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What to Do With the Kids When Schools Close Due to COVID-19

Jenn Sutherland-Miller
Mar 10 · 17 min read

A Homeschooling Bandaid for Public School Parents

Coronavirus strikes. Panic ensues. Schools close. Just like that, you find yourself a homeschooling parent. Congratulations. Welcome to the party.

The efforts to contain COVID-19 are sweeping the nation and schools are a big point of concern for transmission, for obvious reasons. Kids are germy, and notoriously bad at the things we all need to be good at right now: Covering coughs, washing hands, and not picking our noses or licking other people’s lolly-pops.

Every sector seems to be taking a hit, from the economy to the travel industry, and the words “black swan” are being whispered around the margins as the movers and shakers worry about how far the stock market is going to fall this time. While there are plenty of things to worry about on the meta level this month, with the addition of school closings the boots on the ground question is:

What the heck are we going to do with the kids?

It’s not just about how we’re going to bridge the academic break and the possibility of kids getting “behind” in their studies. It’s also about how we’re going to fill the many long hours of “bored” time that kids who are used to a life on the go and the social construct of schools are sure to complain about.

And then there’s the adult impact. I mean, most of us have to WORK, right? What to do with the kids while we attend work is one thing, what to do with the kids if our work is sent home and we’re trying to work remotely AND school remotely is a whole ‘nother barrel of monkeys.

The panic is real, am I right parents? And I’m not just talking about coronavirus.

As a 23 year veteran worldschooler (it’s like homeschooling, only with a lot of traveling as an educational strategy), with a degree in education, four kids, and a remote career, the coronavirus school shut down scenario was basically our entire parenting journey. I’m here to assure you that it doesn’t have to be an utter nightmare. It can actually be… fun.

Since thousands of parents of school kids are likely to be pulling their hair out over how to manage the sudden school closings, I thought I’d cross the picket line and share some of the secrets of homeschooling and ideas for how you can get through this little hiccup in the educational establishment, make sure that your kids are still learning forward, manage the disruption to your work life, and expand the options available to your kids.

Stop Buying Toilet Paper: Buy This Instead

My friends, stocking up on toilet paper is the least of your worries. What you should be worrying about is what to do with those kids if a two week school closure sends them home. What you REALLY need is to start buying stuff to keep the kids busy.

At our house we called this the “Secret Weapon” and it was deployed on long road trips, sick days, snow or rain days, any time we were “trapped” together and I needed the kids to stay busy so I didn’t lose my sh*t. Not that I ever did that. *cough* (Not a corona cough, relax.)

Basically, a Secret Weapon is a stash of stuff your kid is going to love playing with and will keep them productively employed and out of your hair so that you can get some work done, or just get a damned break, as the case may be.

Things to consider including in your Secret Weapon:

  • Workbooks (you know, those generic grade-leveled ones at Costco)
  • Sticker books
  • New reading books on a subject of high interest
  • An app store gift card
  • Wikki Stix
  • Balloons
  • Art supplies
  • Scratch art posters (these take a WHILE to complete… win)
  • Bead kits
  • Action figures
  • Cars, trucks, other small toys
  • Puzzles
  • Maze or dot to dot books
  • Invisible ink books
  • A beach ball
  • Bouncy Balls
  • Coupons for activities the kid loves
  • Lego
  • Bath toys
  • Window art markers
  • Playdoh
  • Dot markers
  • Origami paper
  • Bubbles
  • New colouring books
  • Fridge magnets
  • Paper airplanes
  • Sculpey Clay
  • Perler melting beads
  • Nerf guns or marshmallow guns
  • Sewing cards

You get the idea.

Buy a Mini-Trampoline

No really, hear me out. If you are trapped at home with kids, you NEED one of these.

This was, by far, the most useful piece of educational equipment I invested in when my kids were young. With two of the four being VERY active boys we used the tramp to bounce through math facts and spelling lessons. We bounced between reading and copy work, and just generally take the edge off once an hour or so, during all waking hours. On rainy days and snow days, this little gem kept me from killing little boys.

Seriously, this is the best $60–80 bucks you’ll spend prepping for quarantine.

Also: bouncing is good for your immune system. Yes, really. Adults should bounce too.

Tips for Managing the Marathon of COVID-109 School Closures

Create Co-ops

Homeschoolers know that the only way to manage the 24–7 parenting and education marathon is with back up. We create co-ops and we take turns. You could do the same thing.

There aren’t many parents who can just drop their work, for days to weeks on end because the schools have closed, without serious economic consequence. One way to mitigate that is through banding together with several families and working together.

