How to Thrive During a Lockdown With Kids

Mother, toddler and infant sitting on a couch, looking at digital tablet

Alexander Dummer / Unsplash

School closures mean kids will be spending a lot more time at home. Here's some advice on how to cope.

The province of Ontario, Canada, has announced that publicly-funded schools will be closed for two weeks following March Break to stall the spread of coronavirus. This means that all school-aged children will have to stay home for the next three weeks, until April 6th at the earliest, if all goes well. This news comes as a shock to many parents who now must figure out how to juggle their own jobs with kids needing supervision at home. Hopefully employers will be understanding of the situation, but no doubt it will be a challenge for most.

As someone who works exclusively from home, my day-to-day job will fortunately not change; however, there will be three small people running around the house, creating noise when I'm accustomed to working in total silence and making endless requests that break my train of thought. This worries me, as does the fact that they'll be missing two weeks of school, on top of all the strike days we've already had this year.

The question of how I'm going to get through the next three weeks keeps swirling through my mind. In the interest of curbing the virus spread, I won't be able to fill the time with social gatherings, field trips, or day camps. It'll just be us, holed up in our house for three weeks, with occasional solitary excursions. So what's my strategy going to be?

I called my mother (as one tends to do in times of crises), who homeschooled four children while living in a small house on the edge of a remote lake in the Canadian forest, with no television, Internet, or other technology. I was one of those four kids, and I recall the highly structured approach she took to our education. We saw no one else for days on end, and yet the days went by quickly, our learning continued, and my mother was eternally cheerful. How did she do it? Here is some of her advice, combined with my own brainstormed ideas for how to keep the kids entertained and occupied, while I stay professionally engaged, motivated, and sane.

Embrace structure.

"Give them their March Break," my mom said, "but as soon as it's over, get back to the school routine." These are school days, it's not summer vacation, and they should be learning. Stick to the usual school hours of 9 to 3, or shift them earlier if that works better for you. Insist on a daily outdoor recess routine that mirrors school – once in the morning, once in the afternoon, at minimum. (More on this below.) And definitely outline daily chores; I write them on a chalkboard in the kitchen and kids can check them off once finished. It keeps them oddly motivated.

Homeschooling can be fun.

Just as I was feeling a sense of dread at having to homeschool my kids, my mom pointed out how fun it can be. "It's a chance to explore things you wouldn't normally have time for." Dive into subjects you can easily do at home, such as reading, history, geography, music, writing, and more. She urged me to go to the library (and "beat the crowds", which I thought was funny because people are far more interested in stockpiling toilet paper than books, which I personally do not understand). But it's wise advice and I'll head there later, looking for books on mythology, science, history, animals, and more.

Read, read, read

"Get the kids reading fiction," she insisted. Reading is always a top priority in our house, but I've noticed the kids' enthusiasm rises and falls according to the influx of new literature. When there's a hefty stack of intriguing library books, my kids are delighted, but if they're stuck with the usual books on their bookshelf, they lose interest. So I'm going to order multiple series of books that will propel the kids from one book to the next, such as the eternally wonderful Narnia books, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Harry Potter, and more. I'll get some more Calvin & Hobbes and Astérix comics. Get audiobooks for kids who can't read as well. Maximize the educational benefit by requiring them to write a synopsis afterward about what they read. These literary journeys will make a time of isolation feel far less lonely, as they always have throughout history. Lots more ideas in the delightful tweet below.

Minimize the screen time.

Parents will be strongly tempted to stick their kids in front of screens for multiple hours a day, just to get their own work done, but this isn't healthy, nor is it fair to kids who deserve more of an active role from their parents, especially if they're missing school. I think it's reasonable to let them have a half-hour a day (we are in a time of crisis, after all), but only after everything else has been completed, i.e. household chores, schoolwork, reading assignments, music practices. Whatever screen time rules you set should be made clear up front, so that the temptation for kids to ask is eliminated right away. (And if they keep asking, they lose the privilege of watching altogether.)

Go outside.

The school closures are a form of 'social distancing', in order to keep people away from each other and reduce exposure. That doesn't mean you can't go outside as a family, especially if you visit more isolated places, such as hiking trails, beaches, conservation areas, ponds, parks or playgrounds that aren't busy. I'll make a goal of taking the kids on a walk or bike ride each day, in addition to their recesses in the backyard.

Make stuff.

Engage the kids in creative activities of all kinds. Stock up on craft supplies (instead of toilet paper!). Make paintings, knit a scarf, start a daily sketchbook journal, create a stash of cute pop-up cards, sew a baby quilt, make a scrapbook. Teach them how to bake cookies and bread and how to make simple dinners such as homemade mac 'n cheese, vegetable soup, and pasta sauce. Build an awesome cardboard box fort, tree fort, or set up an indoor tent. Redecorate a bedroom.

Dive into home-based hobbies.

I wrote last year about the concept of a Depth Year and using what you already own to entertain yourself. David Cain wrote, "The idea is to stop acquiring new things or taking on new pursuits. Instead, you return to abandoned projects, stalled hobbies, unread books and other neglected intentions, and go deeper with them than you ever have before." This is an excellent concept to embrace during a period of isolation. Rather than viewing your home as a prison, lacking entertainment and stimulation, try to see it as a vault of treasures waiting to be mined. Explore old board games and musical instruments gathering dust in your closet with your kids.

Stay positive.

These are strange and uncertain times, but it's important to remain positive, especially in front of young children. Turn off the news and update yourself in private. Children's attitudes and behavior reflect what they sense in their parents, so be careful what you say and how you exhibit anxiety. Remind everyone that social distancing is a form of action, that it's one of the few things we can do to fight against the spread of coronavirus, and that it's an unusual and special opportunity to spend quality time together as a family. Make the best of it, as so many other households have done throughout history for different reasons.