Breathe! I know, I know, it feels like the walls are caving in. That routine that you crave (going to work, getting your kids to and from their activities, grocery shopping with normal humans in a non-apocalyptic manner) has just fallen by the wayside. You’ve received word that your kid/s will be home with you for the near future, and you need a plan, ASAP.
1-2 weeks of school closures
You can do this. 1-2 weeks of school closures IS like a vacation. Maybe not the type of vacation you would ever actually want (and certainly wouldn’t pay for), but it’s a lot different than a month. You can plan enough fun stuff inside of a week or two to make it a memorable and fun time at home for you and your kids.
Here are a few ideas for 1-2 weeks of school closures:
Dust off those board games, building games, and card games and get ready for some old fashioned family fun. One side effect of board games is that kids actually DO learn a lot (cooperation, sportsmanship, strategy, logic, math and/or language skills) while having a good time.
Movie or TV marathon
Introduce your kids to some of the movies or shows you loved as a kid, or start a new series together. If you are going to have mega-doses of screentime, you might as well make it something you can experience together.
Open the fridge or pantry and get creative. Challenge your kids to make a dish using an ingredient you provide, or find a new recipe and try it out. You can even do a blind taste test to make it different and fun. You can also teach your kid/s some age-appropriate dishes (which is also a really great life skill).
This one doesn’t sound that fun, but it might be a great time to go through the kids rooms or the garage, do some yard work as a family. Get some boxes ready for donation, pull out old toys or gifts that have been gathering dust, or teach your kids how to fold their t-shirts into tiny formations that stand up on their own. Blast some good tunes while you’re at it so it doesn’t feel like the regular old routine.
3-4 weeks of school closures
If you are looking at a month of school closures, you are going to need a routine. Kids thrive on routine – they get it at school, but too much free time at home will lead to behavioral challenges, boredom, and frustration all around. Hopefully your child’s school will have provided either remote learning experiences or learning materials (worksheets, books, project ideas, etc.), but even if you have these things, it is up to you to put them into a routine that your kids will actually enjoy.
Make sure you get your kids up every day. Do the normal morning routine as if it were a school day. Get dressed, eat breakfast, make the bed – whatever you did on a normal school day, do it. Then move into the routine. Remember that the younger or more active the child, the more breaks they will need, so try to get in front of the meltdowns by providing movement breaks, snacks, a transition to a different place in the house, etc. For an elementary or middle school student, it MAY look something like this if you are attempting or expected to do school at home (times are approximate).
9:00-10:30 Language Arts
Language Arts includes reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, phonics, grammar, and spelling (but not every kid will work in every area).
If nothing has been provided, here are a few ideas:
Conduct a mini book-club. Silent reading (or audiobook), followed by discussion, or parent read-aloud followed by discussion or activity. Truly practice getting lost in a book – and this means you too! Be the model for your kids.
If you don’t have official “writing” assignments, think about some real-world writing you could do. Writing a letter to a friend or family member who you can’t see right now is a great way to connect. You can also have kids write/draw thank-you notes, help write out shopping lists, or give them a list of tasks you want them to do and have them write out their own schedule.
You can also create a family journal about this unique time in history. Let everyone contribute and discuss the different points of view. This is a great way to combine social studies and writing.
If you have them at home, use sidewalk chalk, white boards, or different mediums (bust out those markers you don’t usually let the kids use) – making simple changes to the way you teach can go a long way.
You can also listen to audio books, have a good pro/con family debate, make your own comic books, create and videotape a commercial, talk with family/friends over Skype/Google/Zoom – anything that involves communication counts as “language arts.”
10:45-11:45 Math (math packet, online math, math games)
There are plenty of ideas on the Internet if you’re at a loss. You can also work with money – have your kids dump out, count, and sort all of the loose change in the house, or play a math-heavy board game such as Monopoly or card games. Show how you use math every day (creating and following a budget, following a recipe, counting down the days until we can all stop social distancing…)
If you have more than one kid, take turns through the week having a different child be responsible for making and serving lunch. If you are really ambitious, turn it into a restaurant activity – your kid can develop a simple “menu”, take orders, prepare the food, collect the “money”, and clean up. Extend the lunch hour so it can be a nice, relaxing time to be together.
If you are stuck inside due to weather, there are many free Yoga and workout programs available through YouTube. If you are able, definitely get out in the fresh air. Ride bikes, kick a ball around – wear those kids out!
1:00-2:00 Science/Social Studies
If none assigned, watch a documentary (Discovery Channel, History Channel), conduct simple experiments, and work on science/social studies projects (planting/garden, working on a family album or scrapbook, making slime).
Electives can include arts/crafts, music, keyboarding/computer, games, virtual museum tours, puzzles – all of the stuff there is never enough time for. This should be more of a free choice time, and since it’s near the end of the day, you can use it as an “incentive” for completing other activities.
3:15-4:00 – Outdoor play, walks, etc.
5 or more weeks of school closures
If you don’t already drink, you may want to start. Seriously though, you will need to evaluate the routine and make any adjustments to get through the 5+ weeks. I caution you again though, routine is key and makes the “free” time a lot more special. If you load your kids up on too much free choice or screen time that first week or two, you will have a hard time reigning them back in.
One more thing – be sure to make your schedule VISUAL! Let your kids see what the day is going to look like. It helps them feel a sense of control, and it helps them know that the less desirable tasks won’t last forever. Throw it on the fridge or a white board, somewhere where everyone in the family can see it.
A word about technology
Technology is amazing. It has allowed us to stay connecting during this crazy time. There are THOUSANDS of amazing websites with educational opportunities out there – virtual field trips (museums, national parks), directed drawing lessons, famous people conducting read alouds, games to learn everything, Google Apps – the list goes on and on. I encourage you to use technology, but to also be smart about it.
Break up the screen time throughout the day, or if you have to get paper/pencil work done, do it when your kids are fresh. For most kids, this is in the morning, but remember that you know your child best, so listen to their cues.
A word about younger siblings
The reality is that most people who have kids have more than one, and having a non-school-aged child can make things extremely difficult. Use the pockets of time that your baby/toddler gives you to do the more intense work with your school-aged child. For example, don’t stick your school-aged child on a screen activity when the baby is napping, because later on they’ll both be awake and demand your attention.
Pinterest has a million ideas for keeping toddlers busy – just remember that their attention spans are SHORT, so make sure you are ready to make quick adjustments. Feel free to modify the times your school-aged child gets that one-on-one attention based on the younger siblings’ schedule. For more ideas, check out our blog post on teaching to multiple ages at once.
Hang in there, Parents! You’ll get into a groove – just give yourself some slack and enjoy the quality time with your little people.
Good luck! You can do this.