Regardless of whether your kids go to school or if you’ve always homeschooled, all of us are entering a season that is unprecedented due to COVID-19. Most likely you have been bombarded by lists of resources, digital learning platforms, Instagram live sessions, etc. that you can fill your time with while your children are home from school. I’m so glad that many online companies are offering their services free of charge and, being the homebody that I am, I could easily sit and take course after course, catch up on some podcasts, watch musicians play free gigs, and listen to authors read their books from home, but is it really best? Is the goal just to fill the hours of our day? To just survive until this thing blows over?
How can we truly optimize this unique time in our history for the benefit of ourselves and our families? How can we remain purposeful instead of passively allowing outside influences dictate how we feel and what we think about? How can we change our mindset from focusing on all the things we can’t do, to imagining the possibilities?
The answer is to establish a healthy rhythm for the days and weeks to come.
Establishing a routine and rhythm in the home creates a sense of safety, security, and normalcy that our kids need, especially in uncertain times like this. If we are intentional, we could potentially create one of the sweetest times that our children will ever remember.
The 6 Essentials:
- Consistency– The more consistent you are in keeping a rhythm, the quicker habits will be built and the less nagging, begging, and bribing you will have to do.
- Solitude– Finding time alone will be harder (we have 7 in our home) but more essential so that you can have a proactive instead of a reactive attitude toward people and circumstances throughout the day.
- Fellowship- We don’t want to look back and wish that we had spent more time with our kids, spouse, and serving our neighbors and less on mindless media surfing, or Netflix binging.
- Beauty– the outdoors, music, art, and good literature can all draw us back to the reality that there is still beauty in a world where it seems like everything is upside down.
- Exercising mind, body, and spirit– We finally have that extra time we’ve always wanted to be able to learn that special skill, move our bodies, or study scripture and pray.
- Eliminate distractions– We must fight extremely hard against the ease of allowing everyone in the house (including ourselves) to while away the hours on our devices. If we passively indulge in all the world would have us watch, our minds and bodies will be mush when we are finally able to re-enter the world, not to mention that we would have failed to capitalize on the opportunity we had to invest in our closest relationships.
So let’s come up with a plan to ensure that when this is all over, we will come out on the other side refreshed, mind sharp, relationships deepened, and body healthy. It’s the day to day, hour to hour decisions that will make the difference.
The Daily Routine:
Here is the general rhythm that our family follows which allows for a nice blend of both structure and freedom within the schedule. Our oldest is nearly 14 and we’ve homeschooled from the beginning so we’ve had plenty of time to figure out what works for us, but even we are not used to this much time at home together! What works for us may not work for you so just remember to include the 6 Essentials when planning your days and weeks.
- Rise and Shine- With a house-full, rising early may be your only option for solitude. If it is, I encourage you to take advantage of it. Let the kids sleep in a little later than usual or work it out with your spouse so that you will have at least a couple of kid-free hours a week to yourself. Most mornings, my husband is up with the early risers so that I get to spend some time reading, in prayer, writing, or taking a fitness class. If you and your spouse both work, it may be necessary to rise early to get those hours of work done so that you can swap roles later in the day.
Establishing a consistent wake-up time for late-sleepers will be to everyone’s benefit, especially when it comes to bedtime. For us, my husband gets the rest of the kids up at 8:30ish for breakfast. Most days he also sits with them at the breakfast table and shares something from the Bible.
At this point, if they own one, kids’ phones should go in a basket until lunch. If they have not been able to check their phones at school during the day we certainly don’t want them checking them more than usual.
- Move your body– I was on a roll at the gym before this virus hit, leaving the house early to go exercise. Am I sad that my gym is closed? Hardly. It was the perfect excuse to not have to workout anymore. I am told, however, that I’m a little more pleasant to be around when I have taken some time to be active. So now I’ll be taking advantage of some of my favorite online fitness platforms (if you google “online fitness subscriptions” there are loads that offer free trials). A couple of my favorites are Barre3 ($10 off with referral) and pilatesanytime.com. Taking a walk later in the day with the kids or walking up to get some groceries are also great ways to move your body.
