last job early in 2019 I had about a month to focus on starting up Dough Animal before going back to work. It was a lot of product testing, making batches and batches of dough and getting the ingredients and colours right. Designing the branding and finding the best packaging for the dough and pulling it all together. My kitchen floor was constantly full of flour and my dining room table covered in sticker off cuts.

Where do you see your business in the future?

In the next year we will launch new product ranges (this is something that we will do continuously), hopefully start stocking in boutique stores across the country and participate in markets. In the next 5 years, I hope to have Dough Animal as a full time business and be making, packaging and marketing our beautiful brand every day of the week. We may also have another little mini dough helper by then.

How did you start in South Africa and will you expand?

I am originally from Cape Town and have a lot of family and friends there, I also used to photograph children’s parties so have connections in many circles through my previous photography business as a student and there was a demand in the market. So when my cousin Casey approached me a few months after launching to run the business in Cape Town, I couldn’t say no! We may look at posting internationally in our future, from our UK studio, but only to a select few countries.

What's your favourite thing to do?

I enjoy exploring new places, foods and experiences and living in London allows me to see so much more of the world. But I also enjoy sitting on the sofa and binge watching Netflix all day. I guess balance is good 

What's your favourite thing about Dough Animal?

Our recipe includes only natural ingredients, even the colouring is made from vegetable and plant extracts, and I love that you don’t need to worry about toxins and chemicals while your little one plays and explores. As an advocate for imaginative play and early childhood education, I love that play dough facilitates learning through play. I also love that the dough smells absolutely delicious.

What inspires you?

Small business owners with big ideas and ambition, turning their brand into market leading companies.