UGA education experts offer ideas to keep your children engaged
Athens, Ga. – With the closure of schools and child care programs in addition to some employers encouraging workers to telecommute, parents across Georgia and the nation are coping with a new and odd day-to-day reality: working from home while trying to take care of their kids.
The task is sure to be more challenging for some, depending on the age and temperament of children and the demands of the job.
Two University of Georgia family and education experts/faculty have a few recommendations to keep your kids engaged and hopefully provide opportunities to get work done.
Be on schedule
For starters, maintaining a schedule is a crucial start for success, said Diane Bales, an associate professor focused on child development and families.
“Having a routine that you follow helps to reduce stress for kids,” said Bales. “Especially for young kids who can’t tell time, knowing what to do and in what order gives them security especially over time.”
You could even make an activity out of it.
“If the kids are an appropriate age, let them help create the schedule, talk through it with them, and make it available so everyone knows what’s happening and when.”
While creating that schedule, build in time for age-appropriate academic activities and fun time.
Some teachers are providing assignments for students to work on. For others, there are free online resources available to parents. Cheryl Fields-Smith, an associate professor of early childhood and elementary education and author of the book “Exploring Single Black Mothers’ Resistance through Homeschooling,” recommends OutSchool, which has online courses for ages 3-18 for as low as $5. The Facebook group Amazing Educational Resources has also gathered online opportunities in a spreadsheet, and Scholastic is offering free daily courses based on grade level for students during the pandemic.
But be careful not to overdo the academic work.
“Don’t expect them to spend hours and hours on work,” Bales said. “Even at school, most kids not are having to sit and focus all day.” They switch activities and have recess and other breaks.
The new routine is likely to become a source of stress for parents and children alike, so you’ll need to build in time for exercise.
“Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress,” Bales said. “Assuming that these times of social distancing are going to last a while, the stress of not having social contact may be hard to deal with.”
So, go outside.
“Remember that as long as you are 6 feet away from others and the weather is appropriate, you can still go outside for walks, nature hikes and play,” said Fields-Smith.
But take precautions. She recommends wiping down playground equipment and quickly changing into new clothes.
For inside activities, consider a dance or cleaning party.
“Put on different types of music and move to it in different ways,” she said. “Talk about the pace of the beats and what the music sounds like, etc.”
For older children, take the opportunity to reminiscence.
“Put on music from your childhood and show them the dances you did back then,” she said. “Share memories of particular songs.”
Be creative and be social (even if physically distant)
Offer activities to engage their brains.
Fields-Smith recommends a variety of activities depending on the age group, including creating a board game from cardboard complete with game pieces and rules and helping to plan and create meals.
And find ways for your children to still be social, even in isolation. You can try daily video chats, allow them to play online video games with friends or even encourage them to write a letter, email or text.
Finally, be kind and understanding to yourself and your children, and don’t let your schedule make you rigid. And while relying solely on-screen time is not optimal for your children, every once in a while it might be the only option.
“If you’ve got to put them in front of a half-hour TV show (preferably one that’s more educational) while you take a conference call, that may be the best idea,” Bales said. “But be creative and think of other ideas as well.
“Everyone is going to have to be flexible. Hopefully, your co-workers will understand if your child is crying and you need to hold them on your lap while you’re finishing your call.”