With the COVID-19 pandemic now in high gear and finally being taken seriously by many employers, cities, states, and governments, life is beginning to look legitimately different for many of us. If you’re smart and capable of doing so, hopefully you’re doing your part to mitigate the spread of the virus and staying home.
Here in Iowa, as is now the case in a number of other states across this country, most schools are now in shut-down mode, cancelling all activities and classes for at least the next month. Realistically, it’ll almost certainly be much longer. For parents, this brings a unique set of challenges to the coronavirus crisis. Not only are you expected to self-quarantine, but you also now have the task of keeping your kids at home for the foreseeable future, avoiding playdates, public places, or anything else that would normally help to entertain and pass the time. Oh, and since they’re missing school, there’s also the unsaid expectation that you’ll not just let them watch television for 12 hours a day and instead fill in some of the educational blanks that they’d otherwise be getting at school.
Almost six years ago, after a decade of teaching everything from junior high to high school to college, I became a stay-at-home dad. At that point, my wife and I only had two kids. Now, we have four, ages 2, 4, 6, and 8. That means two kids in elementary school (kindergarten and 2nd grade) and one in preschool all now at home instead of being in school.
Even as a former educator and someone now used to staying at home with my kid, the idea of creating at-home lessons or something resembling school is daunting. I would imagine that for someone not used to either of those things, being a parent right now might seem completely overwhelming.
Luckily, there are no shortage of Internet resources for parents. My intent here is not to tell you what to do. Instead, I’ll attempt to point you to places that can help lessen the stress of this jacked up situation, while also explaining what I’m personally going to be doing with my own kids.
First things first: DO NOT BUY education software, resources, or lessons. As I said, there are plenty of high-quality online resources that are free and available. In fact, companies are actually giving away content that previously required a subscription in light of school closings.
Before I get to that, though, let me offer up my #1 piece of advice for how to navigate these weird parenting waters: Make a schedule.
Kids will destroy your house, test your patience, and run wild if you let them. But they also like (and thrive on) structure. I’m not saying that you should micro-manage every minute of their day. That’s not healthy or realistic.
Instead, I’d recommend dividing the day into manageable blocks/chunks. That way, there’s technically a schedule of activities but also freedom within that schedule for creativity. Here’s the basic outline of what we’re doing in our house:
7 a.m. Kids wake up. Eat breakfast. Get dressed. Etc.
7:30 a.m. Free play
8:30 a.m. School time (more detailed schedule below)
10 a.m. Exercise/physical activity (ideas below)
11 a.m. Lunch
11:30 a.m. After lunch walk outside
12 p.m. Nap time/quiet time
–We have one kid that still takes naps. The other three have what we call “quiet time.” This is basically free choice time where they play independently. They can read, do puzzles, listen to audiobooks, do legos, etc. This is when I read, work, or generally decompress.
3 p.m. Wake up and snack time
–My youngest wakes up from his nap and everyone gets a snack.
3:30 p.m. Play outside
–The kids go to the backyard and burn off some pent-up energy. We’ve been staying out until it’s time to start making dinner.
4:45 p.m. Come inside and make dinner
5:30 p.m. Dinner
6 p.m. Baths
6:30 p.m. Board or card game. Maybe a movie if they’re lucky.
7:15 p.m. Read aloud to kids
7:30 p.m. Kiddos bed time and commence drinking heavily.
OK, so that’s what we’re doing here in the Mitchell house. Your schedule might look drastically different based on all sorts of factors, but I’d recommend at least having some broad schedule that works for you, whatever that looks like. I know that my kids are more apt to pay attention in the morning, so we’re doing the school portion of the day then. It may not be the same for you, though.
Just like the schedule, the school part of the day will be highly individualistic, depending on the ages of your kids and your personal comfort level or abilities. Don’t stress and just do the best you can. Your kids will be fine.
