The coronavirus outbreak has transformed so many of our lives overnight. In my case, I’m lucky to be able to work remotely. But I’m also challenged by having a 3-year-old at home and no childcare. At the beginning of the pandemic, just before stay-at-home orders were issued by most states, I chose to drive nine hours to my mom’s house in Kansas, mostly because I was desperate for childcare, and also because I felt a sense of safety in returning to my rural roots during this time of panic and fear.
Currently, my husband remains in Colorado and we are struggling to work out a shared work and childcare schedule, as both of us are small business owners who are continuing to work as long as we can during the lockdown.
I’ve struggled to keep frustration and guilt at bay, as I attempt to keep my daughter on the other side of my home office door, while I try to keep a somewhat normal work schedule. Previously, my daughter attended three days a week of full time preschool, which allowed me to cram in as much work as I could while she was away, and then dedicate myself fully to her on the days when she was at home.
Now that I’m just a room away, she’s feeling confused and “lonely” about my separation from her. I’m working every day now and I worry I’m neglecting her.
I decided to reach out to my mom friends – some of whom are full-time moms and some of whom are juggling work and childcare – to see how they are faring and find out what creative ideas they’ve been implementing to keep themselves, and their kids, sane.
I was looking for a way to shift how I’m relating to being homebound into gratitude for this precious family time, and the opportunity I now have to shape what my daughter is engaged in. How could I use the lockdown to give my daughter a gift – and create an environment where her creative juices get to flow freely? As Elsie Ritzenhein shares in the Soul Path Parenting podcast Episode 22, “Developing Creativity in Our Kids (and Ourselves),” how could I bring more improvisation and imagination to our activities?
Here are some of the best tips and ideas parents shared with me (for all ages of children):
Rhythm and Routine Are Key
For younger children, rhythm and regularity in their daily routines brings a sense of comfort, safety and familiarity that can calm those overwrought nervous systems. For older children, and young teens, routine creates structure and discipline that can keep boredom and rebellion at bay.
Here’s a sample schedule from a mom in Denver who is caring for a 3-year-old and 6-year-old:
8-10am breakfast and free time
12-2pm lunch and free time
2-6pm NO screen time, games, outdoor play, reading, etc.
6-8pm dinner and free time
8-9pm showers/clean up/books in bed
“Have the kids set up their own ‘school’ somewhere in the house, decorate it, gather supplies, make a seat for the cat or dog or any other stuffed animals or toys that need to go to ‘school,’” she said. “Maybe they even get to play “teacher” and they get to teach today’s lesson and you are the student!”
If your children enjoy playing or listening to music, set aside a time each day for that. Other parents I talked to are including scheduled time for art, baking, and household chores. Our family enjoys spontaneous “dance parties” where we dance to a song and then everyone has to “freeze” suddenly. Whoever moves last has to sit out.
Get Outside and Challenge Bodies & Minds
Find an open outdoor space where you and your children can practice social distancing while getting the wiggles and jumps out. Walks and runs can get boring, so here are a few ideas to spice up our outdoor time and keep your kids challenged in body and mind.
- Digging in the earth together can be tremendously grounding. The return to our literal “roots,” to share the magic and miracle of seedlings is a great way to spend the day with children of all ages. Lilly Steirer, co-host of Sustainable Colorado, shares how in this episode.
- Treasure Hunts. One couple I spoke with went around their neighborhood and took photos of interesting “spots.” They gave the photos to their two boys, ages 13 and 15 years, to create a neighborhood hunt. With my preschooler, I found that she loves picking up rocks, sticks, flowers, whatever is along the path, running ahead and hiding them for me to find. The bonus here is that I don’t have to carry all that stuff home for her in my pockets! If your children are grade-school age, you could have a rock painting session, then have them hide the rocks for each other to find. I also had a lot of success with a picture grid that I printed out with spring items for a hunt – a worm, a bird’s nest, a budding flower, a feather, etc.
- Sidewalk Chalk Learning Games. My sister in Austin, TX is outside most of the day with her two kids – it’s already 90 degrees there! When the weather is good in your neighborhood, try these educational games with sidewalk chalk. The variations are endless. Here are two she suggests:
- Multiplication Table Flower”: Draw a circle with a number in it. Then draw petals in expanding circles around the center, and fill them in from center to edges with the multiplication tables.
- Hopscotch Math: Draw a giant hopscotch, and have the kids hop up and down, counting their hops to learn addition and subtraction.
- Backyard Science Explorer. Have your kids identify the plants and animals in your local ecosystem. Bonus if they learn the Latin names for each.
- “Paint” the fence in the backyard with washable paint.
- Personal training sessions. Please practice social distancing if you’re working with a professional trainer from outside your home. Take the kids to a big playing field, park or backyard for a training session. (video)
Art with Purpose
In our house, I’ve found that if my daughter’s art time is focused on making a toy, puppet, treasure box, or other piece of art that has an ongoing function, it lasts longer to hold her attention as it gets repurposed. We’re also getting creative with “upcycling” household materials. Here are few ideas:
- Make a kite out of sticks, twine and paper or fabric and fly it when you go to the park.
- Use recycled plastic bottles and dried beans or rice to make “maracas” for music time.
- Egg cartons can be made into anything your child can imagine. We put out buttons, twine, paints and markers for my daughter and she created a fire engine!
- Bathtub crayons. Shave soap, melt it and reshape it with cookie cutters, add food coloring and…voila!, your little artist won’t be able to wait to get to the bathtub to create his or her masterpiece all over the bathroom tiles. (Make sure you’ve got enough soap to spare for this).
Good Old Fashioned Letter Writing
Skype and FaceTime can be great ways to keep up social connections, but we all know as parents that too much screen time is best avoided. We’ve started sending letters and artwork through the mail to friends and family.
My daughter loves addressing and stamping the letters and checking the mailbox to see if we’ve received packages. The kids love sharing their art on FaceTime calls, and it’s still magic for them to see that it went from their house to someone else’s, and see their loved ones holding the art in their hands. Of course, grandparents are loving getting their special “letters” as well.
Household Chores – We’re All In It Together
One mom, who’s child normally attends Montessori school, has this great idea: Create a daily routine for your child that involves cleaning, picking up and helping out with household chores.
“I’m using this time to let her be more independent, and for her learn things that I normally don’t have the time for, as we’re always late to get out of the house,” she said. “She’s now doing a bathroom routine in the morning, dressing all by herself, making her bed, cleaning up…”
Cooking & Food Art
I’ve been reading French gourmet cookbooks in my downtime to de-stress and forget about COVID 19. Trying new recipes when my workday is done has been therapeutic. I’ve extended this to my daughter through picking a special mealtime item to make every few days or involving her in regular meal prep.
She’s discovered food art, and loves turning her meals into all sorts of animals, people and other creations.
You can also make playthings (so you don’t have to go to the store) like playdough and slime (one of our favorites). We also started making colored bath bombs.
Whatever the activity, I’ve found that, as in so many of my parenting moments, it’s really my full attention and presence that my daughter craves. Let’s use this time to remember that activities with our child don’t have to be fancy or store-bought. What matters is that we’re taking time to explore the world and each other together.
Related Soul Path Parenting Episodes