- Tidy up and get ready for the day: If you don’t have a routine for cleaning up, you need one. ASAP. Remember that the majority of the learning and playing we do over the next several months is to happen inside our homes so there needs to be space to do it. Once the house is a mess it just makes me want to throw in the towel completely.
For us, “ready for the day” means getting dressed (and when you’re home all day, sometimes this is the hardest step), brushing teeth, making beds, floor clean and dirty clothes brought downstairs. Figure out what clean means for you and build that routine into your day.
- Group Time– We don’t do this every day, but it’s a time to bring us all together to read-aloud from a fun history book, do an experiment together, watch a YouTube clip together about something we are interested in, read poetry, share what we’ve been learning individually, etc. Since the bulk of the day will be helping individual children with their individual studies and interests this is a nice time to foster a sense of unity and cohesion to what otherwise might feel like a scattered morning.
- Studies- If children are home from school, they will have plenty of work to do. If for some reason they sent your kids home with nothing, then keep it simple and choose an online platform like Khan Academy, All in one Homeschool, or IXL to get the basics done. For the little ones, find some simple reading activities (here are my favorites) and number games from one of lists going around. I would plan 1-3 hours for study time. Don’t linger here longer than you have to. We want to get to the stuff that our kids love to learn. Keep in mind that older siblings can be wonderful teachers of little ones!
Here’s a site with the most comprehensive list of online learning platforms I’ve seen.
- Choice Learning Time– The more freedom that children have to learn what they want to learn, the more motivated they will be to learn it. This is my favorite part of the day where we can pursue the activities, skills, and classes that we’ve always wanted to learn. Has your child been hoping to learn how to play guitar? Learn French? Conduct chemistry experiments? Learn to code? Have you wanted to learn to watercolor? Write that novel? Build a birdhouse? How to use inquiry in the art museum? (That would be me). Now is the time! My own children have recently chosen courses on magic tricks, ancient history, Procreate, face painting, Rubik’s cube, room design, fashion in history, and more. I can really see their interests and gifts shine during this part of our day. Use this time to your child’s advantage since, when school is in session, they often don’t get much time to explore their own interests. Who knows what might come of these extra hours of self-directed learning!
Skillshare (2 free months with this referral code), Coursera or Udemy might be a good place to start. YouTube has lots of tutorials as well, but I suggest that you create personalized playlists for your children to limit distractions and rabbit trails (guilty!). You can also refer back to the endless list of free subscriptions being offered.
For little ones, this time could mean setting out play dough, watercolor, kinetic sand, magna-tiles, marble runs, Legos, dolls, the recycle bin, or anything else to spark the imagination. Twinkl has lots of themes, worksheets, and activities that your child might enjoy.
- Clean up: You don’t want to leave all the clean-up until the end of the day since after lunch there is still more to be done. Set a 10 minute timer or pick 3 high-energy songs and do a quick clean together.
- Lunch– Most of ours are old enough to make their own, so I just set out some stuff and get the little ones sorted.
If teens need a quick peek at their phones, now’s the time and then they go back in the basket until late afternoon.
- Get Outside– Walk around the block, go foraging, find a new park or trail, build a campfire, roast s’mores, play an outdoor concert, do some gardening, build something, shoot some hoops, go for a bike ride, deliver some flowers (or toilet roll) to your neighbors. This is the view from my window right now. New life is blooming all around us. Take some time each day to enjoy it! It could be that either dad or mom takes the kids out and allows the other to get some work done.
- Independent Choice Time/Finish Studies– This could be more online courses/tutorials of choice, mind games (allinonehomeschool.com), reading, crafts, music making, gaming, or other screen time including catching up with friends and family. Older kids may need to finish up their school work. We had a stretch when then kids were younger when I instituted a “quiet, independent, rest-time” almost every day and I might be bringing it back. We all need our space and time from one another. Prepare a pot of tea and the kids will enjoy it even more. I usually am preparing dinner during this time.
- Clean-up for dinner: (are we seeing a pattern?) Unless we tidy up throughout the day, it will be a disaster at the end and you will either be bitter toward the kids (or your spouse), up way too late cleaning, or your house will be a cluttered mess and not very fun to live in.
