Jillian Bauer-Reese walks into her bathroom, and finds a bit of a surprise left by her 2-year-old daughter on the edge of the toilet seat: a ⅓ measuring cup. Fortunately, it’s empty.
It’s Bauer-Reese’s sixth day of working from home, relocating from Temple University, where she’s an assistant professor. Her new coworkers: a toddler, a baby, and a husband.
“I’m literally walking around the house with a ‘weird crap I found that my kid left out’ bag and dumping everything into it that I find, between working and actually watching them,” said Bauer-Reese. “Weekends have turned into workdays because we don’t have enough time to get everything done during the week — mind you, it’s an incredible privilege that I’m able to work from home.”
The coronavirus has caused countless changes to everyone’s lives, parents certainly included. In the chaos of it all, here's a guide filled with suggestions on how to keep your kids entertained, and safe, while protecting your own sanity.
With no school day, keep that structure in place with your own schedule and post it on the refrigerator.
“We’re starting the morning with breakfast and a few activities, 10:30 to 11 is outdoor time — whichever parent has the important [work] call at that moment swaps off kid duties — and then we have lunch, and try to get our son down for a nap,” shares Mikey Ilagan, a father of two and an employee at Comcast. “They’re used to a routine, so we wanted to continue that from day one.”
Go the handwritten route or test out an online schedule-maker, like Schedule Builder, which allows you to color-code, download, and print.
Break the day up into chunks, starting with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If there’s schoolwork, consider when they work best (morning or afternoon), and use that to frame the rest of the schedule, adding playtime in between. Then, define the windows of playtime (arts and crafts, screen time, “recess”/getting outside, etc.).
And have them help plan, too. For starters, pull them into the kitchen with you, and get them involved in the meal planning. Let each kid pick out a dish to make. Meal themes, like Pancake Sunday or Taco Tuesday, will add a layer of fun, too.
Board games are classic family fun. If you’re limited in options, you can tap into a variety of free options online, including Monopoly, Catan Classic, and the Scrabble-like Words With Friends. Or get extra creative, and challenge the kids to craft their own board game. Some games, like Scattegories, are fairly easy to replicate at home, too.
While social distancing is a national priority, that doesn’t mean families need to stay cooped up inside all day.
“This could go on for weeks, potentially months — from a mental health perspective, keeping the kids inside is not good,” says Bucks County Health Director David Damsker, a father of three.
If you have little ones, close monitoring becomes extra important to prevent them from touching their face. Avoiding playgrounds for the time being is encouraged by most health experts. Damsker also stresses regular hand-washing, not only after tossing the Frisbee around but before heading out to play.
You’re typing away, trying to meet a pressing work deadline, and meanwhile your 9-year-old is loudly rambling off his times tables. What should you do? Someone get the duct tape.
Navigating both a full-time job and parenting is already challenging enough, and when you lose the separation between work, home, and school, the word nightmare might pop into mind. Fortunately, there are some measures you can take to ease the stress.
First and foremost: recognize that distractions and interruptions are inevitable. If you let every single one get the best of you, you will drown in a pool of frustration.
Communication is essential. Make sure your bosses are aware of your situation, which might include reminders like “Hey, just a heads up, my kid might walk in” during video meetings and that you’ll be completely offline during the lunch hour. If you have a partner, spend a few minutes each morning discussing the day ahead. Identify when you each have important meetings or calls that may require the other to help out with kid duty. And don’t forget about communicating with your kiddos. Talk to them about boundaries, and consider using a tool, like a paper stop sign, that you can post up when you need quiet time.
Finally, remember to take breaks, whether it’s to complete a Lego kit with your kid, call a friend, or go for a walk around the house. “I’m keeping up with my therapist — I’m fortunate she has a telehealth solution — and I’ve set up happy hours with my friends over Google Hangouts and Zoom,” says Ilagan, father of two. “Parenting in general, even when things are normal, can be isolating, and we’re at the point where we aren’t even doing play dates, so setting up virtual hangouts to get human interaction is important.”
To keep your kids learning, there are plenty of free online resources on virtually every subject. Here are a few to get you started:
With doors closed, the Philadelphia School District has set up 30 locations in the city where students (age 18 or under) can get two shelf-stable meals per day (9 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday). An additional 50 sites will offer individual meals (2 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday).
All Mastery schools in Philadelphia and Camden are offering ready-made food, with some locations enabling students to take home three-days’ worth of breakfast and lunch at a time (March 19, 20, 23, and 26). Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia is distributing a week’s worth of breakfast and lunch items at its middle and high schools (March 23).
Aspira Charter Schools is handing out meals to its students at two different locations (John B. Stetson Charter School and Olney Charter High School) from 8 a.m. to noon. (March 18, 20, 23, and 26). String Theory Schools is distributing meals across three locations (Monday through Friday). With a student lunch pin, families will receive one bag daily that includes breakfast and lunch.
Mighty Writers, which runs writing workshops for children, is giving out free lunches from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays at two locations: 3520 Fairmount Ave. and at El Futuro, 1025 S. Ninth St.
The Islamic community center Masjidullah is giving away free Halal lunch to all students from noon to 2 p.m. (through March 27).
To curb fears, squash myths, and maintain extra-mindful hygiene practices, educating kids about the coronavirus is a must. It’s important to remain calm when talking about the virus and reassure them that there are health-care professionals and scientific experts working to make sure we stay safe. Be honest, and encourage questions. You want to clear up any confusion or misinformation that could be causing panic.