Do you sigh with relief when you drop your kiddos off at school? Does the coronavirus freak you out? Do you know how you will work from home and keep your kids engaged?

Many states are closing their schools, along with workplaces encouraging employees who can to work from home. With coronavirus affecting older people, you may not have as many extended family choices..

Will there be pandemonium in your home?

While more than you would normally handle, you can do this, and even have fun with your kids. We asked teachers, educational experts and workplace leaders for their top tips to make this easy on you. Please know these tips are based on elementary and junior high aged children.

  1. Know your school’s plan. Many schools have capability for remote learning. Your school may also send home materials or a curriculum to follow. Connect with your children’s teachers and make sure you have their email addresses. In that case, these may be complementary, so adjust as needed.

  2. Create a Structure. While it may feel awkward in some cases, this step may bring you the most sanity. Remember that your kids have a set structure at school. There’s a time they are in class, recess, and lunch, as well as other activities like PE and Computers. You can create a similar structure for your kid. The teachers we talked with recommended a list with checkboxes for each activity, including breaks. They also recommended a set start and end time. This can help you plan any work meetings you have around this, which is good for both you and your kids. We provide a sample one at the end of this article. As a rough guideline, go with an 8am start time and 2p stop time – adjust as appropriate for your child. You’ll want to do this planning before your first school day, and have a printed schedule to start their day with.
  • Breaks. It’s important to have frequent breaks. Generally speaking, plan on 30-40 minute work sessions with 10-15 minute breaks. You can provide some activities for break like Legos, drawing – whatever works for your child. Do pick something they can transition to and from easily. We recommend staying away from screen time here, as it can be difficult to start and stop so quickly. Where it makes sense, join your child on break. This situation is stressful for you too! If you can be goofy and/or active with them during this time, that can be helpful. Anything from a tossing a frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, a quick game of tag, or even a dance off can help add a little fun to both of your days.
  • Know Your Child’s Learning Modality. Everyone has a primary way they prefer to learn. While there are over 71 different formal classifications for how we learn (Coffield, Mosely, Hall & Ecclestone, 2004), let’s keep it easy. In general, we all have a preferred way we like to learn – visual, auditory or hands-on. While we have a primary preference that we are born with, we are all also a mix of these modalities. That said, if you only use auditory instruction and notice your child struggling to follow directions – consider visual or hands-on instruction as part of your mix. Actually, according to Dr. Dylan William (University College London, Dean of Education) “As long as teachers are varying their teaching style, then it is likely that all students will get some experience of being in their comfort zone and some experience of being pushed beyond it.”
  • Mix of Topics. For your short-term home schooling, we recommend a mix of topics and activities to keep your child engaged. A good mix will include age-appropriate math, reading, writing, and science. In the next step, we’ll give you a list of places to find this content. In some cases you can print it out, and in others, it will be online. Encourage your kids to think about projects to demonstrate their new knowledge – this can be a short play you capture on your phone’s video camera, a short book they create, or other creative ideas you come up with. Our sample schedule at the end of this article can offer a starting point.
  • Sources to Use for Content and Materials. Modern parents, you are all in luck, as there’s a long list of great online sources for your child. Your school may already have some of these. Our recommendations came from specifically from the teachers we interviewed. You may also find other ones you add into this mix.
  1. Math-
    1. Prodigy Game is used by over 50 million students in grades 1-8, and has a free starter program for parents.
    1. Also see the “sites with multiple topics”, below
    1. Reading and Writing
      1. Storyline Online reads along with your child. Books are a variety of levels and times from a few minutes to longer (free)
      1. Also see the “sites with multiple topics”, below
  • Connect With Friends. If you cannot safely have your child connect with friends after “school” time, plan time for them to use Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom (all free) to visit with their friends. This can be during lunch, another break, or after your school time. And yes, parents too, plan on connecting with your friends this way a bit as well. This will help you feel less isolated if you have to quarantine for a bit, and give you something to look forward to.
  • Have Choices for After School Time Other Than Screen Time. The easiest thing to do here is let your child spend hours on their devices or watching TV.We get it. You’re tired and want to take a break. Your kids may be used to hours of screen time. In addition to these activities, consider adding a few things. Have your child earn screen time by doing a few simple chores around the house. You can use the added help right now and they can dust, put away the dishes, or other appropriate tasks to contribute to your family. You can offer playing with neighborhood kids (as appropriate), crafts, toys, books, drawing and other activities as choices. One expert suggested using a timer (Alexa, phone or conventional) so the child manages their own time. For example, 20 minutes of a chore then 20 minutes of screen time.
  • Plan Time For Yourself – While being at home allows you some flexibility in what you wear and relieves you of your school and work commutes – it will rob you of some of your down time. Normally, you listen to whatever you want to on your non kid commutes, and your brain has some downtime. Make sure to put a few 15 minute times on your schedule to escape work and kids. Do a different activity – breathe, write, read some humor, pushups, squats – just do something different.

Make sure to congratulate yourself, and your kids, for doing the best you can in this situation. Whenever possible, go to empathy with your kids right now. They don’t yet have a fully-developed brain and critical thinking skills. This can be scarier for them then it may seem on the surface. Even if it seems silly to you, make sure you kids feel heard. You don’t have to agree – just hear them out. Actually, many brain science studies at Harvard (Ablon, Pollastri, 2018) have validated that empathy can move your child from anxiety, fight/flight type responses to be able to problem-solve and reason.

Here’s a sample schedule you can start with. Feel free to literally start with a blank sheet of paper – and go with what works for you and your kiddo.

The first few days of this schedule may seem a little awkward, then you will all settle into it. This structure of activities will keep you all productive and appropriately challenged. You may even find your relationships grow because of this.

Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this!