New Routines for Families at Home

Family eating together

I have been home with my family and practicing social distancing and isolation for months now. Like most people I know, we’ve gone through some extreme emotions and have had varying degrees of success when it comes to how we are all navigating this uncharted territory.

One thing I’ve realized is that, while being flexible is key to getting through the day, sticking to a basic schedule not only helps my kids anticipate what is next, it helps me, too. As we progress through this time, here are some ideas to support you as you navigate new routines for yourself and your family.

Child looking out the window

  1. Create structure. In the classroom, I always created a daily schedule with simple visuals to help my students look ahead and prepare for the day. As a parent, I have used schedules to help establish daily routines for my children. When my older son was two years old, I created a bedtime schedule for him; now, at almost four years old, he still likes referring to it most evenings.

    When I realized that we might be at home and without the structure of our normal day-to-day activities and school schedule, I decided to create a loose plan to use during the week. My first version of this included a lot of snack breaks and unstructured time! Over the weeks, we have shifted into a routine that still reserves plenty of time for snacks and meals, but that also includes open-ended spots for art, indoor and outdoor play, and daily walks.

    While it may seem excessive to use a schedule for your child’s daily activities, I’ve found that it really does create a daily rhythm and a predictable routine for myself and my family. Structure, even loose structure, can help you feel less stressed about deciding what to do next. Setting day-to-day expectations (for example, we always do schoolwork from 9 to 11 a.m., or we always eat lunch at noon) can create a sense of continuity and flow throughout the week.

    Having a schedule also ensures that we stick to routine habits that can be easy to let slide, such as getting dressed after breakfast, leaving the house (even just for a quick walk around the block!), and eating meals at the same time together. My favorite part of our new normal is sharing our daily highs and lows during dinner. Even my almost two-year-old participates! This practice is a great way to keep things in perspective while bonding as a family.
  2. Be flexible. While a schedule is great, be sure to remain flexible, too! For example, pre-quarantine, my children would only watch movies or TV shows once or twice a week. Since shelter in place began, we have allowed my four-year-old to watch a show or a movie while his baby brother naps. This gives all of us a break, and helps create predictable perimeters around screen time.

    Flexibility will look differently depending on the ages of your children, your work responsibilities, and your child’s school’s expectations. Depending on how I feel and what work looks like on a given day, I might put a lot of effort into creating elaborate projects and activities (last week we made a giant cardboard rocket), while other days our art time looks like coloring with crayons. Even in the best of circumstances, we have things that cause us stress, and this pandemic is no different. So being flexible with our expectations of ourselves and our children is essential to maintaining everyone’s well-being.
  3. Connect with others. Set aside one-on-one time with your child. While you are likely super busy and doing 100+ things at once, giving your child five to ten minutes of undivided attention will help you connect and, perhaps counterintuitively, encourage their independence. By spending a short time being 100 percent present with your child, you will actually fill up their reserves for independent play time. I’ve noticed that if I am able to start my day by sitting down and talking, reading, or playing with my children before picking up my phone or sitting down to get work done, they are able to keep themselves entertained for much longer afterwards.

    Staying connected to friends and family on a regular basis can help you and your child feel connected to the outside world as well. While video or phone calls are a great way to communicate, we can all probably relate to virtual fatigue at this point. While my extended family has hosted a few group calls, we have also been practicing old-fashioned letter writing, too. Handwritten letters are a great way to feel connected, practice reading and writing skills (even younger children can draw pictures to send in the mail), and stay connected offline, too.
  4. Get active. Try adding daily movement breaks and regular exercise to your routine. Getting regular exercise not only increases your muscle tone, improves flexibility, and strengthens bones, it also supports your mental health. You don’t have to spend an hour doing hardcore training to stay active! Try using activities such as Animal MovementsMovement Cards, or Animal Racing to get the whole family involved. Integrating simple stretch breaks or a morning walk can also be an easy way to encourage your child to move their bodies, get fresh air, and get those wiggles out!
  5. Practice kindness. Remember, we’re in this together, and while things are tough right now, they will get better. Know that you are going to feel stressed out some of the time. You might not look picture-perfect baking bread and tye-dying shirts every day, and that’s okay! The best thing we can do for our children as parents or caregivers is to practice empathy for ourselves and others and know that this is hard. It’s okay to make mistakes, feel all the feelings, and then do it all again tomorrow. This is challenging, and we are all adjusting. So do your best by being kind and forgiving to yourself and others.

You might not be living the stylized “quarantine life” you see on social media, and it’s unlikely anyone else is either! Hopefully, each day gets a little easier, and we will come out on the other side with more compassion and understanding for ourselves and those around us.

By Jasmine Gibson, an educational consultant with expertise in early elementary education, supporting teachers, and designing curriculum.