Thanks to a global pandemic, here we all are in an absolutely unprecedented situation. Schools and universities closed for weeks, many places of business encouraging people to work from home, sporting events and concerts cancelled, even Disney World is shuttered. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of being stuck at home with our kids for several weeks (or maybe even longer??) is a little bit overwhelming. It’s one thing to do this in the summer time, when the weather is warm and we have places we can go – the library, museums, parks, day trips, etc. But it’s late winter in central PA with unpredictable weather and we’re being advised to stay home. Easier said than done. As tempting as it may be to just get out and go do stuff – plan lots of play dates, walk around the mall, or hit up the Chick-fil-a play place – treating this time off as a “vacation” defeats the purpose of all these closings and cancellations in the first place. The best thing we moms can do for our families and our communities right now is to hunker down at home.
Of course, my Type A self started making a list of things to do at home with kids as soon as I got the email that our schools were closing. I’ve been browsing blogs via Pinterest, revisiting my Summer Planner from last year, and brainstorming all kinds of lists. I am NOT a homeschool mom (I have so much respect for those that are, but it’s been clear to me for a long time that I am simply not wired that way) and I won’t be attempting full-blown lesson plans or units or anything like that with my kids during the closure. But I do want to fuel their brains, encourage learning, curiosity and creative play, and pass the time in a meaningful way.
Since many of us are in the same boat, I thought it might be helpful to share some of my ideas with you all! These ideas and plans will certainly all evolve and change as we walk through these next few weeks. Nothing is set in stone, and I’m going to try my best to be flexible with my kids and their needs (as well as mine!), but I think it’s wise to come at this with a plan of action and as many “mom tools” in my toolbox as I can. I have a 7 year old, a 5 year old, and a 1 year old…but I think many of these concepts can work for just about any age group, from preschool up through high school. Here are my tips and ideas for what to do with your kids when school is cancelled.
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1. Set a loose schedule
Kids are used to a very structured day at school, and we all know that kids really thrive on routine. I’m not planning on scheduling our days to the minute, but I am going to set a loose schedule for our weekdays at home. I think that will be good for the kids AND good for me. After breakfast and a few cartoons (Mommy’s coffee-drinking-time), we’ll begin our day with a brief devotional. I’ve heard good things about this devotional book and went ahead and ordered it on Amazon. I’m still working out the rest of our schedule (and I’m sure it will evolve as we figure out this “new normal”), but it will include time blocks for all the rest of the things on this list!
2. Get outside daily
I think this one is really important to everyone’s health and sanity. Just like recess and Phys Ed are part of the day at school, outside play time is going to be part of our day at home. The weather may not always cooperate, but we will do our best! I know that I’ll need fresh air too, so I’m going to try to work in a family walk to our days whenever I can. Even if it’s raining, we can don rain boots and rain coats and go out for a quick walk in the rain!
3. Quiet Time
This is the FIRST thing that went on our daily schedule. Everyone will have an hour of quiet time in the afternoon while the baby is napping. Time for reading, resting, or individual quiet imaginative play. My 5 year old loves listening to stories on his Echo dot or books on CD in his room during quiet time. My 7 year old likes to read, write stories, draw, and she sometimes will even take a nap. I think setting aside some individual time in separate spaces is going to be really important for all of us.
4. Pick a read aloud book and find activities to go with it
Read alouds are a GREAT way to pass the time and engage your kids, no matter what age they are. (Sarah from Read Aloud Revival has some fantastic tips for read alouds along with a ton of book recommendations.) Depending on what book you pick, you may be able to search blogs on Pinterest to find free activity ideas to go along with it. I’ve been wanting to start the Chronicles of Narnia books with my older two kids, so I decided now is the chance to do it! My plan is to read with them for 20-30 minutes a day, probably while they’re eating a snack. I’ve already found some great activities to go along with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – and once we finish it, we’ll have a family movie night to watch the movie.
I am guilty of feeling the need to have a structured craft or planned out activity in order to get out the art supplies…but in reality, all kids need is an opportunity to be creative. Toss a plastic tablecloth on the table, get out paints and paper, and let them go at it!
Another thing that I like to do is put in an order at Oriental Trading for a bunch of craft kits. Many of them come in individually packed sets of 12 (they’re designed to be used in Sunday School or VBS type settings) but if you can find a few other moms to partner with and split up the sets, this can be a really cheap and easy way to stock up on activities for your kids!
