With many UAE families cancelling travel plans and reluctant to send children to summer camps due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s a long, hot, housebound desert summer that’s stretched out before us.
While this could send many parents into a state of despondency or despair, Emirati single mother Dunya Al Hashar says she and her two girls (aged 5 and 8 years old) do whatever they can to turn their negatives into positives. “Every night before bed we play ‘Peak and Pit’, in which we discuss the least-good and the best part of our day,” says Dunya. “So, while we acknowledge the negatives, we always end the day on a positive note.”
We discuss the lows but always end with a positive
Dunya says that, although she struggled with mum guilt when the pandemic first hit and she had to work from home while her children did distance learning, she also found some silver linings: “I very much enjoyed participating in my daughters’ school lives and activities. Besides the educational aspects, I was able to take the time to really coach them in terms of their feelings, emotions and on how to deal with different situations.”
She says that the time spent together also gave her the chance to help her eldest with her Arabic language skills. “I realized is that even though we are Emirati, owing to multicultural environment we live in, we spend most of our time communicating in English. So, on some days we decided to only communicate in Arabic at home, which really helped my daughter strengthen her language skills. I also created little flash cards for her to learn new Arabic words and downloaded an app help her even further. If it weren’t for this pandemic, I doubt I would have had the time to be able to put in so much effort to support her.”
Although she is now back in the office and relies on a nanny to take care of her children during her working hours, Dunya has full custody of her daughters and is responsible for all their daily needs and requirements – something that she celebrated in an alternative Father’s Day video that she made with Home Centre earlier this year.
Here, she shares her tips for keeping herself and the kids sane and happy in the UAE over the summer vacation:
Dunya’s DIY At-Home Summer Camp
I have decided to create my own summer camp, which is customized for each of my two daughters (aged 5 and 8). First of all I plot out a timetable that encompasses everything I already know: their wake-up time, their meal plans (breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner), and bedtime.
Then I schedule activities around these times – they are not set in stone, but set a good framework for the days. This what we include in the schedule:
I have scheduled time in the morning or evening, which is when temperatures are slightly cooler, for my girls to indulge in some physical activity.
An activity I have ensured to include in both my daughter’s schedules is reading. Again, this is customized to their age requirements and interests. For families that speak different languages, you can include books which are in written in different languages you want your children to learn or improve. You can even incorporate more modern ways of getting through a book - be it podcasts or audio books; whatever keeps your little ones feeling engaged. I would highly recommend looking for interactive forms of reading - online book clubs are great options for kids.
Themed Day trip
We have a theme and plan an activity or day trip around it, which we do on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. It could be a visit to a museum, for instance the Etihad museum, the Jameel Arts centre, or the coin museum, where children can learn about the culture and history of the UAE.
Another activity I have been doing with my daughters is virtual travelling. Even though we aren’t travelling physically, we tend to study about different places through reading, watching videos, reading maps. This way my daughters continue to learn about new cultures and places.
Children love their challenges! The first one I’m going to try is the vertical challenge. So. I’ve printed out different famous buildings and sites in the UAE, including Burj Al Arab, Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Frame among others. The challenge is for them to travel to different structures placed all around the house and collect points as they go.
Making Kids Stakeholders
The most important part of this schedule is that, I have left room for my girls to recommend things they feel like doing on a particular day. I have conversations with them every day to ensure they feel involved in the process. In fact, including them ensures that they stick to the schedules, as they feel an added sense of responsibility and commitment towards it.
A Special Note for Other UAE Parents
Here’s the thing - remember when you get onto a plane, the airhostess always tells you to put on your own mask before you help anyone else. This is because if you’re not in your best form (mental or physical), you’re not going to be able to help anybody else, even your kids. My suggestion is that you stop putting yourself last.
Just like I have a schedule for my daughters I have a separate schedule for myself. I don’t even keep my schedule in the same place as I want it to feel different. In my schedule, I make sure I put in time for a run or yoga.
Here’s the thing, you don’t just have to work out, or indulge in a physical activity. For instance, I’m also part of a book club and I meet with members over zoom calls for regular catchups.
Lastly, what’s important here is that, I let my daughters know about my ‘me-time’. They know that everyday we each get time for ourselves, wherein we each do something that helps us relax and breathe easy again.