If you’re a parent, chances are good that last week you inadvertently became a home-school teacher.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Arkansas, our schools are closed until at least April 17, leaving our children homebound for at least another month. If you’re fortunate enough to stay home with your sequestered kids, you’re probably scrambling to add “schoolteacher” to your list of parental skills. 

Keeping your kids healthy, educated and entertained won’t be easy, and obviously juggling these tasks is no small feat. While schools are sending out AMI (Alternative Method of Instruction) packets and using Zoom, video conferencing and online tests to keep students on track, it’s up to you to keep them connected and on task.

A Kanban Attitude

As you know, part of being a parent is walking the thin line between being a gracious director and an overbearing overseer. Rather than barking out your kid’s schedule every hour and fomenting frustration, these strange circumstances can be a proving ground for a different, more intuitive form of scheduling: the Kanban system. 

Essentially, Kanban is about maximizing efficiency through visualizing the work to be done and concentrating on the work currently in progress.

You should have two backboards set up. If wall-hanging boards aren’t available, a tabletop works as well, either way both should feature a series of sticky notes.

 

Here, the Backlog and Kanban boards are combined.

The first board is called the Backlog. It features sticky notes listing all the possible work that can be done on any day of the week.

If you have multiple children, consider color-coding the sticky notes for each kid. Take a few hours out of your evening to explain the new system to your kids, and then work with them to make their full backlog list. Have them lay out their AMI packets, messages from teachers about assignments and projects, and class syllabi, if they have them. Your backlog should include entries for every assignment due that week, and also notes for long-term projects they may have, that way a book report or at-home science experiment won’t sneak up on you. The Kanban system isn’t just applicable to schoolwork, you can obviously use it to include daily tasks like chores or walking the dog.

The second board is the Kanban, which has sticky notes showing the work that will be done on that particular day. The Kanban has three sections: To Do, Doing, and Done. Each morning, check out the Backlog board with your kids, and decide which tasks need to be moved from the Backlog to the ‘To Do’ section on the Kanban. Emphasize to your kids that these are the only  tasks they’ll need to work on today. A good practice is giving them the freedom to decide when each job will be completed, but if there’s something due that day (an online lecture, a homework assignment, etc.), emphasize that it should come first.

Another example of a Kanban board

During the day, your kid can move their chosen tasks from the ‘To Do’ section to the ‘Doing’ section. Remember, there should be only one sticky note in the ‘Doing’ section at one time. While this process gives your student more autonomy at home than they’d normally experience in the classroom, an important aspect of the Kanban system is that the completion of each task is subject to your approval. If you’re satisfied with your kid’s work, they can then move the completed task from the Kanban board’s ‘Doing’ section to the ‘Done’ section. This allows them to pick another ‘To Do’ task and get on with the day’s work.

Obviously, you get to decide what your kid can do after all their Kanban tasks are finished, although we recommend you give them some free time. Later that night, gather your children and check on all the tasks in the Kanban’s ‘Done’ section. If some tasks are daily, like an 11 AM video lecture, practicing an instrument or making their bed, move them back to the Backlog board for tomorrow. If one of the sticky notes denotes a one-time assignment, throw it out.

 

The Kanban system was originally created as an agile management tool for workplaces, coordinating work between development teams and product owners, but it’s definitely an interesting way to keep your kids on task during this strange time. Once your children get used to Kanban, it can also engender a newfound sense of personal autonomy, self-discipline and self-reliance that will not only serve them for years to come, but also possibly keep them out of your hair long enough for you to complete your own work backlog.

 

If you’re interested in trying your own family Kanban boards, we want to hear about it! Leave a comment below about your own Kanban experiences.