Quarantine with Kids: What's working for us

As the stay-at-home orders across the United States drag on in the face of an unrelenting and unmanageable coronavirus pandemic, one of the most challenging parts of quarantine has been working parents having to cope with the loss of childcare and school for kids 18 and under (Covid-19 has also posed huge challenges to college students, but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to focus on families with minor kids, particularly those in preschool and elementary school).

I can only address this topic from my own particular point of view - and while I do want to offer some helpful encouragement and also humor - I also want to be honest about that point of view.

So let's start out with some disclaimers about finding peace and harmony while quarantined and working with kids:

1) I want to wholeheartedly own my privilege in the midst of this pandemic. No one in our household is a front-line medical worker, and as a Lutheran pastor, I've been able to lead worship from home. Up until a few weeks ago, my husband was also able to work from home as an engineer. That changed ... more on that later.

2) We are also privileged to own a home that has a basement with free space and a fenced in backyard facing an alley. For those of you quarantining in apartments with kids, your ability to foster outdoor and active play looks a lot different. I keep thinking about our tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Bay Area where Jacob was born. I cannot imagine being quarantined there. 

3) We are privileged to live in an area with lots of available restaurants for curbside takeout as well as Target drive up and an Amazon Prime membership. This has made it easy for us to access needed school supplies as well as the occasional break from cooking (or sweatpants purchase for mom). We also own a car.

4) We are privileged to own plenty of devices and upgraded internet access. My older son received an iPad as a gift last year, and we recently purchased an older model iPad for my younger son from Costco. I own a personal/work laptop, and my husband has a laptop for work. My husband and I both have iPhones. We purchased an Eero system on Amazon early in the quarantine so that our internet could handle lots of streaming, live-streaming, meetings, and kids' schoolwork. Access to these devices and internet access has unquestionably made it easier for us to make it through this time in an easier way.

As I move into talking about parenting at home during this pandemic, I don't want to lose sight of those first four points. My hope is that as America begins to make it through the most dangerous times of this pandemic, and we start to open up our country again, we don't forget the lessons of this time. Covid-19 has laid bare the vast inequality and inequity at the heart of America. People living in poverty and Americans of color suffer disproportionately in the midst of this pandemic. Grocery store and factory and meat processing workers have to continue going to work and facing danger of infection. Frontline medical workers don't have access to protective equipment. Meanwhile, many are shielded from the worst of Covid-19 because of wealth. Some of the things that make our family's situation easier (like ordering items online or curbside pickup) mean that other people have to risk exposure to Covid-19. And no, not all the things we ordered were strictly essential. 

I hope that America's experience with this pandemic encourages us to redefine who is truly essential and how we can care for one another as a country. I hope our experience also encourages us to value teachers and childcare workers with compensation more adequate to their role in so many of our lives. I hope we see more clearly how closely connected all of us are, and that we see that connection as a vehicle for good and not only for virus.

OK - tips for working (at home) parents and preschool/elementary-aged kids in Covid-19 quarantine:

I think I've gotta a decent-ish handle on this topic, as I've been solo parenting for about the past week, while my husband works out of town on a Covid emergency hospital design. My older son is 7 and a first grade student in public school, while my younger son is 4 and had previously attended a part-time full-day preschool. I work 3/4 time as a solo pastor in a rural congregation, and I also work as an author, freelance writer, and speaker. Prior to the pandemic, I'd been traveling the country speaking about my book to colleges, churches, and organizations.

I was admittedly extremely stressed out at the beginning of the quarantine about how to care for my kids and meet my work requirements, which at the time also included teaching a weekly webinar at a local seminary.

(Just got interrupted writing this blog to move into a new topic for my first grader ... time to put these tips to the test ... )

At the beginning of school cancellation (started here March 16), I was completely overwhelmed. We got numerous emails all day from well-meaning educators. My social media feeds were inundated with potential schedules for "homeschool."

I'm the daughter, daughter-in-law, and sister of teachers. While I love teaching adults and kids at church, I never ever wanted to homeschool my kids. Calling this home school made me anxious. So, I resolved I wouldn't use that word when it made me anxious. This is distance learning, or whatever. We still aren't a homeschool family. So try that if the idea of "homeschool" makes you anxious, like it did me.

After Spring Break, my older son's school settled into a more predictable routine. His teachers have been really helping us stay organized and positive about school from home. Here are a few things we did to help:

1) I got color-coded 3-ring binders and a 3-hole punch for each of his subjects. Then we have a place to put all his assignments. I printed out and sorted everything as much in advance as I could.