As far as school-at-home resources go, let’s start with the overwhelming. Here’s a master list that is being constantly updated. It is a list of websites and programs that were either free to begin with or have become free as a result of school closings:
Now, be aware that many of the links on this site are for teachers and/or schools. Eventually, your school may provide some of these resources to you. I’d expect that, by the end of the week, schools will be making options available for parents, either via Facebook or email. For now, though, there are also plenty of resources on this list that are geared towards parents as well.
Between that list and some other helpful websites, here’s the school schedule that my family is going to do our best to follow:
8 year old: Math. We’re going to use either Prodigy or DreamBox. Prodigy is a maybe a little too game-like for my tastes, with wizards and the like, but my kids love it. At this point, I’m not sure it’s rigorous enough, but I think that might change the more they play. DreamBox is a K-8 program that multiple schools use. I could see us using DreamBox on a more consistent basis with Prodigy mixed in for variance.
6 year old: Reading Practice with me
4 year old: Lego building
8 year old: Journaling (prompts provided by me with an assist from JournalBuddies)
6 year old: Math (Prodigy or DreamBox)
4 year old: Reading with me
8 year old: Workbook (we already had these laying around, but if you don’t there’s a ton of workbook pages available to print in the Amazing Educational Resources link above)
6 year old: Workbook
4 year old: Workbook
Mondays–Other Goose. This is a full curriculum aimed primarily at kids aged 2-7. It has full 20 minute lessons made free for the time being because of coronavirus.
Tuesdays–Typing Club. A completely free website that allows kids to practice typing. Doesn’t get much easier than that.
Wednesdays–Art for Kids Hub. These family-based art lessons on YouTube are one of my favorite things to do with the kids. They can easily learn how to draw everything from Frozen’s Elsa to a leprechaun to a lobster. It’s amazing and really a lot of fun.
Thursdays–Duolingo. Up to this point, my kids haven’t had much language learning in school, but I think this is a great time to start. Duolingo really makes it fun for anyone, from very young kids to adults, to learn another language.
Fridays–Scholastic Learn at Home. Scholastic really couldn’t make things easier. You simply pick the grade level and off you go. There’s books, videos, and activities for at least the next 20 days (with nearly three hours of possible activities per day). I’m going to spread them out, so I don’t blow through them too quickly.
Everyone: Puzzles and Podcasts. If you’re a parent, there’s a legit chance that you have hundreds of puzzles in your house. This is, I think, a great way to wind down the school session. Everyone can have their own puzzle, or you can all work on a big one together, all while listening to a kids-centric podcast. There are plenty of free podcasts out there, but Pinna (linked above) is like Netflix for kids-based podcasts. As a result of COVID-19, they’re offering up 60 days entirely free. Their library is ridiculous and well worth checking out. Plus, they’re entirely ad-free and 100% kid friendly.
My kids really like “Wow in the World” as a podcast option, but there are many others out there for kids. The New York Times just put out a fairly comprehensive list of podcasts that both children and adults will enjoy.
For some of you out there, this might seem like a lot. And maybe it is. But, all told, this “schooling” is just over an hour and a half out of the day. I’d consider asking your kids for input on the schedule and then devising it together. They’ll feel ownership and it’ll be something besides “something that mom and dad are making us do.” Hopefully, it’ll be fun for everyone.
We’re going for walks everyday (while still keeping a safe distance from others in the neighborhood) and playing outside in our backyard. However, after the morning school session, my kids are ready to do something physical. Generally, my son plays basketball on our little hoop downstairs while my oldest daughter tries to do whatever workout I did earlier that morning before the kids woke up.
However, if you really don’t have a plan for getting your kids moving, here are some options:
—Cosmic Kids Yoga is a great resource for low-key, story-based exercise. The host does a phenomenal job of telling a story through movement (topics range from Harry Potter to Star Wars to almost anything you can think of) and accents. This is absolutely something that you could do with your kid.
—Fluency and Fitness is another website that is offering up their 900+ videos for free because of school closings.
This is a challenging time, so if everything goes to hell in your house, don’t fret. Things are screwed up, and the only thing we can do is try our best. Always remember that most of our kids don’t actually know that we don’t know what we’re doing. Do your best, and you won’t screw them up too badly.