Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What To Do With Your Kids All Day in Quarantine

What a time we live in.

Lately, my blog has seen a lot of traffic due to a sarcastic piece I wrote years ago called 20 Things To Do When You're Trapped Indoors with Small Children (#9 is 'cry,' in case you're wondering what kind of list it is.)

Though I feel bad for the parents in Coronavirus lockdown who read it looking for helpful suggestions, I hope it at least made them laugh.

But now, to get serious.

Parents are desperate for things to do during school closures and COVID-19 lockdown with their kids, so maybe I can also share a little about how we're actually handling our stay-at-home situation (beyond just crying, which is perfectly valid and I won't judge.)

How We Structure Our Days in Lockdown

As a stay-at-home mom with six kids from ages 3 to 15, I've had practice with this sort of thing during summer vacations. Of course quarantine is no vacation, but at least I knew from experience how NOT to plan out our days.

For me, being overly optimistic and scheduling every minute of the day with enriching activities (music time! craft time! quiet time!) is a recipe for disaster. It turns me into a stressed-out mess by Day 3, and I have enough of that in my regular life without adding it to my quarantine life, too.

So we came up with what I thought was a workable and flexible schedule for our at-home quarantine, which I put in a page protector and taped to the wall.

Someone immediately amended the title.

Your schedule will look different than ours, and some of the entries are specific to our family so they probably don't even make sense to you. That's fine.

What's important is that I filled in the things my family absolutely needs to accomplish every day: for us, that's meals, chores and instrument practice, scripture study, and getting ready for bed on time.

Around those have-tos, I just left blank space. That's all free time where the kids are left to their own devices, and it acts as a buffer for when we get behind schedule.

At Home COVID-19 Schedule Q & A

Q: What about school?

A: For the time being, I'm not worrying about school. I'm looking at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to focus on family time.

Our school district is working out a plan for online learning, and when they roll it out I'll do what they tell us to do. But right now, bonding with their siblings and parents is way more beneficial for my kids than doing flash cards, so that's what I'm concentrating on.

Q: What about exercise and fresh air?

A: I try to make sure the kids go outside at least twice a day when it's not raining. I kick them out in the yard to play, or sometimes we go walking around the neighborhood, ride bikes in a parking lot, or hike on an easy trail nearby.

Taking a hiking break.

In the morning, Phillip takes some of the older kids running. I work out at home with a video, and often the younger kids join me. (Little kids + Les Mills body combat = hilarious, by the way.)

Q: What about screen time?

A: I try not to worry about how much time the kids are spending on devices as long as we're sticking to the schedule and they still get outside to play twice a day.

Instead of policing minutes, I try to make sure that the kids are:
  1. not doing the same online activity for too long, or
  2. using the computer to interact with each other somehow (i.e: watching YouTube videos together or building something together in Minecraft) 

A: Don't your kids fight?

A: Yes. Next question.

Q: What do your kids do during "free time?"

A: The little kids are doing lots of dress-up. My 8-year-old made everyone iPhone 11s out of cardboard and paper. My big kids are experimenting with digital art and making things out of duct tape.

Some of our other favorite social-distancing friendly activities to do are:
  • Rotating toys. The kids are thrilled when I take old favorites out of the attic they haven't played with for a while. I should probably just start doing this regularly once a week.
  • Playing games. Our huge closet of board games is currently a high-traffic area. We also like Space Team, a game you play together with your phones.
  • Watching movies. It's fun to pick a theme and watch one a day: all the Disney classics, all the Marvel movies, or all the movies the parents remember fondly from their childhoods in the '80s and '90s.
  • Sibling playdates. Each kid pairs up with one sibling to play for 15 minutes, then we rotate. It's fun to see what they come up with to do together, especially the kids who don't normally play one-on-one because of differing ages and interests.
  • Baking and cooking. But not just cookies and treats. I'm showing them how to make bread, and lots of healthy snacks like whole-wheat muffins, granola bars, or energy balls. (Individually, though, because cooking with more than one kid at a time makes me crazy.)
  • Pulling out those craft kits and Christmas presents they've barely touched. Tell me we're not the only family who has these. The kids don't have time in their normal life so they just forgot about them, but this is a perfect time to get them out again.
  • Skype with grandparents. My younger kids get goofy when we video chat, so I'm thinking about switching it up. Maybe we'll do a virtual paint night, or eat lunch together. My kids' piano recital in April was cancelled, so maybe we'll do a Zoom recital for the grandparents instead.
  • Read out loud. It didn't occur to me to keep reading with kids who can read by themselves until our librarian suggested it, but it's become a long-standing tradition that even my teenagers enjoy. Choose a book with one of your older kids and read it out loud to each other, alternating paragraphs and doing a chapter a day.
  • Podcasts for kids. A few I I like are But Why?Wow in the World, and Brains On!. A list of other ones I might want to try are here.
When even that got old, we decided to add a twist. This week every day has a theme (Mythical Monday or Fancy Friday) and everything we do has to tie into the theme.

Next week we're celebrating a new holiday every day (throw a Halloween party on Monday, watch a Christmas movie and bake Christmas cookies on Tuesday.)

Q: What are the challenges of parenting through quarantine?

A: We are such heavy public library users, my kids have our library card number memorized  and it's 14 digits long. Now that the library has been closed for weeks, they regularly moan about having nothing to read.

Noise is an issue. Phillip is working from home and has a lot of conference calls, which means no one can bang on the piano or scream at those times (which is way harder for my kids than it seems like it should be.)

Lastly, it's a challenge to have absolutely zero time to myself. Who are these people saying quarantine is a perfect time to organize your garage, learn a new language, and write a book? Exactly when would I have an uninterrupted 15 minutes to focus on a project half that ambitious?

Q: Is social distancing hard with so many kids?

A: Other than the noise and the mess, I actually think having lots of kids makes being stuck at home easier. The kids have many choices for playmates so I imagine their boredom level would be a lot higher if they had fewer siblings. Trust me, I am much less fun.

—   —   —   

As with any parenting advice you read on the Internet, take what fits into your life and leave what doesn't. This is simply a glimpse into our quarantine life and what works for us.

We parents are a stressed-out bunch right now, and we're all trying to make lemonade out of the lemons Coronavirus has handed to us. All we can do is wash our hands, do the best we can to enjoy the unexpected time we have with our kids, and cut ourselves plenty of slack.

We can do this.

After two days of my state's stay-at-home order during the Covid-19 pandemic, I knew my 6 kids and I desperately needed a daily schedule. The kids were going stir-crazy and I needed structure. We’ve been on coronavirus lockdown for a month so far, and here is everything that has worked for this mom during quarantine. #quarantine #coronavirus #lockdown #stircrazy #schedule #family #kids #mom
After two days of my state's stay-at-home order during the Covid-19 pandemic, I knew my 6 kids and I desperately needed a daily schedule. The kids were going stir-crazy and I needed structure. We’ve been on coronavirus lockdown for a month so far, and here is everything that has worked for this mom during quarantine. #quarantine #coronavirus #lockdown #stircrazy #schedule #family #kids #mom
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Unknown said...

Please please please on the zoom recital. I was already going to request the latest violin piece that's being worked on so let's just do everyone.

PurpleSlob said...

Jenny, you are the master!! We do the watching videos together thing too.

Jenjo Games said...

Great list of activities to keep kids engaged for long hours during these challenging times. As we all know the threat of virus is still not over but it is very much important for kids & adults to stay fit & healthy. I hope this difficult time get pass away quickly & we all can live our life in a normal way. Thank you much sharing such a wonderful blog to make indoor play for kids little more interesting. Be safe & healthy!