If you're feeling a little overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with the ever-growing list of cancellations, closures and other news surrounding COVID-19, we feel you. Many kids are out of school, many parents are working from home (or at least trying to, because kids are out of school), and we're all trying to stay clean and keep calm.
It's a lot, so we put together some of the many questions parents are asking. We will be updating this page with more expert advice and links to coverage as things continue to develop. In the meantime, settle in, parents, because it's looking like life, at least for the immediate future, is going to be anything but usual.
School's out for - who knows how long? How are we supposed to help them learn?
If you are like many parents, you found out recently that your kids will be on an unexpected, extended break. Wondering what this will mean for their learning? Will this be a bit of a miniature summer slide? Should you give them homework? Even if the schools provide online learning options, will you be able to wrangle them to the computer each day (if you even have a computer)?
Melanie Auerbach, the director of student support at the Sheridan School in the District, has some ideas about how to keep the kids on track during the hiatus. Her main advice? Make a schedule and stick to it.
"Summer brain is a lack of a schedule, a routine, sleep," Auerbach says. "They don't forget how to read. . . . They've forgotten how to do school. After winter break, when kids come back, they need a week to reset. After daylight saving time, they need a week to reset. A change in their regular routine makes a big difference."
So although it is important to keep up with any work your child's school has sent home for the break, either online or on paper, it's even more important to try to keep them on a routine. Have them get up at the same time Monday through Friday, Auerbach says, and keep a reasonable bedtime. Set a schedule of when they will read, when they will do math, when they will have free time, meals and physical activity. Be realistic and build in breaks, because sitting and working for three hours in a row isn't a recipe for success for most children. And although many kids will need to spend some time on screens to complete their work, try to limit exposure where you can (and yes, this could be a battle).
Auerbach suggests taking a page from teachers' playbooks to set up some basic expectations. At the Sheridan School, teachers and students sit down during the first week of the school year and create a classroom agreement that everyone signs. That outline of what is expected is posted in the room where everyone can see it. Parents can do the same to establish some structure for the time off.
"The more explicit and upfront things are in terms of planning, the more available they are going to be to learn what everyone is trying to teach them," Auerbach says. "If there is no bedtime and they are watching TV all day while they are off, you're not going to have a child who's showing up to school in April ready to learn anything."
In terms of learning, Auerbach suggests finding ways to make it fun. Let your children teach you a skill they have been working on, or look for games or other hands-on activities to break up the online learning or worksheets. Have them play and then write a story about what they did, or create a store in your kitchen or do a cooking activity to work on math skills.
"Keeping them invested and engaged in what they're doing is better than letting the parent just drone on," Auerbach says.
Jeanna Pignatiello, chief academic officer for K12, an online public school program, suggests using summer reading lists from libraries, bookstores or your school system to choose books kids can read independently, or pick a novel to read as a family. Then find ways to explore the subject matter or time period in the book, such as virtual tours of museums or cities, or discussion questions.
And remember to consider kids' mental health. "Everyone is so focused on the physical aspect of this, but we cannot underestimate the mental impact. . . . Spend time talking as a family about their concerns," Pignatiello says. "You can put all the books and supplemental programs in front of them, but if they're overwhelmed by this, none of that is going to make a difference."
Can they have playdates?
In the case of the coronavirus, kids have mostly been carriers, either asymptomatic or showing only very slight (cold-like) symptoms. But they can pass this virus on to grown-ups easily.
For Maha Mahdavinia, a physician in allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center, this probably means no more playdates for her 9-year-old and 6-year-old, who won't be in school. She had been considering letting them have up to three friends at a time in the house, but after watching things unfold in Italy, and now that she has a positive case in her ICU, she is leaning against it. "It's a disaster, and children are in the mode of transferring it now."
Outdoor activities where there isn't much shared equipment or contact should be fine, like riding bikes, she said. Playground equipment, which are being touched by children who may not have the best hygiene, should be avoided. (This is the time to continue to remind them to wash their hands, not pick noses, avoid touching faces.)
Pediatrician and father of three Peter Jung says we do need to consider minimizing play dates. "The key to slowing this pandemic down, as seen in Singapore and South Korea, is social distancing," he says. "The general rule of thumb should be to limit all social interaction as much as possible. Realistically, we are social creatures, so people are going to meet, and should this happen, the smaller the group the better."
The key right now is to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As parents, if we don't take it seriously and curb face-to-face interaction, we defeat the purpose of closing schools and workplaces.
So, how do we entertain kids as we're trying to stay away from others?
This may not be the time to ban screen time. But you can set it up in a way so kids won't get completely sucked in. "Routines will help to avoid power struggles," says Devorah Heitner, author of "Screenwise." "Collaborate with kids to think about the best uses of tech during this unusual time in all of our lives. Is this a good time to download a new game? Learn a new skill together on YouTube? FaceTiming, texting, gaming with friends and social media will help keep kids connected to the friends they would usually be seeing."
