Photo Credit: Kristen Morales
Three-year-old Alex plays in his “boat”—the now-empty parking lot across the street from his house.
My 3-year-old sat in on a work meeting the other day.
I’ll admit, I was a little bored. But he found it fascinating—there were little people in squares, including one with the same name as his favorite superhero. So, of course it was awesome.
But will he still feel that way in a week? In, heaven forbid, a month?
As of this writing, we’ve only practiced this new norm of “social distancing” for a few days, but it’s opened up a new dimension of child-care issues. How do you keep kids entertained and engaged all day without resorting to TV? Is it even possible for them to learn something when they’re not in a school environment? And, if you have to work from home, how are you supposed to teach them anything while you line up your Zoom meetings?
For starters, let’s talk about child care. Lots of daycares have closed, but not all—in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have guidelines for child-care centers that include the caveat that they are not mandated to close. Now, granted, the guidelines also state that kids should be limited to six in a room and that they should stay apart from each other (good luck with that), but still, it’s up to individual operators to close.
So, that said, lots of centers in the Athens area have opted to close—there may be even more, if not all, by the time this column runs. Those that are staying open have seen a dramatic decrease in the number of children coming in—at centers I spoke with, about half the regular number of children were coming. All centers are increasing the hand washing of kids and staff; they are also increasing the amount of times the rooms are disinfected. As of this writing, the Piedmont Athens Regional Child Development Center is only open to the children of hospital employees.
Of course, if you lose child care, the next option is to turn to a relative or family friend for help. But inviting a grandparent into the fray—especially if you’re a parent who still has to head to work—isn’t the best option. As someone with no family in town, I can empathize with this dilemma. From what I’ve heard, it has led many people to rely on friends and to widen the core group that they’re coming into contact with. This is not ideal, but our options are limited—we just find what works and try to stick with it.
But then there’s also a vast group of parents who are working from home, faced with the tricky balancing act of providing an income while also providing their kids with stuff to do all day. Not easy.
I’ve spent the last few days scouring the internet for ideas. Lesson plans are nice in theory, but they really don’t help me when I’m trying to juggle a phone call. Working from home is not homeschooling. It doesn’t help that—as interested as my 3-year-old is in my online meetings—my 12-year-old is moping around the house, complaining about the sheer possibility of online school. So now I’m not only juggling different academic levels, but also motivation levels.
I’m not a teacher, and I’m not going to pretend to be one. But desperate times call for desperate measures, which is why I have a few ideas about where to start.
Have a schedule: While my 12-year-old is currently freaking out about this concept, my 3-year-old is excited by it. If nothing else, it will give you a list of ideas that you can do in a day, even if you don’t do them in that order. (You can find a great template from Scribd at bit.ly/ScribdForm; for a less intense plan, visit bit.ly/ToddlerForm.)
Set up stations: I’ve been gathering all our art supplies and putting them in one place for easy access. That way, when it’s time to do art, my youngest won’t resort to the one marker he’s been hoarding (I have no idea why). Even putting a blanket down in the middle of a room can go a long way in delineating different activities, like board games, art and music.
Go old school: If you’re lucky enough to have two kids, maybe they can get competitive with a board game (unless your kids are 3 and 12—then forget it). Drop a blanket elsewhere and make it a picnic. Heck, pull the cushions off the couch and make a fort!
Go easy on yourself: I know I’m most likely to scream when I’m trying to compose an email as my 3-year-old taps my arm saying, “Mommymommymommy.” Just take a breath, slow down, and recognize that everything is going to take longer. You’ll get some work done, but it won’t be as much work as you wanted. And that’s fine.
Have other resources? Comment on this story online; maybe we can get some good lists going. If my Facebook feed of ads proves anything, it’s that we’re all freaking out about how to keep our kids entertained, engaged and learning while also staying a good distance away from other people. Surely, this is one gigantic teachable moment.