Updated: Apr 15, 2020
For those of you who grew up in the colder regions, all of these school closings are probably making you nostalgic for snow days - the joy of sleeping in, spending the day in your pajamas, and running outside to play in that fresh powdery goodness.
This is not the same. Different from other school breaks, we don’t have the luxury of filling the days with activities and vacations. What lies ahead is weeks of unstructured time for your kids. As the saying goes, “Idleness is the root of mischief,” (Chaucer, 1386) and in my years of practice, I have found that to be true, particularly of gifted and high achieving children.
Children benefit from the cognitive stimulation provided through academic learning. When that suddenly disappears, they will start to grow restless. Spending the day as a Youtube zombie isn’t going to cut it for their brain cells, and eventually they will start to seek some sort of stimulation elsewhere. Then, we have to factor in the added complication of extended physical proximity to each other. If you have ever attempted a cross-country road trip with your children, consider that as your practice round for what is about to come.
Time and time again, as the summer break dragged on, I’ve seen my clients turn toward their favorite source of amusement, pressing the buttons of everyone around them. You know what I’m talking about: bickering between siblings, challenging everything you say or suggest, constant whines of “I’m booooooooored.” It isn’t a conscious decision. Your child isn’t actively seeking to drive you insane, although it might certainly feel like they are. We are social by nature and so it makes sense that when other stimulation is lacking, our brain first seeks out relationships to fill that void. You are about to embark on unprecedented amounts of family time together, and there are ways to structure that time so that you can actually enjoy it, along with providing your children with a continued sense of stability. The most important aspect is to continue to structure each day as if it is a school day.
Wake up at a set time every day. No, you don’t have to try and get up in the dark hours of the morning, but don’t let them sleep until noon either.
Get ready for the day. Everyone needs to change out of their pajamas. Staying in pajamas continues the mindset of a lazy day.
Set a schedule for the day that incorporates academic time, leisure activities, physical activity, and alone time.
Academic time: It appears that most schools have given out packets of assignments to complete over the next few weeks and “academic time” is the best time to start working on those. LAUSD is also creating educational programming in collaboration with local news stations (PBS SoCal, KCET). This is a time that could be filled with reading, educational apps, or educational computer games. While the LA County Library is now closed, you can still access e-books through their website.
Leisure activities: Remember how everyone lamented the loss of play in schools? Now is your opportunity to bring it back! Research shows that playtime actually leads to improvements in concentration and academic achievement. It also builds creativity and problem solving skills. Try to stay away from the allure of screen time and focus on activities. Time to dust off all of those board games!
Physical activities: Fairly self-explanatory. If you have a particularly active child, you might want to build this into your schedule twice a day. Take advantage of going on neighborhood walks while we are still allowed to, while keeping your social distance of 6 feet of course!
Alone time: This is especially important for all of the introverts out there, and for all the parents who are missing the quiet time that the school day provided. Remember that your self-care is equally as important as your children’s.
4. Write or print the schedule where everyone can see it. Just as important as making the schedule, is making sure that everyone knows what to expect for the day. Routine gives children a feeling of stability in what is arguably, a very unstable time. It also eliminates constant questioning of what they need to do next or interruptions when you are also trying to complete your own work at home.
5. Put away the phones during academic time. I don’t mean face down on the desk. I mean that everyone needs to put their phone into a basket or cabinet so that they can concentrate. This is a great article by Yale’s Child Mind Institute about how multitasking with phones affects executive function skills, especially for people with ADHD.
If you’re wondering how to implement this, here’s an example. I wish I was genius enough to take credit for the following schedule but alas, someone has beat me to it.