2) We reorganized a bedroom in our house (the boys share) to make an "office." We bought some organizational bookcases and shelves from Target online to clean up the clutter. Now, my husband, me and my older son have space for our "work" in the house.

3) Jacob's school uses Google Classroom. We've found this platform really helpful. Each day, his teacher posts a morning welcome video to Flipgrid, and the kids post video responses. On Mondays, they do a Google Meet as a class, and she even plays games with them online. On Fridays, she does a live spelling test with them via Google Meet. The live video interactions only last a few minutes. This is about all their attention spans can take, but it really helps for the kids and teacher to see each other each day.

4) Jacob's school uses iPads daily with a reading/grammar program called Lexia and a math program called Dreambox. He does 15-20 of each of those each day. It helps hugely that he's used to doing those programs and it feels familiar.

5) We are being lax on what usually was "homework" -- like extra math problems or keeping track of independent reading. Now that all school is at home, I don't feel like we need to police homework as heavily. This is possible too because Jacob does read on his own. 

6) For us, a strict schedule doesn't exactly work. We keep some "touchstones," like doing those morning meetings around 9:45 or 10 a.m., because Jacob's school usually starts late - at 9:35 a.m., and we are not a "morning" family. We do lunch around 12:30 and recess after lunch, which includes outdoor or basement play. Other than that, Jacob can pick: does he want to spelling now? When is he doing reading? His school day is broken into chunks of different things he needs to do each day, and most of them are consistent day to day (like spelling worksheets or math workbook), but he can choose which order he does his assignments in. We save bigger projects that need my help for early evening.

7) If the boys are having fun playing together, I will prioritize that over getting schoolwork done first. One of the "gifts" if you will of quarantine is seeing sibling relationships grow. So I will give time for them to blow off steam and play together outside of their "recess."

8) We do a morning and afternoon snack break and I got them ring pops for these. Most days they have blue lips and get sticky fingers everywhere. So maybe a different snack would've been better. But it's fun to have a "special" snack for these breaks.

9) I try to mix up physically active play, screen time, and non-screen learning time. I notice with too long of a time of any of these things, fights or frustration breaks out.

10) We did buy a few "extra" things for our 4-year-old: 1) He could access an ABC Mouse subscription through his brother's school, 2) I paid for Noggin on his iPad, 3) We bought him an easel and washable paints and brushes, 4) Kinetic Sand has been a huge hit and isn't terribly messy, 5) an indoor terrarium, 6) Paint by Sticker books (we have yet to try these), 7) dominoes have been a huge hit, 8) the game that is awesome for active kids: Throw, Throw Burrito

We also subscribed to Disney Plus, but we might cancel after the free period.

So far, we are surviving and have only had a few instances of bloody noses. As a mom of two boys, and surviving while dad is working out of town, this is a big win. We've also survived by finding ways to socially distance but still spend some time with grandma and grandpa outside. We've all been quarantining and are not immuno-compromised, so we decided that if they came over, we could all play outside while maintaining social distance. My parents also wear scarves or bandanas, and my kids often wear balaclavas, though that is hard to maintain with it getting warmer outside. 

Everyone has to decide for themselves how to navigate seeing family in this time. I am grateful we've figured out how to make it work because my parents were able to play with the boys outside while I led my church worship service indoors last Sunday. And it has been good for our souls to figure out how to see each other while still being safe.

Other fun moments:

1) Jacob's gym teacher sent videos of herself teaching fun dances, like the Funky Cowboy. Her positive attitude is contagious, and I love seeing the boys act out the dances, even if they pretend they don't want to do it.

2) We bought a very cheap spin bike on Amazon and I am so grateful. We also were gifted from family a baseball set in the basement and a plastic basketball hoop. Finding ways to keep active even in bad weather has been hugely helpful.

3) All of Jacob's specialist teachers have provided fun content. He gets to practice typing with an app through school during media time. His music teacher sends videos to practice singing and identifying notes. His art teacher gives them fun assignments to draw people in their family or visit museums.

4) A new development: Jacob is texting and FaceTiming the neighbor boys on his own. This is a little scary, but we did make sure to utilize all parent controls on all household devices. Parents of teens, I'm sure I'll need your help soon! Nonetheless, it's fun for him to stay connected and sometimes they can socially distance play across the alley or backyard.

5) The sheer excitement of the boys getting in the car to go to Target for Target pick-up. Fun in the little things.

6) Watching Wonder Years as a family

7) Kitchen Sink Cookie at Panera Curbside.

8) Excitement when Daddy comes back home (COMING SOON)

Some photos of family life in quarantine with kids ...


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