It’s official. Schools all over the United States are shutting down due to novel coronavirus. As of March 13, seven states have ordered that all schools close and many districts in other states are voluntarily closing as well. Closing schools is certainly a safe measure for controlling the spread of COVID-19, but it’s leaving lots of parents in a lurch, either because they don’t have the option to stay home from work, they don’t have childcare or they have no idea what to do with their kids at home all day every day or are intimidated by assisting them with online learning. And we can’t ignore that some parents aren’t sure how they will feed their children three meals a day without the assistance of school-sponsored free and reduced lunch. All of it is flipping overwhelming — for every single one of us.
Just last night my son’s school district sent out a notice notifying us that the kids would have a half-day today for school sanitizing and teacher training, but that they weren’t planning on shutting down schools based on “tiered plan” they had in place. Less than 24 hours later, we found out that Monday is being designated a “snow day” and that schools would close and shift to online learning starting Tuesday. Things are changing and they are changing fast. There is almost no time for many of us parents to wrap our heads around what’s happening, let alone make plans and arrangements to accommodate school closures. I’ve worked from home without full-time childcare for seven years and even I’m still overwhelmed. I do have some ideas and advice for parents who have no clue how they are going to survive school closures though.
If You Can’t Work From Home
- See if a trusted friend or family member who is working from home or doesn’t work can care for your kids and take responsibility for whatever home learning is required. It’s a big ask, but now is a time for us to come together and help each other.
- Find other parents with kids in the same schools who are working from home and see if they would be willing to team up. If you have no work-from-home option, they may be willing to keep your kids, or if you can arrange some work-from-home time, you could take turns.
- Consider paid childcare. If it’s within your budget, you may be able to hire a temporary nanny. Look within your own contacts and community first or consider using a service like Care.com.
Find Out if The School is Providing Learning Materials
- Some parents — especially those with younger children — will face school closures for a week or more with no determined curriculum provided by the school district. In this instance, the Internet is truly your friend. There are lots of full-time homeschool families in America, and many of them have created online resources for other homeschoolers that are available for free. You can find worksheets, book suggestions (ebooks through your library or purchased online are good if you can’t leave your house), etc. all appropriate for each specific school grade. Here’s a good place to start.
- Many schools are already using technology in classrooms and have the ability to facilitate online learning for all students. Be on the lookout for information regarding this from your child’s teacher and/or administrators. If you do not have reliable internet at home or a device for your child to complete her work on, reach out to her teacher immediately to let them know. Most schools will do their best to help parents arrange for online learning.
- Still, other schools may send your children home with textbooks and a slew of worksheets and packets to be completed within a certain time frame. Be sure to stay on schedule with any required work — you do not want your child to get behind and have to scramble to complete everything before schools reopen. The school year ends in just a few months for most of the country and you don’t want this situation to affect your child’s outcome for the year.
If You Need Help With Food
If you are one of the many, many families in America that relies on the free and reduced lunch and breakfasts that are served at public schools to ensure that your children get three meals a day, don’t panic. Call your child’s school or the board of education to find out if there is help available. Many districts are planning to provide meals in some way, including bagged meals available for pick up at certain locations. If your school does not have a plan to mitigate student hunger while schools are suspended, you can check:
- Soup kitchens
- Food pantries
- Local churches
- Friends and family
Many organizations are requesting additional funds and donations from the government and community in order to meet the expected increased need during the coronavirus shutdowns. Churches may have funds available to help members and/or others in the community or can direct you to additional resources.
Structure and Routine are Crucial
The best learning environments provide routine and structure, especially for younger children. If your day is all over the place, your children will struggle to focus and in turn, drive you absolutely bonkers.
- Take thirty minutes before you embark on this experience to take stock of what needs to be done and lay out a general plan for your days. For instance, I haven’t looked at my son’s learning materials yet, but I already know that the expectation is a minimum of three hours of learning time, so I’m planning to wake everyone up like usual, get dressed, have breakfast and then sit down all together for home school.
- Schedule in a mid-morning break. Kids need time to get the wiggles out, so after an hour or two (depending on age) take a quick break. This could be a small snack or a minute to do some jumping jacks or sing a funny song.
- Include lunch and recess just like at school. By maintaining a similar structure your kids are more likely to know what to expect and comply more easily. Make sure they get 20 to 30 minutes of free play time if they’re younger than high school age.
- Take a deep breath and remember that you don’t have to do six or seven hours of learning time like they do in school. In most cases, a few hours is more than enough time to get everything done because you’re not responsible for 18 other children.
- Schedule a start time, break time, lunchtime, recess time and end time, write it out and put it somewhere your kids can see.
Have Some Fun!
Your kids will also be missing out on fun stuff like art, music, language classes and gym.
- Once the book and online learning is finished for the day, have some activities on hand to get their creativity flowing and their bodies moving.
- Break out the paints and markers and find some tutorials online for fun projects or let them freestyle.
- Do science experiments using common household items.
- Find a kids workout channel on YouTube. We like Cosmic Kids Yoga.
- Get outside! If you have a yard and the weather permits send the kids out to play for an hour. If not, take them for a walk before or after dinner. Now that the sun is out later, you’ll have more time to get some fresh air and boost your Vitamin D naturally.
Don’t Feel Bad About Screentime
An entire day at home, inside with kids is LONG. It’s so long and depending on how old your kids are filling all those hours can seem impossible. Don’t feel bad about allowing some screentime. Fun programs are fine in moderation, but you can also take this opportunity to introduce your kids to:
- Educational, age-appropriate documentaries
- Fiction and non-fiction ebooks (including picture books, leveled readers and chapter books)
- Well-curated games that teach things like coding, phonics, sight words, math facts and more
Take Care of You Too
I’m not gonna lie, being at home with kids (especially if you have more than one child) all day is utterly exhausting — mentally, physically and emotionally. There will be challenges every single day — sometimes every hour. Your kids will fight and bicker with each other, they’ll whine and beg to play on their Nintendo instead of doing schoolwork. They’ll probably nag you for snacks and leave messes everywhere, you’ll struggle to keep up with your own workload from your actual job and at some point, you’ll start to feel isolated and lonely. While this could be a wonderful time to reconnect with your children and form new bonds, you’ll also really need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
- Make sure you have plenty of caffeinated beverages
- Same goes for wine or any other drink like tea that helps you relax at the end of the day (hey, it could be herbal tea)
- Text, call and video chat friends and family members that you consider part of your support system
- Get groceries delivered instead of loading everyone in and out of the car and facing the crazies out in public
- Listen to music
- Read books
- Get some exercise
- Stay hydrated
- Watch a funny movie or comedy special
- Turn off the news and social media every once in a while