Before the pandemic, our lives were highly scheduled. With four nights of after-school activities (all dance) we barely had time to breathe in our regular routine.
Related: Tips for surviving a busy family schedule
Now things have shifted unimaginably and it is a big adjustment for us.
In the beginning of this Coronavirus pandemic I was a bit of a mess. I was still going to work, but the girls were at home alone for most of the days. Watching the news and staying up to date with the gradual shutdown of the world was affecting me deeply.
As work was slowing down I asked to be laid off. Being home with my daughters was the most important thing for me, and I made it happen. The uncertainty of “how long” and “what about school” made it a simple decision for me to be home to support them as long as they needed.
We are in the second week of me being at home full time, and I love it. Of course I don’t love the virus business and not being able to go anywhere, but being at home with my daughters in a relaxed time frame is giving me something I have been missing my entire parenting life.
What we had to figure out for ourselves, however, was how to make this work for everyone.
I was working from home for part of a week right after March Break. That was kind of tough. My home is small and all work happens on the dining room table (in my one large room which is also the living room.) I wasn’t able to focus on work, or focus on the girls. I was very glad to be able to stop working (though I still check emails and phone messages.)
My husband, who works in IT, is still working, both outside the home and from the couch. When he’s home he is on the phone a LOT, so we have to find quiet activities to do, or spend some time in the backyard. Doable, but sometimes inconvenient.
Our routine is not the same every day.
Throughout the week we have things that need to get done (like laundry and other housework) and things we’d like to do. Schoolwork is a priority now that I’m home with the girls. But so is housework and self care time – for all of us.
Even before the province and teachers sorted out what is expected of the kids, we had been spending time each morning on school work.
Our learning time starts at 9am each day. What learning time looks like is different every day, but we spend at least an hour doing school work. Most days it goes longer because the girls like it and get into whatever their work is.
Sometimes they fool me by starting on a screen doing work, but then continue quietly on the screens (often in different rooms) but not necessarily doing work. As long as the work gets done I don’t get too upset about their sneaky behaviour – unless it is happening a lot!
I had printed out math sheets and some vocabulary work at the girls’ grade levels. They learned Roman Numerals during our first few days home together. And we talked a bit about what they would like to learn.
We spent one morning learning about trees in the spring – how they bud and grow leaves. We went outside and picked some large buds off trees, then dissected them on a plate. I did a little research on leaf formation and water and nutrient transport in the trunk of the tree and tried to tell them about it at a grade appropriate level. (I’m drawing on my biology background here – I wanted to get into xylem, phloem and surface tension of water, but had to restrain myself.)
After school work the girls have the opportunity to get outside. We are practicing social (or physical) distancing, which means staying away from neighbours when we see them, but we are enjoying the spring weather.
If the weather isn’t cooperating we will put on some music and dance around the living room. Or we will find something on YouTube to get us moving, like a Zumba class or some ballet barre moves.
After active time, it’s time for lunch. What happens after lunch depends on the day.
Some days we will go back to learning time. If the girls have something they want to learn about, we’ll spend an hour researching that. Perhaps we can apply what we’ve learned, or create a project on it.
Other days we go back outside and ride bikes or go for a walk. Now that the weather is nicer, gardening will be on the agenda as well.
And on the not-so-nice days we will play a game together or watch something like a documentary on nature or other semi-educational show.
Every few days we will bake something. I always make the kids help me with the measuring and mixing. Sometimes Emma can do it all herself, which is difficult for me, but also amazing to watch.
Late afternoon is dinner prep time.
Often this is just me, but a few days a week I will rope the girls into helping out. By the end of the day I’m ready for a break from them, so I will let them have screen time. They’ve been playing Roblox so they will sit for an hour or so playing together on separate screens. And I will use that time to put on music and chop up vegetables or prepare whatever else we are eating.
So how can you create a routine that works for your family?
There is no magic formula that works. Even for us, things change and we adapt as required. And if I had to actually work from home we would have a lot less structure to our days. So if you even have a semblance of a routine going on right now, good for you!
The best help is knowing my daughters.
I know they focus best in the morning. I know they are motivated after they hear from teachers or classmates. And I know I can’t keep their attention for more than an hour at a time, most days.
Create a schedule that works with your family. If you are working from home make sure you designate specific “work” time – maybe your children read during this time, or this is their screen time (or both if your work is very consuming.) Remember that keeping everyone safe is the number one priority right now.
If you are able to support learning during this isolation time, try to choose a consistent time each day to make it happen. Children thrive on routine, and it will help you gain their focus when it feels like “school time” at the same time each day.
Our teachers have been in contact and are creating some work to do at home. This is helpful for us, because I was trying to find interesting things to teach them about, but now teachers are giving assignments which has more clout than I do!
Embrace technology as a tool for learning.
Emma is in grade six, and her class was already very technology dependent. She has an IEP and therefore her own computer to assist her with aspects of her work. Her class has used online tools since the beginning of the year.
Our school board has online encyclopedias, books to download and read, or listen to as audio books, and many other resources available at all times to the students. Explore those options in your own school board, or even on your local library website.
Learning doesn’t always happen with a book and a pencil. Allow your children a little freedom to find out what they want to learn, and how they can support their learning with online tools. They may be more engaged using a screen to learn as it feels a bit like cheating – especially when screen time has limits in your home.
Get them on a video chat platform.
My girls love talking to their cousins, grandparents, and friends over Messenger for Kids (a FB app.) And it’s an easy way to keep them socially connected with people we would usually see often.
Emma’s teacher has set the class up on Microsoft Teams so they can stay connected with each other as well. I haven’t used it myself, but I’ve heard her chatting with classmates on screen. They also have a forum for asking the teacher questions, and they are supposed to respond to the questions others ask, if they know the answer.
What I’m learning during this time is that “screen time” is not necessarily the evil we’ve been told. It can be an amazing tool for staying connected to friends and loved ones we can’t visit in person.
Make sure to keep them active.
We all know kids love recess. Use that to your advantage at home. Send them outside for fresh air and exercise, with Covid caution, of course. Or spend a little time searching for workout videos or sports skills they can develop in front of a screen.
Being active while trying to isolate can be difficult. Don’t underestimate the power of imaginative play in keeping active. My girls truck their toys up and down stairs, they play actively with Legos sometimes, and I get them helping with chores like sweeping and vacuuming, which can be exhausting.
There is no right way to be during this time.
Whatever support you can provide your children, it is enough. If they spend a lot of time on screens, that’s forgivable. If you come out the other side (whenever that may be) having learned a few things, that’s amazing.
These are unprecedented times. Schedules and routines are completely in flux right now. We are all struggling to live, work, learn, avoid, and exist in this time of uncertainty.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Do what works for you and your family.
Make sure to look after yourself as well as you are looking after everyone else.
And gather input and ideas from family members. You may be amazed at your children’s ideas for what they want to learn about, and how they want to spend their time.
With a positive outlook, and a lot of patience, you can develop some semblance of routine that works for you and your tweens.