How To Support Your Kids At Home During School Closures
If you’re wondering what to do with your kids during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re certainly not alone. School closures initially expected to last weeks have turned into months, and the idea of reopening before the end of the academic year is looking less and less likely. For millions of American parents at home with children that would otherwise be at school, feelings of frustration, anxiety, and claustrophobia are natural, and the quest for activities and productive projects to fill the day seems never ending. Fear not. With a little reframing and preparation, you can design “quarantine life” to be memorable and enjoyable so that your family comes out better than ever.
Creating a Daily Schedule Is A Must
For both parents and children, disruption from regular routine can lead to disorder and stress--even when you’re at home all day. That’s why creating a consistent daily schedule is imperative for establishing expectations and providing structure to the day. According to ahaparenting.com, routines give kids a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline.
Start by identifying what aspects of the day are non-negotiable. This should include wake up and bed times. Research shows that maintaining a regular sleep/wake schedule is critical for memory, attention, broad development, and wellbeing in early childhood. Include time for eating too. It’s okay to be flexible but try to stick to the breakfast, lunch, and dinner schedule. If kids get hungry, there’s nothing wrong with a healthy snack break or two throughout the day. Once these needs are scheduled, block out chunks of time for learning, exercise, fun, and family. Be mindful that while these don’t have to be independent of one another, they should each have their own allotment of time in the daily schedule.
This is where you can start to get creative. Try alternating periods of play and study to keep kids engaged. How and when you decide to chunk time is ultimately up to you. Just be sure to come up with a schedule that works for your family and stick to it. You may even want to include your children in the schedule-making process. Creating a schedule is an activity in itself and may provide the kids with a sense of control and ownership. Once the schedule has been made, post it. This could be a piece of paper on the fridge or a giant poster on the wall. By posting the schedule, the children (and you) are held accountable.
Learning Time Goes Beyond School Assignments
Even though schools may be closed, students in most states are still required to attend classes online or to complete work asynchronously. The average amount of school work assigned, however, is only 2.5 hours. While this may cover the necessities when it comes to math and language arts, children are capable of remaining engaged in active learning for much longer. Take advantage of that. This doesn’t mean drilling vocab flash cards or practicing algebraic equations all day. Have we forgotten that learning can be fun?
Virtual field trips are one way that kids can get excited (and get outside of the house... virtually). The San Diego Zoo, for example, offers a wealth of resources about your favorite creatures and critters, as well as a live feed of their zoo animals. There are dozens of zoos and aquariums with similar services. For a more natural--yet still virtual--viewing experience, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has free webcams capturing the life of animals in the wild. Want to leave the planet entirely? Explore science and outer space with NASA’s Curiosity Rover on Mars. If history is on the day’s agenda, take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China or get lost in one of these museums around the world.
For language arts, there is no shortage of reading and writing activities that can be done at home. Start with free-reading, allowing kids to read anything they want, from comic books to chapter books, as long as it is age appropriate. If you need material, most local libraries offer free digital downloads of ebooks and audiobooks. Similarly, free-writing can be a fun way to get the creative juices flowing. Writing letters to friends and relatives is perfect for children that feel anxious or the need to socialize. For younger kids, read-alouds are fantastic and you don’t even have to do the reading. Story Time From Space is a free project by the Global Space Education Foundation where real astronauts read space-themed books for kids. Children’s book author Mo Willems and The Kennedy Center host a daily lunch doodle for kids to “explore ways of writing and making” stories and art of their own.
Science might be the easiest way to keep kids engaged in and around the house. Depending on age range and interest, sites like The Kitchen Pantry Scientist offer a variety of STEM projects using materials you likely already have at home. If this sounds like more prep work and cleanup than you can handle, reach for a book with clear step-by-step instructions so the kids can complete them on their own. Books like the Star Wars Maker Lab or the Outdoor Science Lab For Kids are full of fun experiments and available with free two-day delivery on Amazon Prime.
Free Time Should Be Fun, But With A Purpose
While children definitely need to have some time for play and activities of their choice, “free time” doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. Within the daily schedule, allocate specific mini-blocks for screen time, structured play, and unstructured play. If you have an iPad, computer, or TV, then screen time is probably the easiest way to keep kids engaged. However, extensive screen time can have negative effects on wellbeing including attention problems, sleep problems, and increased risk of obesity. This goes for adults too. There’s nothing wrong with a little XBox to unwind, but balance it out with some structured or unstructured play.
What exactly is structured play? The Learn and Grown Academy describes structured play as “play with purpose.” In other words, it’s any activity that has rules or instructions and a goal. Think about what kids did before the age of tablets and television: board games, card games, puzzles, and sports. These organized activities allow children to practice critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and social skills, and to reinforce motor skills and coordination. It’s also a great way to get kids active and outside. Even with a schedule, moving from desk to couch to table throughout the day isn’t adequate exercise. Remember that they no longer have sports practice or the time to play on the playground that they used to. Let them play soccer in the backyard or make an indoor obstacle course. This will give you, the parent, some time to yourself and help the kids burn off some of that seemingly infinite energy.
Unstructured play can also be a great way to get kids active and engaged. Unlike structured play, unstructured play is described as free play that is “creative and improvised with no set goal and unlimited possibilities.” Depending on the age of the child, this might mean building with blocks, drawing or writing a comic book, inventing a new game, exploring musical instruments, or playing with toys. Even though the options are quite literally endless, unstructured play time is where kids often find themselves being bored. It’s important, however, to commit to a certain period of time each day where the children are required to be creative and imaginative. This balance of various play-types ensures children will experience a sense of freedom and control while having fun in the process of practicing valuable life skills.
Carve Out Some Dedicated Family Time
When you’re surrounded by your family all day long, it can be easy to forget to schedule quality family time. The importance of family time shouldn’t be understated. It strengthens bonds, helps children develop self-esteem, encourages communication, and models positive behaviors. Family time should be something that everyone in the family looks forward to, so get creative and come up with some good ideas that the whole family will enjoy.
This might range from board games and puzzles to a scavenger hunt or talent show. Squeeze in some physical activity by going on a family hike or bike ride, doing family yoga together, or playing capture the flag outside. On the flip side, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing. Netflix has a never-ending library of family-oriented programming and Disney+ is currently offering a 7-day free trial. Family time can also be a great opportunity to teach your kids life skills that you might otherwise not have time for. Show the kids how to make their favorite dessert, or better yet, grab a cookbook and have a family-style Iron Chef challenge. Plant a garden together, start a household project, foster an animal, or get creative with an arts and crafts night. The possibilities are endless.
Manage Their Anxieties (And Yours)
Regardless of how the day is planned, full of learning, play time, and family bonding, life will still be significantly different from what your children consider normal. Whether you’re an adult or an eight-year-old, deviating from the norm often triggers stress and anxiety. It’s important to remember that during all of this you are your child’s anchor. Listen to them, empathize, and make every attempt to bring normalcy into their daily routine. Try letting them virtually socialize with friends using Zoom or call their grandparents on Facetime. Differentiate weekends from weekdays by having a separate schedule allowing for more free time. Make an effort to limit consumption of fear-mongering news, but don’t be afraid to keep kids in the loop and talk about what’s going on in the world.
Most of all, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Self-care is important if you want to be there for your family in full capacity. Make sure to sleep and feed yourself well. Mitigate your own stress by talking with friends, taking time to exercise, meditate, or relaxing with an herbal supplement. By taking care of yourself, you will ensure that your family is able to come out of these stressful times better than ever.