With schools closed around the country and companies keeping their employees remote pretty much indefinitely—working parents are figuring out their new normal. And for many, it’s a healthy mix of chaos, family time, stress, fighting and bargaining with their partner on who will take which shift so the other can take a conference call.
Though it’s important for everyone—but especially parents—to remember nothing will be perfect in the next weeks and months in either personal or professional life. However, if you are looking for creative, effective ways to occupy your children’s attention, there are some strategies recommended by educators, authors, and other gurus.
Take these with a grain of salt, use them as appropriately—and most importantly, go easy on yourself. There’s no doubt this time is impossibly difficult, so doing your best is the best decision for all:
Create a schedule
Parenting expert and toy trend specialist for The Toy Association, Adrienne Appell says what most parents already know: kids thrive on regularity. This is especially true for those school-aged children who have grown accustomed to being in classes. A schedule will not only help them stay focused, but hopefully provide periods of productivity for you, too.
As she recommends, try to align your day with their activities. “Movie time may be a great time for fitting in virtual meetings and calls. Also be sure to schedule in time in which you are part of the play as well, such as a 20-minute board game break with mom or dad can be something your children look forward to,” she continues. “Plus, they will be less likely to keep asking ‘When will you play with me?’ and the mental break is good for adults dealing with an overall stressful situation.”
Take your lead from teachers
Dependent on where you are in the country, your child’s school may have virtual classrooms in the making or currently live. Do what you can to support teachers and administrators—and follow their lead, says the dean of education at the University of Phoenix, Pam Roggeman. “Teachers have the capability to post weekly reading, math, and writing curriculum on this site, so the school website is the place parents should visit first,” she continues. “Most teachers publish a weekly newsletter or some sort of email blast to keep parents informed, and parents can trust that teachers are just as concerned with avoiding ‘academic backslide’ as parents are.”
Create big projects
And if you can, ones that take hours to complete. The idea is that your children will stay engaged, and you can turn to your inbox or your (growing) to-do list. One idea from Zahra Kassam, the CEO and founder of Monti Kids, is to challenge your kiddos to build a fort city. This can be made with cardboard boxes, pillows and blankets, and so on. Then, they have to turn each creation into a shop—grocery store, dance studio, you name it. Make sure to ask for a library with a hideaway nook where they can read. “The thought of a ‘secret’ spot is both exciting and empowering, and offers children a safe, peaceful place to hide and hangout—even if you know exactly where they are,” she shares.
If you can, pre-plan the night before
Some days, you may just want to collapse into bed and cry yourself to sleep. That’s normal—and perfectly fine. But if you can, the director of product development for Educational Insights, Heather Weeks suggests planning some activities the evening before. “It takes a little effort, but it’ll ensure they are happy and occupied, and not throwing a tantrum during that video conference with your CEO,” she shares. “Remember that attention spans can be short for younger children, so having a queue of activities to cycle in will keep them entertained, learning, and in one spot.”
Spend time outside, if you can
If you’re lucky to live in a home or apartment that has private outdoor access, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of the spring-time sunshine. Vitamin D is great for our overall health, and it allows children the space they need to roam. If your kids aren’t to the age where they can play without supervision, Appel suggests bringing your laptop outside so you can keep a watchful eye on them. “Create a scavenger hunt or obstacle course around the yard to keep them busy,” she continues. “Encourage them to use chalk to create a secret magical world. Most importantly, let them run, play, and work out their pent-up energy. Join them for a game of tag or some hide and seek, because parents need to get out some anxiety, too.”
Write letters to grandparents
It may be confusing to children when you inform them they can’t visit grandma or grandpa right now. But since those over the age of 65 are at the highest risk for serious consequences from COVID-19, germy kiddos aren’t healthy or safe. Kassam says to channel your son or daughter’s creativity toward letter writing or picture drawing. “Not only will your child learn a lesson in compassion, but your relative will also receive a nice surprise to lift their spirits. This is an activity your child can come back to throughout the day,” she shares.
Rely on apps.
Even if generally speaking, you’re concerned with your kid’s screen time—it’s perfectly okay to loosen up the reigns right now. And to make it an educational opportunity, Roggeman suggests downloading engaging, interactive—and often free!—apps. She recommends See Saw, Flip Grid and other like programs that cover a variety of content areas. Chances are high you’ll find something for your kid’s learning level, age, and interests.
Assign ‘work’ to your kids.
For the foreseeable future, when your kids ask you what you’re doing, you’ll likely say: “Working.” This word doesn’t always make sense to them, so a way to teach them is to assign them tasks. Sort of like having an ‘assistant’, kids will feel as if they are being helpful when you ask them to do something. Get creative here, though, since sadly, your 8-year-old can’t do your taxes. Instead, give them puzzles to finish, LEGO lands to build or other hands-off crafts. Set a timer for an hour so they work tediously and ask them to prepare a presentation after to show off their work.
Use COVID-19 as a science experiment.
Most school-aged children will have questions about why they’re staying home, and thus, you’ll have to disclose at least some information about COVID-19. How much you decide to discuss is up to your comfort level and your child’s age. For those who are mature enough to digest the concept, Roggeman suggests turning the conversation into an educational opportunity. You dip your child’s hand into flour and then bat a balloon around. This teaches them how easily it is to transmit something as small as an unseen particle. “Or, spray your child’s hands with PAM non-stick spray, and then dip hands in glitter. Demonstrate that just washing with water removes some glitter, washing with soap and water removes more, and washing for 60 seconds while vigorously rubbing removes it all,” she continues. “The idea of a germ is so abstract to little children; these activities make it much more understandable.”