father helping son with school work at home

Do you find yourself suddenly home-schooling your children with just a moment’s notice due to the coronavirus pandemic? You are not alone. There are more than 56 million school children in the U.S., and the vast majority will be out of school for weeks or months. Many parents are scrambling just to remain sane and ensure proper child care, let alone find enriching activities for their kids.

How is a parent to respond? Remember that now is a time of big adjustment for many families. Even households that were already home-schooling before the coronavirus outbreak find the libraries, museums, extra-curricular programs, home-school groups, and gyms closed, limiting the options. Start out by setting reasonable goals for the situation at hand. Don’t aim for perfection, just do your best.

Here are some strategies to get off on the right and sustainable foot.

Be Supportive Emotionally

Keep in mind that suddenly being out of school is a big adjustment for most kids (and parents). Different children have different responses and emotional needs during these unsettling times. Some children are quite disappointed that school, trips, and planned activities have been canceled. Others might enjoy the break and are excited to stay home. It can be helpful to validate their emotions, according to Dr. Neha Chaudhary, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Kids often gain comfort in knowing that they are not alone. It may help for parents to say that a lot of kids are feeling the same way and even admit that they are a little worried, too. At the end of the day, the most important thing that parents can do is to send their kid the message that it’s OK for them to feel what they are feeling. These are the interactions that help a child feel seen.”

Spend Quality Time Together

Even though many parents are suddenly working from home and have dramatically increased child care responsibilities, carve out quality moments to spend together. Make it a priority to connect with each child individually on a daily basis. It doesn’t need to be a lot of time, just create moments where your child gets undivided attention and feels special. Maintaining a positive relationship with your kids can be especially important if you are also suddenly their teacher — and it can help deter children from acting out.

Create a Routine

The daily school routine has gone out the window, but you can create your own. Help your kiddos get into sync by creating a rhythm to the day to make it more predictable. You can cater this routine to the needs, interests, and learning style of your little one. Routine is different than a rigid schedule, which might be hard to follow. Routine gives the children greater predictability because they know what to expect.

Many home-schooling families spend several hours on academics in the morning and perhaps early afternoon and then have free time. Remember to break up long chunks of academics with breaks, movement, and snacks. If you have younger children, it can be helpful to start with a song or coloring project to help them focus their energy on the activities ahead.

Have Clear Expectations

You can create goals and expectations with your child around completing schoolwork for different subjects. If your child struggles in a particular subject, it is helpful to prioritize this so your child doesn’t backslide. Having a way to log what they have done can be helpful. For example, you can have children write down the books they have read or what they studied in math, history, geography, spelling, or science that day.

It can also be helpful to include household chore routines for the kids, such as helping to set or clear the table for meals, putting home-schooling materials away at the end of the day, and cleaning. Having kiddos at home for an extended period greatly increases the amount of cleanup and household chores required at home.

Some families find it helpful to have a reward system based on home-school performance. For example, you could limit screen time to after the daily home schooling has been completed. You could also have the reward be an activity that your child really treasures, like a mini dance party, board game, or fun science experiment.

Set Up a Home-schooling Area

If possible, have a dedicated space for homeschooling where you can keep all your materials together. If this isn’t possible, use the kitchen or dining room table for schoolwork and clear it off during mealtimes. Designate a space to store home-schooling materials and projects so they are easy to access and clean up as needed.

Make It Fun

Whenever possible, make it creative and engaging. For younger children, playing educational games is an excellent approach: Make a hopscotch spelling bee, a word treasure hunt, or bring stories to life with props. There are lots of science experiments you can do at home with common household items, such as salt volcanoes, shadow chalk experiments, and a lava bottle. If your children are interested in learning about the coronavirus, there are a variety of ways to teach them. You can explore the Johns Hopkins coronavirus map to study geography or create math problems using their numbers.

Use Materials at Hand

The coronavirus pandemic has made shopping and using libraries more difficult. If you are really short on supplies, can you borrow some from a friend or neighbor — perhaps someone who has a slightly older child? You can also look to online resources to fill in the gaps. Unless you plan on home-schooling long-term, it might not be worthwhile to buy a set home-school curriculum.

Some local schools are providing remote learning opportunities for children. Many libraries have digital databases with e-books and audiobooks and there are many free online resources and subscriptions. A variety of museums and zoos have free virtual opportunities, including the Smithsonian. Some nonprofit organizations provide lesson plans on various topics. One Tree Planted even has free sustainability home-schooling resources.

Seek Support

Are there people in your life who can provide assistance, such as tutoring or reading with children via video conference or going for a walk (at an appropriate distance)? Some people are unexpectedly out of work and many people have fewer planned activities now. This can be an especially nice way for older relatives such as grandparents to stay active in the children’s life without in-person visits. If you have an older child that can help out, this is a great time to recruit their support.

Enjoy Nature

Thankfully, spring is here. If you are able to safely leave your home without exposure to the coronavirus, explore and enjoy the season with your children. What plants and wildlife are around? Create fun nature craft projects with the kids with found objects from nature or plant some spring vegetable seeds directly in the soil, such as radishes, spinach, or peas. If you have the bandwidth and space, now is a great time to get the garden growing and involve the kids. If you must stay indoors, what activities can bring the natural world into your home? Planting herbs, putting out a bird feeder, or planning your vegetable garden are fun projects. You can even plant many store-bought vegetables and herbs to create a fun indoor project.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.