The current restrictions on schools and the workplace have created a situation at home that none of us were prepared for.
It’s not like staying home with our preschool-age children. Nor is it like summer vacation. It’s not even like homeschooling (in the truest definition of homeschooling.)
This is “emergency virtual schooling,” and let’s admit it now: It’s challenging.
Here are few tips and strategies for helping your children (and yourself!) thrive during the quarantine.
This will be different for each house and family, of course, but try to create a separate place to work on school work. Minimize distractions as much as possible, and that includes phones and other devices. If you can also create a place for live calls (with good lighting, a microphone, and a neutral background), then everyone can use that space. If it’s not possible to have a dedicated workspace (like you need to use the kitchen table for homework), at least try to use a consistent spot for school work every day.
Children need structure, even if they tell you they don’t want it! Having set times for some activities or expectations for certain activities to happen on a regular basis helps keep things predictable. Have a start and end to the school day, for example. In school, these times are built in and help to create a daily routine. In a time of complete uncertainty, a basic schedule can be a welcome comfort, especially for kids.
Obviously, kids will be spending more time online with having to access and submit materials for school, as well as attending live calls. Our natural reaction is to clamp down on their “recreational’ screen time because it definitely feels like they are ‘always online.’ Keep in mind, though, that their whole social life was also brought to a screeching halt with this. Talking to friends at school, sports, clubs, and neighborhood playgrounds are temporarily unavailable to them. The only form of socializing they have is on a screen. Encourage healthy amounts of Facetime calls, chats, and the like.
With kids online for school and recreation A LOT, now is a great time to do an audit of sorts on the devices that connect them to both content and people. Do you have filtering set up on your router and/or each device that they use? Are the parental controls set up on their devices? For example, if you kids use iPhones or iPads, do you have the built-in Screen Time set up? Consider using a service like Bark, which monitors many of the devices and accounts your children may use.
Combining lots of screen time with lots of unstructured time will inevitably lead to lots of munching on junk food. (And that’s just the adults in the house!) Seriously, you may need to dole out the snacks and have regular snack and meal times as part of your schedule to assure that everyone in the house is staying healthy and hydrated through this time of isolation.
With less structure in the house, our kids’ sleep routines may also start to slip. Unfortunately, this is a time when they need to be even more well-rested. Maintain regular, school-day bedtimes and wake times, and keep the devices out of their rooms. Because of the screen’s negative effect on melatonin production (the sleep hormone), have kids log off at least an hour before bedtime to help them sleep better.
Even when they are in school, your children have regular recess time outside. Physical movement and fresh air should be a part of every day of quarantine. Consider a mid-morning or mid-afternoon break from academic work, which will help with their focus and mood, too.
Speaking of academics, even the strongest students are facing new challenges with virtual learning. One way to ease the stress is to help them organize their work time, assignments, and due dates. Much of this work is done for them when face-to-face school is in session, with teachers walking through assignments, writing due dates on the board, etc. Many of these cues and visuals are gone in a virtual environment, so our kids need our help to coach them through the organization necessary to be successful.
And while we shouldn’t be managing it all for them, we do need to sit next to them and walk them through the steps of gathering notes, reading emails, making lists and daily schedules, and the other skills that they are learning.
One of those new skills is likely communicating with their teachers online. Many students have never had to email their teacher before, or they certainly haven’t had to rely on it to get answers to their questions. You can coach them in this important skill, too, as you teach them to use proper greetings, be concise and clear, ask good questions, attach documents, and follow other email etiquette that we (hopefully) have been using for years. This is also a fantastic way to teach them to think about the other person’s perspective in the conversation.
No doubt many of us are watching the news and consuming social media in an effort to better understand what is happening…and when it will all end. This can lead to some scary and concerning conversation among adults as we express our fears to each other. Our kids, though, are not as equipped to handle the barrage of bad news and fearful headlines. Think of how poorly we, as adults, are dealing with it!
While we don’t want to shelter them from the reality of what is happening, we should carefully monitor the amount and type of media that they are consuming, especially as it relates to the global health crisis right now.
While most of their school work is being delivered and submitted online, that doesn’t mean they have to be glued to the screen 24/7. Give them every opportunity to work on homework with pen and paper, or to read a physical book, or try a science experiment with household items. Documents and worksheets could be printed out for completion or reading, whenever possible. You can even use their art, music, and physical education “homework” to break up long stretches of core academic work.
It’s an understatement to say that these are challenging times for our children. In a matter of days, they walked away from familiar patterns of learning and were dropped headfirst into brand new systems and expectations. They have been suddenly isolated from the chatter in the halls and conversation at the lunchroom table, and friendships are now limited to a digital connection on a very small screen. In addition, they are missing out on a hundred little things from vacations to sports to activities to end-of-the-school-year festivities. And many are also dealing with the uncertainty of parents’ jobs and family finances.
We need to offer them bucketfuls of grace and patience. We must learn to see their emotional outbursts and little acts of rebellion for what they really are. We need to accept that they are learning a lot in a short amount of time and they are coping with it all in the best way they know how.
Just like we are.