With school systems across the country announcing coronavirus closures, parents everywhere have been left wondering how to keep kids engaged while they’re out of school. Trying to keep kids learning when coronavirus closes school and telework productively while balancing screen time with offline activities can be a struggle.
My suggestion? Work with your kids to make a schedule. Kids of all ages crave the structure that school brings and there may be some anxiety over the unknown that comes with school closures.
Discussing a schedule and creating one together helps your kids take ownership over the structure of the upcoming days. Devising a schedule similar to their school day can also help reduce anxiety because it creates a predictable routine.
Since you’re wondering how to fill your family’s schedule to make the days go faster, ensure each and every minute isn’t spent on a screen, and maintain your sanity while trying to work from home, I’m here to help!
How to Keep Kids Learning When Coronavirus Closes School
Keep kids learning when coronavirus closes school with these 5 different topics. Each has at-home learning activities with age appropriate suggestions for each one. They include everything from having a discussion about coronavirus to answer questions, calm fears to revisiting family technology rules given weeks with no school, how to reinforce productive screen time and more! Some are activities to be done with your kids, others promote independent learning, while some are online and others are unplugged!
If you’re worried that these topics aren’t nearly enough for 2+ weeks with no school, don’t worry! I have more blog posts to come with more activities to get us all through coronavirus-related school closures but start here first!
Answer Coronavirus Questions & Calm their Fears
Concerns about coronavirus can make children just as anxious as we are. Preschoolers who have heard about coronavirus probably have some real questions and concerns about the conversations they’ve heard in the sandbox or around the snack table. PBS Parents advises to let them share their questions, what they have heard, and their fears by having an age appropriate conversation in How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus.
The National Association of School Psychologists’ Talking to Children About COVID-19: A Parent Resource is a helpful guide for parents of older kids. This article features bulleted lists of tips that are designed to give kids a sense of control over their risk of infection, teach positive preventive measures, and shares the best ways to talk about fears.
Revisit Family Technology Rules
A snow day is a nice gift where we don’t mind more screen time however, no school for weeks on end is different. Even if your schools have been shut for awhile, there’s no better time than the present to revisit technology rules for the rest of the time your kids are at home.
Over the years I’ve reviewed many cell phone contracts, guidelines for home technology use, and other tools for families to facilitate conversations about online safety but I honestly have to say that I love The Smart Talk.
The Smart Talk is designed to inspire conversation— conversation that is needed to frame your expectations for how technology will be used in your home during the coming weeks. If you need to telework, be honest with your kids about your work time. Use your schedule to block out time and let your kids know when you’ll need to work and what they should do during this time.
You can also use The Smart Talk to sit down together and review topics like: Safety & Privacy, Screen Time, Social Media, Apps & Downloads, Texting & Calling, Reputation & Respect, Online Videos & Cameras.
Your new family agreement can include one or all of the above topics, use The Smart Talk to have a conversation with your kids about rules regarding digital devices, and when you’re done, you can print out a customized digital family agreement.
For more information and a full review of The Smart Talk, read my post: How to Establish Ground Rules About Technology Together
Reinforce Productive Screen Time
This is a trying time so be kind to yourself, especially when it comes to screen time. Knowing what your kids are doing during their screen time matters because there’s a big difference between productive and passive screen time. Here are some great ways kids can use screen time productively.
Preschoolers— YouTube Kids launched in February 2015 as a place where kids could access enriching and engaging videos to explore their endless interests. The free app (iOS and Android) and YouTubeKids.com website makes it safer and easier for children ages 2-8 to discover and explore the millions of videos they are already watching on topics they are curious. For more information, including updates on the most recent safety features, visit my posts about YouTube Kids.
Elementary Ages— Kids of all ages can use a refresher about being kind on and offline and Google’s Interland game is a fun, free way that elementary ages can use their screen time productively to reinforce what is taught at school. Interland is a fun, free, engaging web-based online adventure that puts key lessons of digital safety into hands-on practice with four challenging games where kids are asked various questions about real world scenarios that they could encounter. For more information read my post: How Kids Can Play Their Way Through Interland to Learn Digital Citizenship
Tweens & Teens— So much of your tween and teen’s social world revolves around their phones and without the ability to see peers at school, that disappears. It’s also important to understand that gaming is very social and is one way to keep in touch with friends when there is no school.