- Dinner– I usually try to think: easy, healthy, and creative (different flavors and spices). Plan in the morning (or earlier in the week) what will be for dinner. Maybe choose one “helper” each night to help you prepare dinner. Older kids might be excited about taking a night or two and making dinner for the rest of the family. The crock-pot is a great option for a few meals a week!
- Family Time– Jigsaw puzzles, board games, karaoke, etc. Again, the path of least resistance is to pick up your devices. Unless it’s movie night, try to make it something without a screen.
- Read-Aloud– This has become one of my most favorite time as a family. We can get lost in another time and place. I’m a sucker for “one more chapter”. Need some recommendations? Try The Read-Aloud Revival for loads of lists. The Overdrive and Libby library apps allow you to check out both audio and text format books for free using your library card. Audible is also making some of our favorite stories available while schools are closed. We will definitely be taking advantage of that!
- Bedtime– Pick a decent hour for your kids. This isn’t a holiday and we don’t know how long it will last so our kids need their rest.
- Media update for parents: Choose one platform to get a daily update and let that be it for the day. I would make it earlier in the day so that the last thing you are doing is reading a book or chatting with your spouse instead of thinking about a bunch of bad news.
The Weekly Routine:
- Consider helping your child set weekly learning goals for their self-directed learning time. Could be to learn a new card trick, to solve a Rubik’s cube, to complete a portion of a course, etc.
- Weekly food planning- With certain items being scarce and food-delivery happening more infrequently, it helps to plan out a week’s worth of dinners at a time. This could include take-out or delivery from local businesses who could sure use your support!
- Check-in with friends and neighbors- could be an informal WhatsApp group or a more formal virtual Zoom meet-up for a book club or Bible study.
- Have a “date night”- If you thought it was impossible to go out with your spouse before COVID-19, well, we have re-defined impossible, but it’s still just as important. If they are old enough, let the kids cook and eat in the kitchen while you and your spouse enjoy some fancy take-out in another part of the house. The kids might get into this idea (ours did) and want to create a date night for you with menus and everything. Perhaps it’s just a cup of tea together when the kids are in bed, but we must continue to invest in this most important relationship.
- Set aside some one-on-one time with each child.
- Consider having one day device-free.
- With all activities being cancelled, it’s hard not to feel like everyday is exactly the same as the one before. Give your kids a few consistent things to look forward to throughout the week. Perhaps it’s Art Mondays at 3pm (when you take a virtual painting class together) or Science Fridays at 1pm (when you try new experiments). Need some ideas? Ask your children for input!
- Let weekends be what they have always been: a chance to sleep in, hang out, tune in to an online church service, etc.
A note for Holidays: With the “end of term” coming up, there might be a tendency to throw all routine out the door since that’s what you would normally do when school is not in session. Just remember, there is no school to go back to after those 2 weeks, so reigning the kids back into a rhythm will be that much harder. I would suggest eliminating “Studies” from your daily routine, adding a few fun experiments or projects, but keeping the other items fairly consistent.
When you get out of rhythm (because it will happen):
I realize that every family dynamic will look different. In some homes both parents are working while trying to help their children with their schoolwork. You may be a single-parent. You might have one child or loads of children, all teens or all toddlers. There can be no expectation of what “should” get done. The only guarantee is that something (and possibly many “somethings”) won’t get done. Kids won’t complete all their work or chores, you won’t get all your work done for your job, the house won’t be as clean as you want it to be. But we are all in the same boat. So there is grace. There will be days that your kids will just need to watch every YouTube video that National Geographic Kids ever made so you can meet a deadline. Or others when you are exhausted after a long day and the kids need to watch a movie with dad while you take a shower and go to bed early. It’s ok. We simply want to err on the side of loving our families and taking care of our minds and bodies. In the grand scheme of things, this will be a short season. So let’s choose a rhythm that will serve our families well.
If you happen to have some specific questions about how to implement a routine in your home, please feel free to reach out to me! I’m hoping that we will all have some great stories to share in the months to come as to how our families were changed for the better because of our forced time at home.