If the schools are just closed and you’re not on full quarantine because of exposure, shift the kids from house to house throughout the week and minimize the days off that each parent has to take off from work to get through this. This will help with the kids’ need for socialization and make them feel less trapped, and while it’s not a total quarantine, a small group of kids hanging out at home (where hygiene and hand washing can be better policed) than in a classroom still lowers risks.

Another option: Go in with other families and hire a nanny, or a rental grandmother with serious kid chops who can help take up the slack.

Fighting Boredom With Hours to Fill

So, the problem you’re going to have is that accomplishing a full day’s worth of “school work” at home, only takes a couple of hours a day for elementary school kids; it never took my high schoolers more than four hours. So… then what?

You can expect to have a good 10–12 hours of TIME to fill while your kids are awake and not in school (because their after school stuff will be cancelled too, naturally). Most of us probably don’t want our kids’ screen time to increase that much while they are on sabbatical, so what else are we supposed to do?

Here are some ideas:

Teach Time Management

If your kids are ten or older, try handing THEM that time block and asking THEM to organize it. Brainstorm, together, all of the things that need to go into a healthy day: Some work (school, household chores), some play, some independent learning, some exercise, some creative time. Then let your kid decide how to get all of that in and present their plan for their time to you.

Brainstorm a List of Things to Do

Your kid is going to have to entertain themselves a bit, so stock up on what they need to do that and brainstorm a list of stuff they might do with a “bored” block of time. This is where Pinterest boards become your friend. Start here, with Rainy Day Activities for Kids.

Post this list on the fridge, or somewhere that everyone can see it. Make sure your Secret Weapon has all the supplies they need.

Create a Pattern to Your Days

At school, your kids are used to cycling through a rotation of activities that keep them engaged and moving. If life grinds to a halt at home when school is out, it’s gonna get messy. So, create some patterns for your days at home together.

For us, this looked like: Mornings for school work, afternoon for other adventures.

Get up, do chores, get the homework done, go out and play a while, or get up and moving with a Wii game, or some other form of aerobic exercise. Read for half an hour, make some lunch. After lunch, get into an art or science project. Work on something you’re interested in independently. Take a walk or a run together. Do some yoga. Play some music. Bake something together. Do an hour or so of screen time for fun.

Whether you’re the one home with the kids, you organize a co-op, or enlist a neighbour or grandparent, I highly recommend thinking proactively about how you order your days, support your support people in keeping the kids positively engaged through this sabbatical from school. We organized our days in 30 minute blocks, thinking about balancing sitting time with physical motion, brain dead time (screens for non educational purposes) with creative and inspired time (art, music, sports, physical motion), and “work” time (school, chores, life skills) with “play” time.

It really does take a village and during these sorts of emergencies, we have to work together!

Also: Plan to let them be bored and self maintain for a while. They’ll live.

Studies show that boredom is good for you.

Get OUT of the House

I’m not suggesting you go to the children’s museum or the indoor playground. That would kind of defeat the purpose of the school closures. But you can and should get out and take a walk in the park, ride bikes around the block, jump rope in the driveway, shoot hoops, scooter the cul-de-sac, run the stairs in your apartment building. Get out and get moving in ways that don’t take you into crowded environments.

Physical activity also helps boost our immune systems and keeping kids moving serves more than one purpose! Wear them out and reduce their risk of infection!

Picking up the Educational Slack: Tips for Teaching Your Kids at Home

Who knows what kind of support the schools are going to be able to provide for families while the buildings are closed. Presumably some districts will have some e-learning platforms in place. Whatever the teachers recommend for “home work,” do it, of course. But don’t limit yourself, or your kids.

The glass half empty way to look at school closures is that “kids are getting behind.” The glass half full way to look at it is, “we have time to get ahead!” Now is the time to dive into all of those interesting projects you normally don’t have time for.

If you’re at stuck at the point of WHAT DO I DO TODAY!! And, HOW DO I GET THROUGH THIS WEEK! Then go straight to Headstart Homeschooling and download a full week’s worth of plans to keep the kids moving and proactively busy. It’s designed specifically for people who do NOT want to be homeschooling right now and who don’t have the time, desire, or wherewithal to sort through the myriad of online free resources to “figure it out” right now. We’ve got you covered, immediately, for free. Join the Facebook page for more support and vetted resources.

Experiment With Child Led Learning

What if you had a week, or a month to learn anything you want? Do anything you want? Build something awesome? Solve a big problem? Get seriously creative.

