Set up a daily schedule so everyone still loves each other come Friday

by Meghan Fitzgerald

No matter how the COVID-19 situation has impacted your life, we’re all dealing with disruptions to our daily routines and, most likely, a range of new stresses. A lot of us are staring down a week of trying to simultaneously work and parent from home like we never have before. Others of us have to figure out how to go to work when our kids have no school. And, if you’re committed to social distancing for the greater good, you’ve lost your village, which makes all of this feel so much harder.

No matter how old our kids are, setting up a daily routine and schedule during this challenging time will help us stay focused, lower our kids’ anxiety and likely our own, as well. It can also make it easier for us to balance the demands of work and home.

How do you do that? 

Here are the top tips we’ve found for setting up a schedule that can work for you and your kids:

Preserve Sleep Routines: Try to maintain kids’ normal wakeup and bedtimes Monday through Friday. Humans, especially kids, are more focused, less anxious and happier when we get consistent amounts of sleep at consistent times. Plus, if kids stay up too late, it’s actually harder to get them to sleep — and we know most of us adults will be extra ready for our kids’ bedtime over the coming weeks.

Brainstorm projects and activities: If your kids are old enough to chat with you about what they love to do then you can make a list, together, of potential projects or activities. If your child is too young for that, make a list of the toys, objects and games they love. Your family can refer to these lists throughout the week.

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Map out a schedule: After making a list of projects and activities, put together a schedule for how you’ll use your 9-5 time. Ours includes time blocks for projects as well as snacks, lunch, outdoor play, reading and listening to stories, math games, and even FaceTime with grandparents and good buddies. (You can think of this as virtual recess). To my friends who homeschool, you are already so good at this. Thank you for all you’ve taught me!

Add a sweet ending: Each day, we’re ending with a family hike — a built-in regroup to help smooth over whatever tensions, and likely guilt, will undoubtedly surface as we try to “do it all.” 

Get Outside!

Go outside — often: We know that time outdoors gives us all physical and mental benefits, and during a period of stress like this one, kids and adults alike need time outside more than ever. Luckily, the great outdoors offers us plenty of space to be without being too close to one another. Keep. Going. Outside. 

Find safe green spaces: If you have your own patch of green at home, super. Don’t worry if it’s small. Think like a child — every square foot of outside space is a wonderland with tremendous potential for discovery and play. If you don’t have a patch of green, you can still find nature on a stoop, sidewalk or driveway. According to Dr. Asaf Bitton of the Harvard School of Public Health, we should get outdoors every day. And, we can all visit our local parks, provided we stay at least 6 feet from others. Do avoid public facilities like playground structures, though, as the virus can live on metal and plastic as long as nine days, and the structures are unlikely to get regularly cleaned.

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Fill the schedule without depleting yourself!

Leverage surprise and novelty: Twice now, I’ve attempted a cross-country flight alone with little kids, and both times I survived on novelty. I wrapped up items (e.g. stickers, paper + markers, tape, squeeze ball) in little packages and released them to the kids over the course of the flight. The surprise around what was inside and the newness of whatever it was helped keep my kids focused and delighted. Plus, because I prepared, I wasn’t scrambling to keep them happy— at least until the packages ran out. Though we likely don’t have time to wrap up enough items enough to last seven days, we could leverage novelty in a few lighter lift ways.

Put activity ideas in a hat: Kids can pull and, if needed, you can read the idea to them. Examples include: build a block tower, draw a picture to send to Nana, collect nature treasures, take the trucks outside to play, build a fort, and water play.

Hide and Release Toys: Put a bunch of toys away, then bring them back out one at a time.

Play with Loose Parts: Bundle up a bunch of loose parts (e.g. sticks, pine cones, tape, string, paper, bowls) and put them in a pillowcase. Welcome kids to build, arrange or just explore the contents. Switch up what’s in the pillowcase each day.

Build in different senses: When we awaken different senses, we see a similar lift as when we surprise and delight with new packages. 

Project Play: Set up a themed play area either inside the house or in your outdoor space, if you have one. Turn the living room into a space station. Make the mud porch a museum. Or set up a bakery in a corner of the kitchen, or better yet, outside. Kids can imagine and play for hours around the theme, either with or without you involved. Read more about how to set up project play with a list of favorite themes.

Let kids get a little bit bored: You’ve got a list of ideas. You’ve got objects kids can turn into endless things. You really do not need more — kids just might need to get used to playing independently, even though you are right there at home. Let them experience a little boredom — and, remember, it may just be a creative lull that will lead to the next great idea for play.

Accept that Screen Time’s Gonna Happen: Many of us will need to put screens in the mix as we balance so many challenges this week. Here are some ways to do it and still feel okay about it:

  • Schedule screen time in: Pick the times when you most need to get stuff done and schedule screens in. This also helps cut down on questions about screen time from kids and limits the danger of screen time creep.
  • Turn to Common Sense Media to find games and films that are great for kiddos at different ages. 
  • Balance screen time with real, hands-on play experiences that take place off-screen — ideally outside — and involve multiple senses firing.

Be kind to yourself! Now is not the time to aim for perfection. Remember, it’s the climate not the weather in your family that counts. Stay scrappy and let the storms pass if and when they come. We’re all doing the best we can — and that is pretty darn awesome.

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