While the whole world has turned upside down with fear over the spread of the coronavirus, many parents are dealing with practical questions: What do I do with my children since school is out? How do I keep them from falling behind? How will we all survive being cooped up together 24/7?
There are several fairly simple things that will help us survive the days ahead. Most of the ideas presented here are ones we do already, but in an extended shelter-in-place, quarantine, or lockdown protocol, they are all the more crucial. (With a positive outlook, we may find it possible to not only survive, but even thrive as a family.)
Right now, our goals are to keep our family healthy, avoid spreading the virus to those more susceptible, prevent children’s education from suffering, keep them busy so we can get our own work done, and maintain everyone’s sanity.
With these goals in mind, consider these six, simple suggestions.
Routine is Key!
I don’t know about you, but I need routine to function at my best. While routine is probably good for all of us, some personalities, and especially certain populations (many foster children and children on the autism spectrum, for example) NEED routine. Our five-year-old needs routine to stay emotionally balanced. (Isn’t that what we all need right now?)
A friend, marriage and family therapist, and an elder at our church, Patrick Ward affirms the need for routine, offering several helpful suggestions for “Surviving Family Lockdown.”
These are the routines that work for our family:
For all our sanity and productivity, I am getting up early so I can have an hour of quiet time to myself to think, pray, read my Bible, plan the day, or wake up my stiff joints with some yoga. I feel much more prepared to face the battles that may come when I have this time alone in the quiet.
(Close to) Normal Schedule:
I am also continuing to try to keep our five-year-old on her normal school-morning routine. While I may not set her alarm, when she wakes up, she still follows her chart of morning routines. She has to get dressed, make her bed, brush her teeth, and brush her hair before breakfast (hopefully by 8).
Time for Academics:
For multiple reasons, I am using the extended school closures to take homeschooling for a test drive. I’m not doing anything overly formal, but I am making sure to do at least one reading, writing, and math activity each morning with our kindergartner, based on what she has been learning in school. Part of this time I spend reading to her. If there is time, I may also let her do some online learning games or tutorials.
Similar to morning and bedtime routines, our snack times and mealtimes remain unchanged: breakfast (hopefully) by 8:00, morning snack at 10:00, lunch around noon, afternoon snack at 3:00, and then dinner around 5:30. Snacks are limited to 2-3 items (a cheese stick, a handful of pretzels, and apple slices) so that everyone still has an appetite for family meals.
Bedtime for the little is still 7:30-8:00. Keeping everyone rested and on the same schedule helps us function well together.
Do Special Things Together
Not knowing whether we face staying home for fifteen days or fifteen weeks, the idea of being cooped up together with nothing “fun” to do, and no outings for the foreseeable future, can feel daunting. Break up the monotony—and keep hope alive—by planning special things to do together. Nothing has to be extravagant, just different from your normal routine.
Think of your list of all the things at home you never get to do because you are too busy. This week we have already taken a family hike in the woods, made homemade fruit juice jello, and played a board game.
We’re looking forward to baking fresh, homemade bread together. I can’t wait to introduce our five-year-old to steaming hot slabs of fresh whole wheat bread straight out of the oven, smothered in melting butter, like I remember from my growing up years. Our girl has begged me to have a tea party with her. She even set out my black heels and hung her yellow Belle dress-up dress on my door for me to wear. I should probably make time to do this with her!
There are countless games, projects, crafts, or recipes to try. If you haven’t already, the monotonous days of everyone being home together all the time might be a good time to start a weekly family night, or to make every night family night!
No School? Then Read!
Parents wonder what to do with their kids being home all day, worrying about how to keep up their children’s education. By now, our county schools have made homework packets available for the next weeks, and maybe yours have provided resources, too. But even without school-provided homework, you can continue your child’s education. Regardless your level of resources, creativity, or training, don’t sweat it! Just read!
Reading is the foundation of education. The primary job of children kindergarten through third grade is learning to read. After that, it is reading to learn.
In a sense, reading IS education.
Maybe you don’t know what to have your older kids do for science or social studies. Don’t worry about the entire curriculum. A child who can read will be able to learn nearly anything he or she wants to.
If your younger children are still learning to read, then read to them! This is the foundation of literacy—they will pick up on vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, wordplay…and more importantly, the LOVE of reading.
