March 17, 2020 – So how is home schooling going? Do you feel like you may go crazy? As a grandparent raising grandchildren, the coming days will be an especially difficult challenge–kids at home and the world upside down.

Every teacher will tell you that the first few days of school after summer vacation are difficult. “We go through it every back-to-school,” says a kindergarten teacher in Portland. “We know to expect some pretty stressful days as children adjust to new routines.” Now you are in the same fix except that it’s “Back to Home.”

A basic daily rhythm–a schedule–will help you and the children manage the new normal.

As educators, teachers know the foundation principle is establishing a routine for children. Routines provide structure and a sense of safety, which helps children control their impulses and behaviors. Routines are important for adults, too. This coronavirus crisis may make you feel unmotivated or powerless. Your best friend: A daily routine to help you and the children keep focused and feel some measure of control.

“You must quickly establish a battle rhythm,” says Juliette Kayyem, a former Homeland Security advisor. “The same thing, the same time, every day.” This goes for the military as well as the family.

What are the basics of a routine?

Start with their school routine

Use the school schedule as a framework. Since buy in from the children will help, you could start by asking your child about their daily routine:

  • When are they used to having breakfast? Snack? Lunch?
  • Which subjects came first. Which subjects did they like best?
  • When is recess?

This discussion should help you break the day into smaller chunks much like school does with subjects.

Add in daily chores

What a concept! Now is your chance to help you children learn to pitch in. Remember when you were a school kid and you got a certain pride from being the designated blackboard cleaner? Of course, children will resist chores. But persist! They are undoubtedly feeling your anxiety, and helping out is stress relief for them, too.

Dedicate time for play

Once you’ve mapped out times for things like food and school assignments, you’re ready to fill in the rest of the day, and actually carving out time for dedicated child-led play is huge for kids. When a child is imagining, creating, building or inventing, they are doing some serious learning. Plan a few 15- to 30-minute blocks (more or less time depending on your child’s age and play development) of dedicated child-led play. The more a child plays, the more they learn to play.

Share books and reading time

Study after study shows the importance of reading to kids. Being home all day is a great chance to instill and strengthen that habit.

Plan reading blocks. Fifteen to 20 minutes a day is a great place to start (remember, that’s total minutes, not all at once. Break it into chunks). Consider structuring this reading time in a variety of ways: you read aloud, child reads aloud (if the child can read), and family silent reading time.

Invite the whole family to contribute to the creation of a daily schedule. Be sure to write it down. Post your battle rhythm where everyone can see it.

Finally, be flexible over the first week or two. Focus on what seems to work for your child and make adjustments. Eventually, schools and other organizations will help us find ways to keep teaching our kids.

  Talk about isolation! Scott Kelly spent a year like this.

The kids will push back. Of course. Tell them about Scott Kelly, retired NASA astronaut who spent a year living aboard the International Space Station. He recently offered some perspective. “On the space station, my time was scheduled tightly, from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep,” he recalls. “You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to a different work and home life environment. When I returned to Earth, I missed the structure. But pace yourself. Living in space, I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today. Take time for fun activities. And don’t forget to include in your schedule a consistent bedtime. NASA scientists closely study astronauts’ sleep when we are in space, and they have found that quality of sleep relates to cognition, mood, and interpersonal relations — all essential to getting through a mission in space or a quarantine at home.”

Here is an example schedule–far too ambitious and precise–if you ask me. But it illustrates some common elements you might consider for your family’s routine:

Education resources for parents!! from CoronavirusWA

Tomorrow:  Kids and Screens

Bonus: for young children check out Lunch Doodles