Have you ever asked your kid what they want to learn? What they want to do? Whether there is a person or a project that they find interesting or inspiring?

There is a concept in the alternative education world called “Child-Led Learning.” It’s a tenet of democratic schools and the unschooling movement and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The child decides what they’re interested in learning. Parents, teachers, or facilitators then provide support and ideas to fuel the child’s interest.

While your kid is on sabbatical from school is a great time to play around with this concept and see what your child is interested in and capable of. There’s no downside, and you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll get into college, you’re not making a commitment to an educational philosophy, it’s just an experiment with another idea and another way to learn.

Maybe your 12 year old will come up with the next big thing in her area of interest.

Keep Going on the Core Subjects

School placement is determined, primarily, by math and language scores and ability. Yes, your kid is going to miss a lot of things while school is out, but the only two things you really need to worry about “getting behind” in, if you’re sending them back to school, are math and language arts.

Hopefully, the schools are providing work for your kids to do at home on those two subjects. If they’re not, or if you are worried that what’s provided is inadequate, then feel free to dive into some of the resources out there for homeschoolers.

For a deeper dive and some help with how to teach all kinds of subject matter in outside the box ways, have a look at my Worldschooling Primer for Petrified Parents. It’s a good start for all the things.

Here’s a massive list of educational companies and online options that are offering free subscriptions due to the school closings. It’s a Google spreadsheet that was shared with me… I don’t know who made it, but THANK YOU, whoever you are. (And if someone knows, leave a comment so that I can edit this and properly credit the author!)

Math

If you want to keep it super simple, those grade leveled math books from Costco are an adequate stop-gap so that your kid keeps flexing their math muscles and the grey matter doesn’t turn to mush.

Beyond that, here are some math resources that will keep the basic skills building.

IXL Learning

K-12 and very targeted to what your child needs, this is a comprehensive math learning site that will definitely slap a bandaid on whatever your kid is missing during the school closures. Who knows, you may even find it useful when they go back to school.

Mental Math Cards

This app will keep your kids on track learning their basic facts.

Splash Learn Math Games

Grade leveled and easy to use. For kids K-5th grade.

Language Arts

Hopefully your school is providing a reading list and some basic exercises to keep your child on track. If not, don’t worry too much. Building language skills for kids is easier than you think. It’s about two things: Reading and writing, a little bit every day.

If your child doesn’t read independently yet, that’s okay. Read aloud to them while they’re on sabbatical, every day. If you don’t have time to do that, use some of the great audio books for kids.

If your child does read independently, perfect. Set an amount of time that seems reasonable for them to read daily and enforce it. Thirty minutes was our baseline. Maybe this will become a habit that carries over after school is back in session!

Rather than dragging your kids through forced writing lessons when you don’t really feel like teaching writing, or even know how, borrow a page out of Charlotte Mason’s book and have your kid do a little copywork each day. Perhaps it’s as simple as a passage from the book they are reading. Or maybe you get fancier and pull a poem from a Shel Silverstein book for fun.

Copywork is one of the best ways to teach great writing by osmosis. Kids copy proper sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and more without it being an exercise in red pen and crying. If your kid can’t form simple words in print on their own yet, they’re too young for copywork. Under about fourth grade, start with just a few words to a few sentences copied, depending on the ability of the child. This shouldn’t feel unduly stressful. Some kids will want to do more, if so, let them.

If you want to take it to the next level, employ some narration. What’s narration? It’s where your kid tells you the story and then you write it down word for word. “Tell me about that world you built in Minecraft!” you transcribe their story, and then, they copy what you wrote into their notebooks. Authentically their work, their story, and written with far less frustration than traditional writing assignments. This works for kids of all learning styles.

Check out my Worldschooling Primer for Petrified Parents to learn more. In it, I dive deeper into the concepts of narration and copywork for teaching writing if that piques your interest.

Resources for Reading and Language Development:

All You Can Books

FREE unlimited downloads of audiobooks for kids for the first 30 days. Hopefully that’s long enough to get you through the school closings!

Grade Leveled Reading Lists for Kids

The easiest way to find recommended reading lists by grade level is to search “goodreads” followed by the grade level you’re interested in. Here’s the goodreads middle school list.

Mensa Kids

Mensa has these great downloadable reading lists by approximate grade level for kids. Give each book your own star rating and check it off the list.

General Educational Resources for Learning from Home

While we might be debating the heck out of screen time and phone usage for kids during normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances, and right now, with the potential of mass school closings: technology is your friend.

