How to Stay Busy (And Sane) While Kids Are out of School for the Coronavirus

If your kids are suddenly home for an indefinite period of time due to COVID-19, your average day is no doubt looking very different right now. Take these tips from a teacher when it comes to keeping everyone calm, as well as learning on track.

When I taught fourth grade, every day before I left I posted the schedule for the next day. It was available for everyone to see with times for each activity or subject. The next morning, when the kids and I walked through the door, we knew what to expect. Sometimes the schedule changed a bit during the day, but having that framework in place from the moment we arrived helped us all feel better about the day.

In a time with so many unknowns, a simple thing like knowing what to expect offers a sense of security. As we all get accustomed to a new reality where kids and parents both may be doing their work at home for a long period of time, the best place to start to set everyone up for success is to make a plan.

Here's how to make the most out of your days during these unnerving times and keep everyone happily on track.

Set the Priorities

Start by asking yourself a few questions when it comes to ideating what your typical day may look like now that your family is home:

  • Do you need time to work?
  • Are there obvious things—like naps, or snacks and meals—that have to happen?
  • Will you include electronics time for the kids?
  • What is one thing you can do to be fully present with the kids each day?
  • What time should the "day" end and normal family time begin?

Now, you can begin to create your plan. This could be day-to-day, or you could do something that can be repeated each day, Monday through Friday.

If you need to work, think about what you can have the kids doing during that time. In the classroom, DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) was daily after lunch and recess. All the kids in the room had 30 minutes of quiet, independent reading time. This can work with little kids by giving them a stack of picture books to look at in a special reading spot or you can have older kids read to the younger kids, giving you a quieter work window.

Another helpful way to plan work time is to align a window of working time with a time for the kids to watch a favorite show in the next room. There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is just finding what works for you and your family.

Mother assisting daughter in writing homework while sitting at home
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Think About Subjects and Activities

Every age, stage, and family has different needs. It's great to find inspiration and try something that you think will work for you and be willing to adjust as needed. This is a new experience for all of us. Having grace along the way will help more than you can imagine.

There are some basic categories we use to fill the day, especially in school. Try thinking about these areas as your framework:

  • Essentials: These are things that need to happen each and every day. Eating, moving, rest, and family time are essential parts of a child's day. Make space for each one daily and you're off to a great start!
  • Learning: While some schools are providing learning activities to do at home, yours may not be, or your kids may need something more. Books are always the best place to start. Additionally, many educational websites are offering free access during this time. Some great ones to start with are Khan Academy, Mystery Science, and Libby App. While you may not consider yourself as officially homeschooling, you are home learning.
  • Specials: Kids have time built into their week for things like art, music, and gym. You can still incorporate all of these (and more) at home. Try digging out those old craft supplies or some crayons and printable coloring pages. You can play music during parts of your day. It can help everyone feel calm or upbeat depending on your needs. And while it is advised to avoid large gatherings, you can be active. Kids that are not ill still need movement. You can go outside to play or walk each day. If getting outside doesn't work for you, try GoNoodle, Groov3 Mini, or Move to Learn MS.
  • Unique Extras: Here's where you can have some extra fun! With more time at home, try cooking a fun recipe together or playing a game. Even a family project that you've been putting off can be incorporated into your day. Making sure there is time for these fun extras built into your day will keep everyone feeling more enthusiastic and connected.

Plot out the Day Hour-by-Hour

There is not a single plan that will work for everyone, but here are a few ideas to use as inspiration:

A Schedule for Parents Working from Home

8:00 a.m. Family breakfast

8:30 a.m. Clean up rooms/Email, work time

9:00 a.m. Math (use free printable pages)/Working nearby to help as needed

9:45 a.m. Break and snack

10:00 a.m. Science activity (try Mystery Science)

11:00 a.m. TV time/Working in next room

12:00 p.m. Lunch and outside play/Can work nearby

1:00 p.m. DEAR/Quiet work time

1:30 p.m. Craft or coloring/Work nearby

2:30 p.m. Online activity/Work nearby

3:15 p.m. Family activity (game, cooking, project)

4:00 p.m. Kids free time/Work as needed until dinner

A Schedule for Parents With Young and Older Kids

8:00 a.m. Family breakfast

8:30 a.m. Clean up rooms, chores

9:00 a.m. Math activity (printable or look online)/Little ones building blocks, toys

9:45 a.m. Break and snack

10:00 a.m. Science activity (try Mystery Science)/Little ones nap

11:00 a.m. Help with any school assignments

12:00 p.m. Family lunch and outside play

1:00 p.m. DEAR/Family reading

1:30 p.m. Craft or coloring

2:30 p.m. Electronics time/Parent time or nap for little ones

3:15 p.m. Family activity (game, cooking, project)

4:00 p.m. Walk and free time

Don't Forget Time to Relax

Navigating all of this can be a lot, especially if you're not used to it. Make sure you are giving yourself time to relax. Maybe these extra days at home mean some extra TV time as a family. Maybe it even means a family movie and popcorn each day. It's essential that you do what works for your time, but also your emotional health.

Check in with friends via text or FaceTime. Give one another time to talk about the challenges and the news, but also make time to celebrate some of the unexpected gifts you discover during these days. Your family, and your mind, will thank you.

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