But sometimes enough is enough, especially if you’ve already discussed and revised your family technology rules. If your tween or teen is taking full advantage of their time away from school to have way too much screen time and you’re feeling like it’s time to reel them in, I can help!
It’s never easy to have this conversation because it always feels like an argument but How to Talk to Tweens and Teens About Digital Safety and Screen Time will help you change the conversation so you feel less like a nag and screen time stops being an endless battle.
Engage in STEM Learning from Home
School provides structure and routine that kids crave so carve out some time each day for STEM activities. Build it into your daily schedule and keep the learning interesting by rotating between science, technology, engineering, and math.
If you’re feeling like the STEM products you have in your house won’t hold your kids’ interest until school resumes, check out my list of Best STEM Gifts for All Ages. Order a couple of things from Amazon or swap items with a friend or neighbor to keep things new and novel.
Preschoolers— Have a preschool aged child who loves PBS Kids shows like Dinosaur Train, Super Why, Peg + Cat, Curious George, or Sid the Science Kid? PBS Learning Media features ways you can use your child’s favorite shows to develop emergent math activities while practicing basic computer skills. Check out the full list of math activities for ages 3-5 here.
Elementary Ages— 4H STEM Lab is a free site that houses easy to follow activities that use household or easily accessible store-bought materials. The site allows parents to filter by age (preK, grades 3-5, 6-8, or 9-12) or topic (ex: agriscience, alternative energy, electricity, engineering, environmental science, physics, and more). For a full review of the site, visit my post: 4-H STEM Lab Makes it Easy for Non-Engineers to Teach Engineering Concepts to All Ages.
Tweens— Have a tween who likes to identify problems, devise solutions, and has a passion for solving problems? These are characteristics of scientists and exactly what the 3M Young Scientist Challenge is trying to cultivate in the next generation of kids. With no school, now is the perfect time for your tween to create their video entry and submit it! Read more about why your tween needs to enter the 3M Young Scientist Challenge!
Get Out of the House
The news can fuel our anxiety so unplug in favor of digital wellbeing and leave the house! Getting out of the confines of your home and searching out uncrowded places where you can soak in some vitamin D will be a good change of environment that will boost your mood. If you’re not feeling up to going far, here are some ideas of things you and your family can do closer to home.
Preschoolers— Discoveries in your own backyard can be endless! Motivate your little one with a magnifying glass, bug box, or by reading a great book either before or after. I’ve always loved picture books by Lois Ehlert whose vibrant illustrations featuring nature will instantly brighten any mood. You can also draw in birds who might be about ready to start building nests with this kid friendly birdseed feeder recipe from LittleBinsForLittleHands.com. It includes plenty of math thanks to measuring out 5 ingredients (cold water, boiling water, gelatin, corn syrup, and bird seed) and is also a great way to help take care of local bird species.
Elementary Ages— Now is the perfect time to plant a garden! Start from seed (I love this butterfly hummingbird mix and herb garden) or get seedlings from a local garden store. Working together to plant vegetables or flowers is a great way to practice scientific observations, learn about life cycles of plants, and also teach responsibility, especially when they’re put in charge of helping with the watering! Integrate science with reading and writing skills by having kids create a customized nature journal. The free downloadable Wild Kratts Wildlife Journal printable is a great place to start!
Tweens & Teens— Fill that unstructured time by learning something new! Musically inclined kids might want to pick up a new instrument, artists could expand their skills by learning a new medium, and bike riders and scooter enthusiasts can take it up a notch by learning how to skateboard. Just be sure to buy all the necessary protective gear to minimize injuries!
Our ability to cope with the havoc coronavirus has inflicted on life as we know it requires patience and flexibility. Give yourself grace. Be patient with your kids. This is a trying time for all of us and while you may try to keep kids learning when coronavirus closes school, know that if there are days that you just can’t— that’s ok too.