Time use in trying times

Last week the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report called Trying times: how might the lockdown change time use in families?. It’s had us thinking about what changes the current lockdown is having on how children and parents are spending their time. Perhaps the most obvious one is that currently most children aren’t at school where, the report suggests, children above eight typically spend 30 hours a week during term-time. For those children not yet old enough for school, we know that in 2019 around 92% of 3-year-olds and 95% of 4-year olds benefited from funded early years education, which means the vast majority of those children presumably are having their time disrupted too. And for the younger children, a Study of Early Education and Development report stated in 2015 that 20% of under 1s were in formal childcare alongside 35% of one-year-olds and almost 60% of two-year-olds. This indicates that many young children who were attending early years provision have now had their routines changed. As will those who may have been cared for by grandparents and extended family; in 2011 one piece of research found that grandparents were the main source of childcare for children aged under one. However, we haven’t overlooked the fact that vulnerable children and the children of key workers may still be attending childcare or school (although it’s been reported that only 5% of ‘at risk’ children still eligible to go to school are attending).

But aside from the time children spend in childcare and at school, the IFS study reports that children aged 8-16 also spend on average 22 hours a week on activities outside the home, such as with friends, travelling to and from school and in scheduled activities like sports clubs. Whilst they still now have the chance for daily exercise, their opportunities for other pursuits outside of the home are somewhat restricted. So, what might they be doing instead? We spoke in a blog post a few weeks ago about the rise in virtual versions of traditional face-to-face toddler sessions and online school lessons. Since we wrote that post, many more virtual activities have emerged, such as an online mini-festival hosted by Camp Bestival and the launch of daily lessons on BBC Bitesize.  Alongside this, pupils across the country are completing their school work at a distance via online lessons and independent work, with parents reporting varying levels of success.

It’s certainly not surprising that some parents are struggling with homeschooling, as the time pressures on them now are immense. The IFS report suggests that “previously, children spent around 21% of their time awake with their parents during the week and 35% on weekends” (2020, p.4). In the current situation, we know these percentages are going to be much higher. The consequences for this, the report argues, is that parents’ time is going to be incredibly stretched. Before the schools shut, “working parents already spent roughly 60% of their non-sleeping time either working or with their children” (2020, p.2). Now, if a single parent is having to juggle working from home alongside additional caring/homeschooling plus their normal day-to-day parenting and homelife responsibilities, the IFS suggests this may add up to over 20 hours a day. That certainly doesn’t give much time for sleep.

For some parents, the now viral message that “you are not working from home; you at home during a crisis trying to work” may be helpful to remember, but it isn’t useful if you have urgent work deadlines to meet. If you are a parent, what pressures on your time are you facing at the moment? And do you have any advice for those of us who are struggling to fit everything in?

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