Find educational games, if you can, for your child's age group. Common Sense Media is our go-to for good suggestions and reviews of apps and games.
From a colleague of ours, who got a bunch of dollar bills: "My kids will do anything for a dollar," she said. Chores, laps around the house, helping a sibling with homework - it can all take up a lot of time, and they earn their keep in the meantime.
From Valerie Ritchie, a parent coach and psychologist in the Netherlands: theme days, like Lego day, where you dump all your pieces on a table and have at it; mealtime planning, where each child gets one evening to come up with and prepare (with help) the meal and, more important, the dessert; audiobooks; sports competitions outside, preferably with as little contact as possible, or siblings only.
From Brent Curran, who is working at home alongside his wife and has an eighth-grader and a fifth-grader who are distance-learning: "Being deliberate about physical activity has helped us all," he wrote in an email to On Parenting. So this is a good time to go on a hike, a nature scavenger hunt, a walk around town (avoiding people!), have the kids create an obstacle course or even find the joy of sidewalk chalk.
From Emily Prucha, an English teacher in Prague who has three children home from school: Two boys spent a good portion of a day creating a movie with the iMovie app on their phones. She stocked up on ingredients, so now they have been cooking and baking. (Minute Mug Cakes are her daughter's favorites.) She has a game cabinet that has not been touched in a long time and is being rediscovered. They live near woods and spend a lot of time on "adventure walks." They aren't going to movie theaters, so her children set up a theater in their house, with popcorn and chocolate. And they talk to their grandparents and friends in the United States via Skype. (Speaking of which, don't forget to call the people in your lives who really may be feeling isolated now. Who doesn't love to talk to kids? And those calls can take up a good amount of time, giving you a break that you may need.)
In the past, we have suggested podcasts for kids, including Circle Round; plus things to do indoors in midwinter. Maybe the weather is nice enough to let them go dig outside. Have more suggestions? Email us.
Working from home, with kids
Remember the viral interview of Robert Kelly (also known as BBC One Dad) in 2017, where he was on live television and his two children burst through the door behind him? As we navigate working from home while schools and day-care facilities are closed, Kelly's experience may look increasingly familiar.
"We've all been thrown into this situation where we have work, school and day care under one roof right now, and none of us were really expecting that," says Emily Paisner, a workplace expert for Care.com's care@work, a program that partners with businesses to provide employees a network of backup child- and adult-care options.
Paisner, who also hosts the podcast Equal Parts, and her husband are both working remotely for now and sharing care of their 8- and 10-year-old children. She says they try to discuss ahead of time what their scheduling needs are for the next day, blocking out times for meetings or other tasks that require their undivided attention, or they alternate days so each one can get in a chunk of uninterrupted work time.
She also points out that many people who are out of work temporarily and college students who are home from school may be looking for a way to earn some extra money. "It may be a good opportunity to match people who are experiencing economic hardship who could help with caregiving while parents are strapped trying to watch kids and work," she says. Both parents and potential caregivers should make sure to follow current CDC recommendations on distancing, though, and look into travel history and other risk factors to minimize exposure.
More on working at home with kids
Veteran remote worker Marie Elizabeth Oliver spoke with Daisy Wademan Dowling, chief executive of Workparent, who says clarity is crucial, especially with young children: Whether you promise to set a timer and check in every hour or schedule a snack date, set their expectations and know that sometimes the clearest signal you can send is shutting yourself behind a closed door.
For more on coping with feelings of isolation and that persistent feeling that you are always on duty, check out this story from Masha Rumer.
Carla Naumburg wrote this piece about the perils of multitasking and distracted parenting.
Sara Rhein's piece about feeling guilty for staying home with a sick child could be helpful to those who are new to teleworking.
Last year, we spoke with children's book author/illustrator team Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson about working together from home while raising four young children. They talked about asking for help, learning to let go of some things and prioritizing the things they value most.
And just last week we had this general advice piece on working from home during the coronavirus.
What about their anxiety? (What about mine?)
For younger kids, it is best to stay away from the specific information about the virus, says Elizabeth Meade, a Seattle pediatrician. "Keep the news and radio off when young kids are around. They don't know how to interpret" the details. Older children probably know more, she said, and this is a good time to start the conversation with them by asking what they have heard about this, and then go from there.
"It's helpful to set a calm tone," said Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist in the Child Mind Institute's Anxiety Disorders Center and the director of its Trauma and Resilience Service. "So if parents are anxious, we usually say that's totally understandable. But just take a minute and don't have a conversation with a child when you're feeling particularly anxious or annoyed."
It's easy when we're hunkering down, she said, to not do anything and watch news channels on endless loops. Don't do that. Take breaks, get outside, and make sure your children (and you) are eating healthful meals regularly.
On the bright side, Ned Johnson, president of Prep Matters and co-author of "The Self-Driven Child," wrote recently for On Parenting: "Neuroscience shows that it is adversity in life, dealing with tolerable challenges and stressors, that wires the brain for resilience." He offers tips for helping kids increase their sense of control as the coronavirus approaches.