If your only exposure has been traditional school, you might not know that there are tons of “classroom environments” out there on the web where kids meet face to face, enjoy the social interaction and the benefit of collaborative work, without risk of a single germ being passed.

Below are a list of educational resources available online that kids on sabbatical from “real school” can dive deep into while they are home and learn a bunch of awesome stuff.

Outschool

This is a treasure trove of classes taught by teachers and subject matter experts. We’ve used a number of their courses for high school electives (my youngest took Chemistry and Forensic Science this year) but there are whole bunch of great short courses and one time classes that kids on sabbatical might enjoy digging into. Literature, art, music, science, programming, meditation, test prep, and architecture, are a few. Or, create your own digital magazine, participate in a stock market and investing simulation, learn conflict management and listening skills, dig into digital photography or voice acting. ALL FOR KIDS. How awesome is that? You’re welcome.

Master Class

If your kids are ten or older, you might want to consider a subscription to this one. Jane Goodall teaches Conservation. Steph Curry teaches Sportsmanship and Ball Handling. Steve Martin teaches Comedy. Gordon Ramsey teaches Cooking (with less swearing than his TV show). Penn and Teller teach the Art of Magic. Those are just a few samples from our personal list of classes taken. There are so many interesting people to hang out with and learn from on Master Class.

ABC Mouse

This one is a full curriculum online learning program for kids 2–8. It’s free for 30 days, which will probably get you through the school closure and make sure your kid is still moving forward.

Khan Academy

If Khan Academy feels so 2017 to you, you haven’t checked them out lately. There is so much interesting stuff to dive into. AND you could use their material to fill in what your kid is missing at school.

UPDATE: Khan Academy has put out a quick-start guide and resources specifically to support parents during the school closures. Thanks Khan!

TED Talks

Are your kids watching TED talks yet? Why not? This platform is one of the best ways to put them in the same room with some of the most brilliant minds on the planet. Check out their talks by brilliant kids and teens to get your child’s juices flowing. Or, this list of talks to watch with kids.

Active for Life

Active for Life is about raising physically literate kids. Moving is important. If you’ve got an active kid, and you’re trapped at home for a while, finding ways to get that energy out is imperative. Here are a bunch of ideas for physical games to play with your kids to encourage physically literacy and get them up and moving.

YouTube

Your kid is likely already wasting hours on blooper reels and animal videos on YouTube, why not harness some of that time for educational purposes and mandate a percentage of screen time going to brain growth. Here are a few channels that are worth it:

Crash Course

From AI to the History of Science, Sociology, Theater, Statistics and more, these are short videos… about ten minutes each, that give a quick overview of the topic. These are great for sparking interests that might be worth a deeper dive.

The Smithsonian Channel

If you have a kid remotely interested in animal life, this is a great one. They also have series on history, viral videos, women in STEM and more.

How to Debate Effectively

Just kidding. You definitely don’t want to encourage this channel until you’re NOT all trapped together in the house 24–7.

Encyclopedia Britannica

If you have a kid who chronically asks, “Why?” plug him into this one. LOADS of interesting explanations to how all kinds of things work. They even have an Activities Corner with all sorts of simple science experiments for kids to watch, and maybe even do at home.

Kids Activities

Youtube has THOUSANDS of videos with simple “how tos” of activities your kids can do at home. These serve two purposes: keeping them busy now (watching the videos) providing inspiration for later (when screen time is over and you have to figure out WHAT to do with them next!

My friend Jen is a homeschooling mama of 10, with one in university, and she has this to add:

“These are unusual times. We have been homeschooling all along, but this is different… surreal. It is okay if your kids don’t learn anything academic over the next few weeks. What is important for them to learn is how to keep perspective, how to care for the more vulnerable around them, how to keep the most important things, and how to wash their hands. One last trick… music can change the mood of a home instantly.”

No one knows where this Coronavirus scare is going to take us. This morning the entire country of Italy is on lockdown. Korea, it seems, is not far behind. What we do know is that the threat of COVID-19 is changing the way people live life and it could have a massive impact on the school systems, and potentially the education of our kids.

Odds are, you’re prepping in other ways, don’t neglect to plan for school closures and the continuation of your child’s education. If you’re struggling to figure out how to cover the bases, or figure out how to manage this unexpected and mandatory shift to homeschooling at the district (and perhaps national) level, shoot me an email, I’ll do my best to help.

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jenn.lately

Contagious wanderlust. Story teller. Dreamer of big dreams.

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

Written by

Contagious wanderlust. Writes to breathe. Dreamer of big dreams.

jenn.lately

Contagious wanderlust. Story teller. Dreamer of big dreams.

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