In the evening, read a chapter book aloud to the whole family. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from evenings at home with my parents. My mother read classics like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, The Prince and the Pauper, The Little Princess, and The Secret Garden to my father and me when I wasn’t any older than second grade.
Ideally, I would stock up on library books on all the topics we are interested in while we have extra time to read. But some libraries are closed. Even if they are open, I question how well books can be disinfected. So we will read and re-read what we have. Or order new books on Amazon if we’re not in a hurry. Or use an online library. Our public library uses Hoopla and Overdrive where you can download e-books, audio books, music, and videos. This is a great resource and it’s free with your library card!
Social distancing turns our attention to staying HOME instead of going OUT. Yet the closure of everything from schools to restaurants, and the cancellation of everything from sports seasons to dentist appointments, does NOT mean we can’t go OUTSIDE (unless you live in a city where this has been banned).
Most of us know the benefits of getting our children out of the house. Fresh air and exercise does them good, keeps them happy, and gives us a reprieve from the noise and neediness of little ones. But really, we adults need to get out of the house, too. Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise will boost our physical and mental health, and that will benefit the entire family.
I thank God for our backyard. We can stretch our legs, breathe deeply of fresh air, hear birdsong, and rejoice in the tiny signs of spring. While it’s great if you have a backyard with a swing where you can send your kids, those without backyards (or backyard toys) can still enjoy getting out.
Run Around the House 3x:
No, I don’t mean letting kids run around the house, getting under your feet all day. I mean AROUND the house, like going outside and circling the perimeter of the house. Sometimes we do this to lift our child out of a downward spiral of negative emotions. Sometimes it’s a game just to get us off our rears and out of the house.
Race to see who can run around the house the fastest. Or set a stopwatch and see how long it takes a child to run the perimeter, and then have her try to beat her time next time around. Surely this will have your kids (and more likely you) laughing and out of breath.
Take a Walk Around the Neighborhood:
You can stretch your legs, see the progress of spring in your area, smile at people if they are out, and wave to neighbors from a safe distance.
Take a Hike:
Drive to a nearby park or nature preserve to take a hike. Get out of the house, away from crowds, and enjoy nature. We did this last week, and oh, how wonderful it was! Our little girl, cooped up all day without a tiring school day, RAN much of the way, confident to go on ahead of us. It lifted all our spirits.
Enforce Quiet Time
In our house, “quiet time” is not nap time, though it did evolve out of nap time.
When we had three foster children, only one needed a nap, but they all needed a break from each other, and I needed a break from them. Then I was pregnant and needed time for my own nap undisturbed by children squabbling, asking me questions, or getting into things. Quiet time also helped toddlers transition between needing naps and no longer needing them. Then quiet time mostly disappeared when school started. However needed, there just wasn’t time between homework, after-school appointments, dinner, etc.
Now quiet time is how we maintain our sanity.
After lunch (and hopefully when baby naps), our child goes to her room, and I set the timer for one hour. While I write blog posts, make phone calls, work on projects that require concentration, or rest, she quietly draws, plays with Magnetiles on the floor, or builds forts in her bunk bed. Coming out before the timer results in added minutes to her quiet time.
Quiet time allows a “re-set” in the middle of the day, and we both are happier after having some time to ourselves.
Years ago when I discovered I was suffering from anxiety attacks, I learned the value of deep breathing. It calmed me then. It calms me now. Our child’s therapist has also taught her deep-breathing techniques to help calm emotions when they get out of control.
Whether it’s the anxiety brought on by the pandemic or the stress of disrupted routines and too much commotion in the house, pausing to take mindful, deep breaths can help ease the tension.
Take a moment over your coffee to be still, to listen, to inhale.
Pause while loading the dishwasher or cooking dinner to gaze out the window. Breathe.
Take your children outside after a squabble or meltdown. Show them how to take slow, deep breaths of spring air, noticing the sounds around them. Go inside when everyone’s calmer and happier.
Stand up straight while washing your hands for the hundredth time. Take a long, deep breath, thank God for something, and release that breath. Slowly. Feel the tension slip away.
Take a minute before praying to be still. Breathe. Listen, and receive what God wants to put on your heart.
For all the routines we attempt to maintain or the fun things we plan with our families to break up the monotony, it may be the quiet moments of pausing to just breathe that get us through. It may be in the quiet that God speaks love, or courage, peace, or assurance to us.
If nothing else, let us receive His strength for the uncertain days ahead.