You may be wondering how you are going to fill this time quarantined from the Coronavirus together with your children, you may feel daunted by the prospect of trying to educate and entertain them, or you may be full of confidence in your ability to manage this situation.
It's ok! We are all having moments of anxiety, frustration, impatience, exhaustion, and worry. And there will be times when our children will witness these emotions in us. We are allowed to have all these feelings and they are rational considering our current climate. Showing our children these feelings is not weakness, but an opportunity to name them, acknowledge them, and model for our children how to sit with and move through them. Our new situations also allow us to help our children find moments of joy, calm, creativity, and connection that will help them develop strength. We have never been through something like we are going through now, but we can go through it together.
Below are some tips and resources to help you manage your household during this time. These are meant to provide support and are in no way meant to dictate how your house should be functioning. You know your family and their needs better than anyone, so do what you feel is right for you and yours.
Routine and Consistency
Children function best when they have routines they can count on. With so much anxiety right now, it is important for kids to know there are things they can count on at home. Keep mealtimes, nap times, bath and bedtimes the same to give your children a sense of consistency and safety. You can incorporate new routines into your schedules, now that everyone is home together, like making the bed in the morning or helping with household chores. This is also a chance to include more time for family members to connect with each other in meaningful ways.
Every family will have their own structure and schedule. What is important is to find a rhythm that works for your family and be consistent with it. You may want to write out a schedule or create a schedule with pictures for younger children. It can be as simple as listing breakfast, school work, lunch, activity, dinner, playtime, bath, bedtime. You could also include any chores the kids are doing. Providing a routine allows children to feel certain and secure during this unsure time.
Below is a list of activities to help you plan things for your children. It is important to note that all children need a balance of activities and free playtime. Children who are homeschooled usually only spend 2-4 hours on schoolwork each day. Do not try to fill the day with only educational activities. Also, it is important to note that you are not responsible for entertaining your child every minute of the day. Boredom can be a great learning opportunity for children and allow them to stretch their imaginations.
Hopefully the following list will help you maintain a routine, support learning, inject some fun, and (perhaps) protect your sanity at the same time. Consider introducing just one or two activities a day and then letting your kids be kids. There should be time in the day for kids and adults to connect, such as meals or bath time, as well as solitary work and play times where everyone is doing what they need/want to.
If you have any artist in your house, or even if you don’t yet, you can create a designated space that is just for the kids to use. Provide supplies, and show them how to use them and clean them up. Depending on their age, they should be able to care for this space on their own. Some activities to consider:
• Scissors – cutting strips of paper, bits of yarn
• Sewing – purses, pouches, pillows, satchels, bracelets, burlap, embroidery, sewing buttons onto things…
• Collage – cutting and gluing a variety of paper and materials
• Colored pencils, pastels, crayons
• Chalk for outdoors
• Modeling clay, making playdough, using clay and tools
• Tracing cookie cutter shapes and then coloring them in
• Place tracing paper over their favorite images/pages in books and let them follow the lines
COOKING AND FOOD PREPARATION
Allow children to help with meal prep. Again depending on their age, they can use peelers, knives, juicers, and more. Show them how to use each tool properly and safely. Also, remind children to wash their hands before they begin and provide aprons or some other way to protect clothing. You can teach them how to read a recipe, follow directions, discuss the process of cooking, and show them how to clean up. Finding age-appropriate tasks for children in the kitchen can make them feel helpful, confident, and included. Some activities to consider:
• Chopping fruits and vegetables
• Stirring pots on the stove
• Peeling carrots, cucumbers, potatoes
• Peeling hard-boiled eggs
• Juicing oranges or lemons
• Make a picnic to eat outside
• Roasting vegetables
• Making smoothies
Children like to help out with their families and feel pride in being part of the system. Chores are not a burden, but a chance to learn and contribute. Chores not only provide confidence but can help with fine motor skills and gross motor development. Many chores require practice, repetition, and concentration. Note that if the task is not done to your standards, you should not correct them or fix it in front of them (particularly for very young children) as this can undermine their confidence and sense of self. It can also make them shy away from helping in the future. Try to remain encouraging and positive to promote continued assistance and learning. Some chores to consider:
• Laundry - washing, drying, folding (always let them push the buttons and turn the wheels!)