Don’t forget to include music into your day as well. It can be as simple as making a playlist to listen to while you’re working on something else, researching a composer, or you could work together to write and record your own song. You could even consider reaching out to a local musician and hiring them to come to your house and perform for your kids. Musicians are navigating through a difficult time with a lot of cancelled gigs and lost income, so that could be a great way to help support them and give your kids a fun and memorable experience at the same time.
6. Play games
Don’t underestimate the fun of an old-fashioned board or card game!
Here are a few of our favorites for preschool and younger elementary age and links to order them on Amazon:
- Chutes and Ladders
- Pretty Pretty Princess
- Guess Who
- Race to the Treasure (non-competitive – we love this one!)
If you have any other favorite games, leave a comment! I’m always looking to add to our board game stash.
7. Let your kids decide what they want to learn about!
What are they curious about? Dinosaurs, horses, Paris, the wild west, outer space, Medieval times…let their curiosity guide you! Search Pinterest for creative project ideas, find digital books to access through your local library, or look for a documentary you can stream on Netflix or YouTube. If you have multiple kids, especially if they’re older, let them research a topic and then “teach” a lesson to their sibling(s) about it. In the same vein, you could also spend a day focusing on a particular important person in history.
What kid doesn’t love helping mom make a batch of cookies? I’ll be honest, baking with my kids is something I struggle with. I am too uptight about them making a mess or screwing up the recipe, and I almost always end up losing my temper. So, I decided one of my goals for this lockdown time is to be a little less controlling when it comes to spending time in the kitchen with my kids. If the cookies end up too salty or too crispy or whatever, who cares? Flour and sugar are cheap.
For older kids, you could even put them in charge of meal planning for a day and cooking meals for the family. Give them a budget, let them do an online grocery order, and let them make dinner on their own.
More people spending more time in the house = more mess to clean up. I don’t know about you, but I’ll definitely be putting my kids to work helping to maintain the house! I’ve never been good at coming up with any kind of regular “chore chart” but I’m going to try coming up with a few daily tasks that the kids can help with (making beds, picking up their rooms, helping to unload the dishwasher, folding and putting away laundry, etc), and then also come up with a few more in-depth cleaning tasks, like wiping down the bathroom counters, cleaning windows (that’s why I love cleaning with Norwex cloths, because the kids can help too!), dusting, and vacuuming the stairs. We may even try to tackle some decluttering together and go through clothes, shoes, and toys.
10. Use screens wisely
Gosh, there is such mom-guilt attached to letting your kids on a screen, isn’t there? But there are so many valuable online tools and apps out there, it would be silly to not take advantage of them simply because they’re on a screen. This will look different for every family depending on your preferences as well as your internet service and the number of devices you have, but we will definitely be taking advantage of screen time. First of all, my daughter will be having some kind of “online classes” through her school in week two of the closure, so I have no idea what that will look like. But in the meantime she’ll be spending time on IXL and Reflex, two different math websites that she already uses at school. My 5 year old enjoys Starfall and ABC Mouse, so I’ll probably be allowing him to do 20-30 minutes of time on those apps each day. There are LOTS of online educational programs that are offering discounts or even free periods due to the Corona Virus outbreak.
I’m not opposed to some other non-educational games and things either, especially after we’ve spent time doing more productive things. I think the most important thing when it comes to screen time is to set guidelines and time limits. We’ll definitely be taking advantage of things like nature documentaries on Netflix and National Geographic programs on Disney+. But there will also be days when everyone is in a bad mood and the weather is crummy and we just have to turn on a movie in the afternoon. That’s okay! We’re going to do what we have to do to get through this.
Now, with all those ideas and goals shared…I fully acknowledge that our days are not going to be perfect. In fact, they’re going to be pretty far from it. But I’m trying to go into this thinking of it as a blessing rather than a hardship. I am so very thankful that we are not having to scramble to find childcare or take vacation time to stay home. Nor are we having to worry about lost income during this time. My heart goes out to those of you who are struggling through those very real and intense difficulties. Even though this is, at the very least, a less than ideal situation for all of us, I’m grateful for this time to spend with my children and give them more focused attention. My goal is to put my phone and laptop away for longer chunks of time during the day and use this time as a gift to be truly present with them. (If ever there was a time to go on a break from social media, this is it – right???)
I’m also working on a free printable list of “boredom buster” ideas that I’ll be sharing with you sometime next week. (That is, if I’m able to get ANY time to myself to actually be productive – ha!) In the meantime, though, feel free to leave some comments with ideas you have to get your family through the next several weeks. Do you have any favorite games or activities to suggest? Or any other tips that we could all add to our “mom toolboxes?” Let us know!!
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