By now, we are all familiar with the term “social distancing,” and we are probably getting a bit tired of being stuck in our houses, especially if you have kids who are itching to do things. We know that staying in your house will help “flatten the curve” of infection, but there have been different interpretations of how distant we need to be. On Wednesday, March 18, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer, tried to clarify any misunderstandings: “Having your friends over for dinner or coffee is not social distancing.” She added that children’s play dates, visiting friends in hospital, and shopping for non-essential items also fail to meet the standard required for social distancing.
In Canada, we are several days into this quarantine so far (longer in other parts of the world), and we really don’t know how long it could last. The situation is stressful for everyone, and we need to find ways of mitigating the stress to be able to see the silver linings. For one, it is a wonderful opportunity to teach children about social responsibility: Staying home will literally save lives—our own or someone else’s. It is also a chance to do the things we’ve been putting off (for me, that includes exercising daily, cleaning out our storage room, and finally re-hanging the pictures we took down when we did a renovation more than a year ago).
So how do we help our children settle into this new (temporary) reality? The most important thing is to make a schedule. It doesn’t matter so much what is on the schedule, just that one exists. Having endless days without structure leaves people with decision fatigue—having to decide what to do at each moment of the day is exhausting—and it doesn’t take long before kids start to use the “B” word: Bored. While we are probably all relaxing our rules about screen time (for us, weeknight karate and swimming lessons and weekend dinners with extended family have largely been replaced by family movie nights), we know that letting our children spend all day gaming, on social media, or watching TV is only borrowing happiness from the future. They will end up feeling lethargic and unwell, and eventually we will have to re-impose limits when we are finally able to have a more normal routine.
Even with schools being out, there isn’t necessarily a need to go into full home-schooling mode. Children often have difficulty learning from their own parents, and my children—even knowing that I’m a professional teacher—often admonish me that, “My teacher told me to do it a different way!” If you try to replicate school and cover the entire curriculum at home, you are likely in for a lot of stress and conflict in your house. It’s time to be creative and get kids interested in learning in different and fun ways. I also recognize that for some children who struggle academically, weeks away from the classroom can set them back in their learning. For these youngsters, it may be very important to review basic academic skills, but don’t forget to have some fun along the way.
I’m going to share with you our temporary family schedule, which we may need to tweak as time goes by. It incorporates both structure, which we know kids desperately need, and choice. I will give you some ideas of what you can do in each block, but don’t provide your children with all of these possibilities—it will be overwhelming. Choose a few that you think might get some traction and offer those as options (or in some cases, you can limit the choice and tell the kids what they need to do during that block). I will also include some free online resources to help you out if you’re stuck.
Wake-up until 10am Free time: get up, dressed, shower, eat breakfast, relax, play, watch television
10:00-11:00 Language/Literacy: learn a language on Duolingo (a free app), read (stories, comics, non-fiction, read to a sibling, call a younger friend or cousin and read a storybook over video chat), write (a story, letter, email, list of ideas/chores, a recipe or science experiment), research something of personal interest, do Mad Libs, play a word game like Scrabble or Boggle
www.storylineonline.net is a free website where professional actors read storybooks aloud for children
https://www.weareteachers.com/virtual-author-activities/ has a list of books and activities organized by grade level and author. Many authors are taking the opportunity to read their own books aloud, and there are teaching resources to go with books at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.
www.razkids.com (free 14-day trial) levels readers for grades K-5
Free online resources available through public libraries such as Tumblebooks.
11:00-11:30 Exercise: go for a bike ride, take a walk outside, use a home treadmill or other fitness equipment, do yoga, download a free fitness app, do Just Dance (from YouTube)
11:30-12:30 Play: don’t forget that it is still important for children to have unstructured play time; they can play alone or with a sibling or parent (not on technology)
1:00-2:00 Arts: practise (or start to learn) a musical instrument (there are lots of YouTube videos to help), draw (there are free online tutorials), craft, knit, sing, decorate a cake, sew, graphic design, prepare a puppet show, learn and perform magic tricks
2:00-2:30 Physical Play: The World Health Organization recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity for children. We know that children with ADHD tend to need even more time being physically active. Take some time for active, physical play: kick a soccer ball, skip, play catch, wrestle, throw a Frisbee, play tag, etc.
2:30-3:00 Chores: clean their rooms (including vacuuming, changing sheets, etc.), clean out a closet, do yard work, fold laundry, clean bathrooms or other shared spaces, organize a bookshelf, declutter, hang pictures, empty the dishwasher, do a home repair (perhaps with a parent), learn to change car tires, etc.
3:00-4:00 Math/Science: bake, play math games, do coding activities, science experiments, review basic math skills, solve math problems, virtual field trips to a museum/zoo/aquarium
www.khanacademy.org website offering free courses in a variety of subjects, with a focus on math and science (all grades)
www.exploratorium.edu an online museum/science resource full of topics to research, videos, and hands-on activities; (elementary)
https://mysteryscience.com/school-closure-planning hands-on lessons about a variety of science topics (elementary)
https://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/ a collection of free experiments you can do at home with few materials (middle school)
https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-projects#browseallprojects science projects at a variety of grade levels (elementary, middle school, high school)
https://hippocampus.org/ videos in math, science, social science, and humanities (high school)
https://www.fizzicseducation.com.au/category/150-science-experiments/ hands-on experiments (middle school, high school)
https://www.education.com/games/math/ math games (elementary)
https://www.cemc.uwaterloo.ca/resources/potw.php math problem of the week (grades 3-12)
4:00-4:30 Play Time: If your child tends to need more physical activity, this would be a good time to add it in. If not, they can engage in any type of play, as long as it’s not on technology
4:30-Bedtime Free Time: tech time, movie nights, board games, video calls, etc.
Using a timer (with or without a 5-minute warning) might make transitions easier for children. Also, monitor how your child is feeling. If they start to show signs of frustration, take a short break by getting a snack, walking around, stretching, or doing a preferred activity for 5 or 10 minutes (don’t choose something that they won’t be able to easily transition away from). Alternately, you can switch to a different, less stressful activity and come back to the difficult task when they’re feeling fresher.
We are also prioritizing being social every day, including sending emails to friends and family, getting in touch with people we haven’t spoken to in awhile, video chats, virtual charades (played by video with friends at a different location), reading bedtime stories to little kids, or calling older relatives.
We’re at a unique time in history, and one day our children will be telling their children and grandchildren about how they made it through the quarantine of 2020!