As we all shelter in place, millions of parents are shutting the doors and embracing this strange new world of working from home while simultaneously becoming the principal, teacher, and recess monitor at their own instant-homeschools. This disruption has turned the normal rhythm of life on its head. So what comes next? Putting some structure back into life can help parents and kids alike to avoid the social media vortex that beckons when boredom strikes. Here are our suggestions for creating just the right amount of structure during these cooped up times.
1. Involve your kids in creating a schedule.
Nobody likes being told what to do, so the more you can get your kids involved with the process of scheduling, the better. Talk with your kids about how a schedule will work for them and for you and your partner. If there are certain times of the day when you need to focus on work meetings, those could be when your kids have their reading time or work on one of the many home learning apps that are now available from organizations like Outschool and Khan Academy. As parents you have the final say — but by making it a conversation rather than an edict you can ensure that everyone has their voice heard, and the kids are more likely to buy into the program and stick to it.
2. Get creative to meet more than one need at a time.
If you have a partner, scheduling blocks of time where one parent is with the kids while the other is working will allow each of you to have some reliably uninterrupted time. Maybe your younger kids need to get their wiggles out a couple of times a day and you can plan group dance parties that double as a workout for you. Use the time one of you is preparing dinner as an informal cooking class for your child. If your older kids are yearning to sleep in late, starting “school” later can give you some quiet time in the morning to work, meditate, or exercise — a bonus for them and you.
3. Structure is about more than academics.
Finding ways to keep up with academics for kids is key, but there’s more to getting through this reimagining of daily life than reading, writing, and math. Remember, school isn’t just class time but also most kids’ main source of social connection and their outlet for energy and creativity. Spending all day doing online school can be exhausting for kids and leave them cranky and drained. So while your first instinct might be to try to recreate the classroom, remember to include other social and emotional experiences kids crave. Many schools use block schedules, and you can do the same. Consider a block for exercise or outdoor time, one for connecting with friends online, another for hanging out with the family pet, and other blocks for creative time, chores, and family hangout time.
4. Make it visible.
Any scheduling strategy is only really helpful if it’s being seen and used. Show each child how to create a Google calendar, which can be shared among family members. You can print out the daily calendar and the kids can put it up in their work area so they can see it during the day, which should reduce the plaintive cries of “I’m bored!” For younger children who won’t be using online calendars, a big whiteboard can be just as good. A joint family calendar can show times for shared activities like chores, family dinner, and after dinner relaxing, either independently or together playing board games, FaceTiming with grandparents, or whatever family activities lighten the mood.
5. Set the next day’s plan.
When the world feels uncertain it’s reassuring for your kids to at least know what’s going to happen tomorrow as they turn in for the night. So check in at dinner or before bed about the plan for the next day. Are any last-minute adjustments needed? Is everyone on the same page? If the plan was for outside time in the afternoon and the forecast calls for rain, are they going to do some socially distant puddle jumping, or stay indoors and take a spin on your stationary bike? If there’s a block planned for “reading time,” have they chosen what they will read? It’s so much easier for your child to get a restful sleep if they are not worrying about what the next day brings. And a well-rested child makes everyone happier.
6. Adjust as you go.
All this structure is great, but it’s also not set in stone. Don’t wait for kids (and partners) to start getting frustrated or disengaged. Make some time each week to ensure that everything is going smoothly. At the end of the week, reflect together on what’s working and what’s not. You don’t have to be a super stickler. It’s alright if not everything goes as planned. And most importantly, cut yourself and your kids some slack. Years from now your children probably won’t remember the state capitals they learned or the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks, but they will certainly remember if they felt loved, heard, and safe. In this time of evolving needs and shifting resources, “radical forgiveness” is often the best structure we can have.