This wasn't my typical Saturday. Usually, I get up and work out at the gym and then cheer on two kids at two basketball games. Then I might prepare for teaching Sunday School the next day and leisurely go grocery shopping. But instead with my gym membership on hold, basketball games canceled for the rest of the season, Sunday School canceled, and the grocery stores in a state of pandemonium, we stayed home, and I started to think about what these next weeks of isolation, called social distancing, might look like.
While I relish the idea of holding my babies close and participating in a community-wide effort to slow this virus from spreading, I'm wondering how I'm going to keep my six children occupied while preventing a media-zombie apocalypse in my home during this three-week-or-more time. And while I am not embarrassed to admit that I did just invest in a month of Disney+, I sure hope that we will spend our days much more productively than non-stop TV.
All my homeschool-mama friends are like, "We got this," but I, on the other hand, definitely do not "got this." So as I thought about and read about ways to prepare for the weeks to come, I thought I'd share with you what I've learned.
Before I get to some fun ideas for how to spend our time, I want to remind us all how important a good routine is for our children … and for us. There is so much fear out there and in us right now. Our children hear the news, and they see the fear in our faces and in our words of concern. But creating a good daily routine that fits in family worship and homework, exercise, and space for creativity will bring a sense of security and direction for all of us.
As parents, we all know one of the biggest obstacles to structuring healthy and creative routines is screens. One friend purchased a cell phone jail – a little prison-looking box with a lock on it. She has older children who all have phones, and in order to protect the productive activities of the day, she will be locking up her children's phones. Think about similar ways to structure and safeguard this time, and set expectations and limits with your kids with a little good-humor to help diffuse potential power battles.
This unique time of isolation provides a wonderful time to invest in our families and even create new, healthy rhythms to our lives. Here are eleven ideas for how to spend some of that "extra" time.
1. Invest time in worship as a family.
Maybe there is a devotional you always planned to do with your family or a book of the Bible you always hoped to read and think about together. Now is the time! Study God's Word together. Pray. Pray for the needs of neighbors and friends and for healthcare workers that are on the frontlines right now. Pray for missionaries who are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak in nations that are not as safe as ours. In this scary time, when we are tempted to be paralyzed by fear, we must remind our children and ourselves that our only hope comes from the Lord.
If at all possible and in safe ways, get outside! Hang out in your backyard or go to a secluded part of a local forest preserve or arboretum to walk or run. Spend time observing the coming of spring. Find online books or resources that name local birds and flowers and start looking for them. And if inside is your only option, make exercise fun. Compete to see how fast you can run the stairs 3 times or see who can do the most jumping jacks. A family dance competition is a sure bet for a few laughs.
3. Visit a museum … virtually.
The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim Museum are two of a diverse number of museums that host online tours. If you're looking for a museum overseas, the Google Arts & Culture has a collection of virtual walk-throughs for dozens of international museums, from Paris to New Delhi.
4. Go to the zoo!
The Cincinnati Zoo is offering a Home Safari through Facebook Live every weekday at 3 pm. During these sessions, they highlight one of the unique animals in their zoo and include an activity the kids can do at home.
Get involved in the day to day lives of some gorillas, kittens, elephants, or bald eagles on Explore.org. This website offers a glimpse into the lives of animals through webcams. Name an animal and see if you can spot him or her even time you pop in.
5. Lose yourself in stories.
Reading or listening to great books is always a wonderful way to spend your time. Maybe, like me, you didn't make it to the library in time before they closed their doors for a few weeks. You're not out of luck, as your local library probably has online options to access ebooks and audiobooks – such as Axis360, RBDigital, and Hoopla. Get familiar with your library's options, and be sure to set up an account and start borrowing.
Our family has loved the Lamplighter Theater subscription we were gifted at Christmas. Now, these are more important to us than ever. These character-building, suspense-filled stories appeal to all ages.
Another resource, Storyline Online, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children's books alongside creatively produced illustrations.
6. Write an epic novel with your family.
Start with a sentence. Here are some ideas:
It was a dark and stormy night ...
She walked into the sunshine ...
It was finally over ...
There was a knock on the door ...
Each night after dinner, every person at your table gets to add a line to your story. This fun and creative exercise keeps everyone on their toes and creates a story that is unpredictable and entertaining. Consider writing it down and have the children draw pictures to illustrate the story, then turn it into an online book to look back at or even share with family at Christmas. That's Christmas shopping done and dusted.
7. Subscribe to an Educational Website for FREE!
And so, overnight, we have all become homeschoolers! Who knew right!!
Fortunately these amazing companies are all offering free subscriptions during the 2020 Corona virus school closures to help us with educating our children. The list is an education in itself! It includes sites like well known Microsoft Education and Khan Academy to lesser known sites (at least for me) like Music First and Mystery Science to name two.
I have a feeling my respect for my children's teachers is about to grow exponentially.
8. Learn a new skill.
Help your child pick up a new skill or hobby. Teach them something you already know, like how to bake cookies or prepare a whole meal, or access online resources to explore a new interest or potential hobby! One family I talked to is going to spend some of this break learning to code. I have been waiting for the right time to go through an online photography class. In these next weeks, I hope to work through it with one or two of my older children. There are videos to teach watercolor painting, crocheting, knitting, how to solve a Rubik's cube, songwriting, creative writing, and many, many more.
9. Reconnect with family near and far through Facetime or Skype.
Though we may be isolated physically from family and friends, with modern technology, they can still be a part of our lives. Set up "playdates" for your children to talk to their friends or cousins through Facetime or Skype. Have a virtual storytime with a grandparent a couple times a week. Plan a game night with another family, and while Facetiming, use a multiplayer game that can be done through your phones and allows you to not be in the same location, a game like Psych or Escape Team. There are ways that we can still connect, even while limiting our proximity.
10. Spend time caring for others.
In a season when we are tempted to put all of our time, energy, and concern on ourselves, help your children turn their eyes outward. Find out if there are neighbors or church members who need your help because they are elderly or more at risk. Do yardwork for them. Buy or order their groceries for them. Call them or Facetime with them. Check on your missionaries through email and ask how you can be praying for them.
11. Get a big project FINALLY started.
Set goals for spring cleaning with an eye toward giving away toys and clothes and anything that isn't needed anymore. Reward kids who help with tokens or money that can be used toward a fun activity that can be done AFTER the social distancing limitations have been lifted. Start a board game that lasts for days because you have the time to do it. Take apart a large Lego set for a younger sibling to put back together. Set out a ginormous puzzle that will take days to do.
There are many, many more ideas of how to wisely use these extra days and hours that we've been given with our children. We would LOVE to hear your ideas in the comments!