• Sweeping and mopping
• Setting the table, placemats, napkins, forks, knives
• Making their bed (the best routine to start a day)
• Tidying toys after play, before bed
• Feeding pets
• Go through clothes and toys and make a pile of things to keep and things to pass on or donate
• Dusting – shelves, dressers, counters
• Scrubbing – literally anything! Dining table, counters, chairs, stools, bathtub, sinks, the refrigerator… even pots in the sink- they LOVE this work and it entices repetition and concentration
• Give them a lesson on loading/unloading the dishwasher
• Organize art supplies
Getting outdoors for fresh air and sunshine is so important, particularly when we are all forced to stay home right now. Doing activities outdoors can help with physical and mental health for adults and kids. There are a wide variety of activities that can be done with children outside. A few options include:
• Start some seeds in small pots
• Experiment with sprouting seeds in clear jars so they can see the roots and sprouts emerge
• Water plants
• Wash the windows outside
• Repot plants with fresh soil
• Construct a simple garden box you can plant in
• Hammer nails for no reason! (Other than, of course, fine and gross motor development, hand-eye coordination, gaining strength, concentration, and joy!) Try scrap wood or an old stump or log.
• Go for a bike ride
• Take a nature walk, collecting items to use to collage inside. You can make self-portraits of found sticks, leaves, and grasses or make pictures related to a theme.
• Take a color walk- try to find things on your walk that are every color of the rainbow
• Take a “listening” walk – walk for five minutes in silence and then talk about all the sounds you noticed. With fewer people moving about now, you may be surprised by what you discover.
• Take a spring wildflower
• Wash a car/truck/wagon/toy
• Play hide and seek
• Free play! Children need at least 90-120 minutes of outdoor unstructured playtime each day.
LANGUAGE AND BOOKS
• Read books – depending on age you can read to them, take turns reading together, or have them practice on their own.
• Labeling – write the names of objects on slips of paper, have them read the words, and place them on the objects. Have them collect all the slips at the end of the game to clean up and to help with working memory (Did I get all of them? What did I label after “lamp?”)
• Journaling – they can come up with their own ideas or you can provide journaling prompts. You can find many journal prompts on Pinterest. You may want to print paper off the internet that has lines for writing and space for drawing, so kids can create their own illustrated stories.
• Write a letter to a friend- send it through snail mail!
• Tell stories – tell them true stories. Family stories are hugely important in grounding a child in their identity and who they are, as well as offering all the neurological benefits that accompany listening to stories.
• Have a “Word of the Day” – use this time to introduce new vocabulary.
You vs. Child Initiating
With all of these ideas it is important to be aware of how much you are initiating activities. It is not necessary to give children something to do all the time. Boredom can create space for imagination, discovery, and self-awareness. Allow your children time to discover how to become engaged and learn what they are drawn to. Also, be aware that new routines and experiences take time and repetition to work. Support your children when they need it, but make sure that they really need it. Give them time and often they will surprise you with their abilities (and maybe surprise themselves too!).
It is not necessary to go out and buy a bunch of supplies. Use whatever you have on hand. The most important component during this time is YOU. It does not take a lot of stuff to create meaningful and memorable experiences for your child over these few difficult weeks ahead.
Remember, no one knows your child the way you do and you are their first and best teacher. It is not necessary to recreate the school environment in your home. Be present for your children, acknowledge the difficulty of this time, validate their emotions, and listen to them. This is a chance to help them develop independence, confidence, and emotional awareness. It is a chance to spend quality time together and deepen your family’s connections to each other. It is an opportunity to model how we handle challenges and persevere through difficult situations.
Crystal Frederick, MA, LPC-Intern (Supervised by Sunny Lansdale, PhD, LPC-S) is an attachment-based, trauma-informed therapist in South Austin and is in training to become a Certified Sex Therapist. She graduated from St. Edward's University with a Masters of Arts in Counseling in order to pursue a lifelong goal of helping others. She works with people struggling with anxiety, depression, life transitions, trauma, sexual abuse, domestic violence, self-esteem, PTSD, and existential issues. As a sex-positive/kink-positive therapist, she works with people navigating lifestyles such as LGBTQ+, polyamorous relationships, and kink. "I believe 'normal' is different for everyone and I have a passion for helping each person find their version."