If you're a parent right now, you are probably wondering what surviving school closure looks like. Whether you're trying to become a full time homeschool teacher or you're abandoning screen time rules, I have some tips and tricks for parents trying to make it all work during this really unusual time.
As a school principal and parent, I'm right there with you trying to work from home and parent at the same time... all while facing the same isolation we're all facing.
Hopefully these tips for surviving school closure or stay-at-home orders will help you and your family set some expectations, relieve the pressure, and figure out how to use this time to thrive as a family.
Decide What You Want
The first thing to do is decide the basic structure your home will take during this time. Surviving school closure means making this work for ALL of your family members, including you.
And I hereby give you permission to customize the structure of your home however you want.
There is no right answer here, except to do what works for YOUR family.
Don't let social media make you think that you need to replicate the school environment for your children and become a full-time teacher. First of all, if you are a full-time working parent who is now working at home, there is no way you can also become a full-time teacher. And if you're parenting solo or one of you is out of the home, you're going to have to make a plan that is WAY more relaxed.
There's more than one way to do this thing.
Start with your own personal needs as adults, and go from there. If you need uninterrupted work time for several hours during the day, your structure needs to account for that.
If you're sharing responsibilities with other adults or partnering with other families (like these folks who established "playdate monogamy") then you have some coordinating to do.
Whatever level of structuring that you're comfortable, put boundaries around the things that you need.
Don't make a minute by minute schedule if it's not for you. You can have larger chunks of time dedicated to certain things and give more choice during those large times.
Most of all, it's time to tap into what YOU want for this period of time.
How do you want your home to feel, what experiences do you want your family to have together, what non-negotiables do you need to put in place, and what do you need as a parent to keep it together-- these are your key questions.
Pick Weekly Themes, not Daily Activities
Surviving school closure is a long game. You are not going to make it if you are planning daily art projects from Pinterest with the expectation that your patience and your art supplies last for 8 weeks.
Pick weekly themes for certain areas that you want to make sure to focus on. This helps combat monotony yet gives you a loose enough structure so you don't have much planning to do.
For our house, we have weekly themes for each of the following areas:
We're Montessori people, so when we say "Physical Work" we mean the physical activity we're working on right now. Last week was bike riding, this week will be exploring our block, next week we'll do some hiking, etc.
I am not planning daily hikes at different locations around the city. To be clear: I am saying "this week I'd like to do some hiking." And then when that time comes up on our daily schedule, we decide where to go.
This may not be what your family needs-- because I'm parenting one child solo and because right now we can't just send our kids out "to play," I'm picking a focus for each week and we'll loosely stick to that.
The same goes for the other categories.
I picked an art project for each WEEK. Last week we made origami every day during lunch. It was easy enough to put on an origami video while I was making lunch, then while eating it we made the origami animal together. By the end of the week we'd made a fish, a heart, a star, a turtle, and a dog.
It turns out she wants to keep making daily origami, so my plan for this week's art project will probably NOT happen at lunch. I'll probably pick an evening where we'll tackle the Tray Chic paint chip project (which we found in this book from the library).
Yes we have trays.
Yes we have spare paint chips.
And of course, glue.
Instant art project!
The reason I like this plan is that it's loose enough for you to skip a day or two if you get busy or the timing isn't right.
And for our Outdoor Work, this is something we want to do together outside: planting our new veggies, deep cleaning the chicken coop, repotting our houseplants, etc. Yes, these are just outdoor chores. But done together-- it's properly titled a "work!"
For our instructional focus, I am providing instruction in one area each day for 30-60 minutes. The rest of the time, my daughter is doing a Montessori-style works block for 3 hours. You should provide what kind of instruction you can, but do not pressure yourself to replicate school.
Surviving School Closure Means Quiet Time for You
Depending on the age of your kids and the TYPE of quiet time you need, this will vary.
But bottom line: your survival depends on you getting some quiet time away from the kids (and maybe your partner too).
No, your kids don't call out their teacher's names every 5 seconds at school. And no, they don't expect to get into the cafeteria at any given hour. This isn't school, and you can't be expected to entertain them all day the way a school does. It's not humanly possible.
Prioritize your own sanity here, and figure out when quiet time needs to happen for you. Then, figure out what could keep them quiet for that period of time and put it in place.
We use sand timers at our house-- once the half hour timer is empty, she can come check in with me and show me the work she's done, then go back to work. After two hours of that she can watch screen time for an hour if she's completed her works.
RELATED POST: Set Up Your Low-Key Homeschool in One Afternoon
To earn the screen time, she has to do the ONLY every half hour check in. Otherwise, she doesn't earn it. This buys me two hours of every half hour check ins and one hour of quiet time. It's not ideal, but it's what I can pull off with a six year old.
If you are gonna have a chance at surviving school closure, this is the key ingredient to any daily/weekly schedule.
Get INTO Something
While all those single people are expressing how BORED they are, you're over here making it all happen. While they're taking up new hobbies and living their best life, you're cleaning up after small people 12 hours a day.
But could this stay-at-home order be a chance for your family to really GET INTO something too? Could you take up a new family hobby or routine?
After a week with this 1000 piece puzzle on our table, my daughter and I have become puzzle addicts.
It's so satisfying to spend that time with her together, both of us engaged and mentally stimulated by something.
We're also getting really into the birds that visit our porch, looking them up and trying to emulate their calls.
Use this time to get excited about something together, whether it's a Monopoly tournament or Zoom battleship, or watching every musical you can find on the internet.
Now might not be the time you can take up social dancing, but you could get really good at Tik Tok, right?
We're going to need this kind of diversion for the next little while.
Social Dates help with Surviving School Closure
In our normal world, we surrounded ourselves with people. Now that it's not possible, we're craving social time.
Find creative ways to connect with your friends and family during this time. Host a happy hour with friends over Zoom, send letters to pen pals, get your kids connected with their class over Zoom or with friends on Facetime. We figured out how to play Battleship over Zoom with friends, and everyone had a blast!
For older kids, this will happen naturally if they have access to phones and the internet. But for yourself working so hard to make the day go well, and for younger children without easy social contact through the iPhone, you'll need to make a special note to remember this kind of hyper-distant social interaction.
It can be tough to keep all this stuff straight, so on our weekly planner, we have a section where we write in our "appointments." That means Zoom with family, concerts we want to catch over Facebook, and waves with neighbors from across the street all go in this category.
When it's the only social interaction outside of your family, it's worth noting down.
Surviving School Closure Doesn't have to Break You
Listen, you do not have to make a minute by minute schedule.
You do not have to follow your child's school plan.
You do not have to force your kids to do four hours of homework each day.
You can let them read comic books and watch tv, and you can use this as an opportunity to get closer as a family, develop some family hobbies, and explore new things together.
You DO have to figure out how best to run your family during stay-at-home orders, and that means you have to consider how long you can do any given plan you come up with.
We are working towards long-term stamina, family happiness, and intellectual engagement. Content isn't the most important thing right now unless you have a kid prepping for an AP test or a make-or-break test for graduation.
Otherwise, use your best instincts about how to create academic experiences, learning moments, and family connection. All while preserving your sanity and making this time together meaningful. You've got this, mom!