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As of this writing, schools in Ontario and Quebec have closed, at least eight states and the District of Columbia have closed, and surely other states and provinces will follow suit. Whether closing for two weeks, a month, or until term ends, it's all to ward off the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Thankfully, the age of the gig economy coupled with nearly universal internet access enables many adults will be able to work from home and supervise their children during this time. As helpful as this is for working parents, some of you may be worried about how to entertain your kids during this time—or even, what to do with them at all.
Fear not! I homeschooled my oldest child for the first six years of his life, his siblings as they came along, and for a few years, worked part time from home—now I work full time from home while my kids are in school. Here are a few tips and tricks to make the next few weeks or long haul not only manageable but even fun and memorable.
First, parents: Determine how much you need to work, if at all. Some of you might be able to take paid vacation and choose to do that. Others of you have really flexible jobs and will be able to work in the evening when your kids are asleep. One thing I’d suggest if possible is letting your kids sleep in and you wake as early as you can manage to get a good couple of hours in. It helps if you stocked up on coffee!
Second, once you’ve determined how much work you need to do while your kids are home, try to structure the day with your children so they can do some things on their own or at least they have some things that require only a little of your attention, so that when they really do need or want your attention, you can set your work aside and give them that.
One rule of thumb I noticed over the years being home with my children: It’s often better to give them an hour or so of undivided attention, early in the day, then several hours of distracted attention stretched out throughout the day. Once this need for affection, attention, and security is satiated, children will often be more than happy going off to play for awhile independently or with their siblings. All work and no fun makes everybody grumpy.
Here are some fun things you can do when you’re able to really focus on the kids—although they don’t need parental guidance for all of these either:
Build a fort, then read a book inside it while listening to classical or jazz music. This really only works when they watch a grown adult crawl inside. It just fills their little hearts with glee to see you come down to their level.
Watch a cooking show then bake something and have a competition. This works especially well if you have multiple kids as I do. Freeze what they’ve made for when this is over and baked goods can freely be shared without concern of illness.
Go outside! I mean really go inside in nature if you live in an area of the country where this is possible. Let the kids climb trees, ride bikes, skip rocks on the lake, anything to get some fresh air. Last year my kids and I discovered a state park with nothing but huge boulders. We bring a cooler of drinks, snacks, a book for me, and the kids will just climb and play and make-believe for an entire day. This really helps kids that naturally have a lot of energy and tend to feel cooped up easily. It also helps you, the parent, to get some walking in—you need to de-stress too.
Get out the art supplies: Raid your cabinets or grab some inexpensive art supplies from your nearby dollar store, or order them. Kids love to draw, paint, color, and work with clay. While mine may complain at first about being “forced” to be creative, I’ve found after a few minutes, they’re happy, content, and imaginative. This is both stimulating and allows kids with a lot of big feelings and energy to decompress.
Do chores and make them fun. Your house is going to get a lot dirtier a lot faster with children at home all day. Every few hours, and especially before bed time, set a timer, blast some upbeat music, and see if they can scrub bathrooms, pick up stuff off the floor, and wipe down the kitchen for a set period of time. I’m amazed at what we can do in 20 minutes when the kids feel like it’s a race and “Old Town Road” is blaring.
Bring out the old-school games. I’m bad at remembering this stuff which is why I keep a list of all the games I used to enjoy that require minimal to zero supplies. This is a great time to play hide and seek, sardines, and even tag if you've got a yard. Pull out “Monopoly,” “Uno,” “Jenga” or a deck of cards and get going. At the end of the day, a few times a week, the kids and I do a pillow fight until someone starts crying. They look forward to this, for some reason, like it’s a real treat.
And since school's out, a little education won’t hurt. If your children are older and you feel like they need to keep doing some school, here are some suggestions for homeschooling that require only a bit of guidance—especially if you don’t have your school’s textbooks handy or any e-learning program in place. The internet of course has an array of resources for every subject from math—check out the Khan Academy or Xtra Math (for speed)— to science, history, or civics and can easily be combined with language arts.
Tell your older kids to read a book or do a science experiment and write a paper about it.
Watch John Adams, Lincoln, Apollo 13, or Hidden Figures and suggest kids write a persuasive essay explaining why a certain character was influential or made the choices they made during a pivotal time in history. A friend got me hooked on these YouTube history videos (warning: there’s occasional bad language).
Here's a list of other great options, (clean minus the first suggestion). You could ask your child to watch it or something similar and make a sketch of favorite period of time, act out a play with siblings, or write an informative paper.
*TedTalks are a great source of fun, entertainment, and information for older kids. This one about the kid who was homeschooled and found his joy, is a favorite and may make them feel less alone.
These are a few school-related lessons for younger children. Many of these can be done while you’re working with some basic supervision.
Play music from a specific genre, time period, or composer, and tell children to draw or sketch how the music makes them feel. Combine this with basic facts about the composer, era, and instruments in the composition and you have a short music lesson.
Pick a short poem, Bible verse, a portion of an Aesop’s Fable, print it out and have the children trace the letters, repeat difficult words (which helps with sight words, spelling, and vocabulary) and see if they can tell you the meaning for comprehension. If you do the same one every day for a week or two, the child will likely have it memorized.
If you need to work, challenge the older children to help the younger ones by reading aloud to them. This creates camaraderie and both will enjoy it for different reasons.
The key to working with kids home—or kids being home for days and days at a time—is to create blocks of activities, so there is a start and end date, and creates both momentum for the activity, and time for you to either really plug in, or try to get some work done if needed. Who knows, you could look back on Parenting in the Time of Coronavirus and find you made some of the best memories with your kids. Happy Parenting.