With President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the early closure of South African schools as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, a new crisis has emerged for parents and caregivers: what are the kids going to do all day?
According to experts, the secret to successful time occupation is one that is used by your child’s school already – the magic of routine. Since children are already used to following a schedule, if you set out a rough timetable for the day, everything else should follow along smoothly. In theory, in any event! Remember, your ultimate aim is to keen your children busy – and learning – while you have time to get things like work and chores done too.
Find Inspiration Through Their School Routine
Use school as the framework to set up the holiday routine. Take into account things like:
- When are they used to having breakfast, snack time and lunch?
- When is the school break time?
- Divide the day into small ‘periods’, much like school does with subjects.
- Dedicate time for play
Now that you have identified the times for things like food and work, fill in the rest of the day. Remember, when your child is imagining, creating, building or inventing, they are learning.
In your new daily schedule, have a few 15- to 30-minute blocks (more or less time depending on your child’s age and play development) of dedicated child-led play. The more a child plays, the more they learn to play.
Here are a few tips for effective playtime, as shared by Time.com
- Weed out the unused and broken toys: If it’s hard to find the good toys, it’s hard to find the good play.
- Move the “open-ended toys” to the front: Toys with lights and batteries that sing and talk won’t hook your child into play as well as simple toys (think toys from your childhood – blocks, cars, dolls, kitchens…).
- Limit adult involvement: play is the child’s job, not the adults. Accept some play invitations, but don’t feel guilty about skipping others. Kids need to play independent of adults (independent doesn’t mean unsupervised).
Build In Reading
Study after study shows the importance of reading to kids. Being home all day is a great chance to increase that habit.
Put in reading blocks. Fifteen to 20 minutes a day is a great place to start (remember, that’s total minutes, not all at once. Break it apart). Consider structuring this reading block in a few different ways: parent reads aloud, child reads aloud (if the child can read), and family silent reading time. And if your child wants to extend a reading period, don’t worry too much about messing up the schedule. There’s no such thing as too much reading, and you can always save a planned activity for the next day.
Go To Break
If possible, add in two to three break times for your child to explore outside. Remember that break time is a part of school life and kids are used to a little cold and a little rain. Experts have recommended open spaces like parks over playgrounds, where the equipment isn’t necessarily the most hygienic. Or, if you have a backyard, let the kids run around there. Outdoor time has lots of benefits for kids – and a key one for you: If they burn off steam, they may be more tired and willing to go to sleep at night.
Make A Screen Time Routine
If you choose to have screens available to your kids while school is closed, use them wisely, as a parenting tool.
To keep your kids from “over-indulging” on screens:
- Make screen time predictable: have a set time in the schedule so children know when to expect screen time (like while you make breakfast or before nap time) and for how long.
- Turn it off: Follow through when the scheduled time for screens is over, and don’t leave TV on as background noise. If the house feels too quiet, turn on some music instead.
- Outside of the scheduled time block, only use screens when you (the parent) chooses it because you need it. Save screens for big moments, like when you have a conference call or dinner prep isn’t going well.
- Of course even with the most perfectly planned schedule, you will still have days when you just can’t muster the energy to come up with even the simplest activity and instead let them watch another episode of their favorite show. That’s okay too. Do what you need to do to get through that day. You’ll have your routine to go back to the next day. And the one after that, too.