We've been home as a family in self-isolation for three weeks and it feels...kind of normal? Or at least as normal as it can feel to be staying at home because of a pandemic. Which is not to say that it's always easy or that I don't feel anxiety and frustration. But I think I've wrapped my head around this being life for the foreseeable future. Arizona schools are closed through the end of the school year so this is life until school (hopefully!!) starts in August.
As soon as schools started closing the internet was flooded with ideas for homeschool schedules and activities. At first I had fun looking at all the ideas but then quickly felt overwhelmed. Especially as I was met with resistance at the fun learning activities I had planned (ahem). So, instead of a daily schedule and enforcing much homeschool I've been thinking in terms of having a daily rhythm and what works well for us as a family. Our daily rhythm is still very much evolving and I do think we could probably use a bit more structure and improvement. Hopefully gathering my thoughts here will help with that.
I know what works and doesn't work will be so different family to family. Our situation is probably pretty unique in that we would have one full-time working parent but Chris will be on parental leave for twelve weeks when our baby (finally!!) arrives so we're both available to engage the boys (or as available as possible with having a newborn). But even with Chris working at home he hasn't been super busy since he's been wrapping things up to prepare to go on leave. Although our situation is likely different than your family's I still hope that by sharing some aspects of our daily rhythm, what I might like to change, and the activities working for us that it might give you some ideas for your family.
Overall approach to homeschool
Our boys are 5 and 7 (pre-K and first grade) and on track academically so we aren't very concerned with including a lot of formal homeschool. We do want to keep engaging them academically but are keeping expectations fairly low. But we're also very aware that at these ages they're learning all the time and that lots of playing is exactly what they should be doing. During the last week of March Dash's teacher began sharing online lessons and resources and we've been working to incorporate a little bit of that every day. Cedric has been more receptive of learning activities at home whereas Dash usually expresses initial resistance but will often come around so those are the general attitudes we're working with.
I like an idea that Elise shared where her girls need to pick three things to do every day from a list of activities such as quiet reading, write a letter, do a worksheet, etc. We could put a big list of academic and non-academic activities together and let the boys pick three every day. Maybe that would give them a sense of autonomy and take some pressure off of us needing to keep thinking of the next thing to do.
Daily rhythm and ideas for improvement
Morning: The boys are up by 6 a.m. and Chris starts the day with them (thank you, Chris!). Lately I've been getting up by 6:30 or 7. In the morning the boys are often fairly calm although there are also plenty of mornings with rambunctious wrestling. After breakfast we've been trying to get out for a family walk. It's so nice to start the day with fresh air and to let the boys get some energy out.
Going with the more calm energy of the mornings, after our walk is when we try to do more academic-focused activities. We've all been sitting and doing a journal entry which is a daily assignment from Dash's teacher. Then sometimes we do a drawing video, let the boys do some screen-based reading or academic related activity, or play a board game. It's pretty up in the air. The boys have been really into listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks (#1 – 3), especially Dash, and if we put them on in the morning they'll often play quietly with Legos, play dough or kinetic sand, or just zone out and listen for a while. This can be a great time for me to work on a blog post or to do an Instagram Live with Erica (we've been aiming to do them weekly).
Lunch: We have lunch between 11:30 and 12:30 and now that I'm thinking about it we could probably streamline it a bit. Since we're home we just make the boys something for lunch but then we are often met with lots of opinions and sometimes an "I'm not hungry!" which translates to hanger later. Maybe we should start packing them a lunch at the beginning of the day so they just pull their lunches from the fridge at lunch. There's usually less complaining this way. Or we could pack their lunches a few days per week and perhaps two days per week they should make their own lunches?
Rest time: After lunch we have an hour of quiet rest time and we have pretty good success. One thing we need to do is restock our rest time snacks (treats like fruit gummies or little packs of cookies that they earn for a good rest time) to incentivize rest time again. For rest time we'll put a Harry Potter audiobook on for them on our bluetooth speakers and let each of them listen to one in their separate rest time spaces.
Afternoon: Our afternoons are where we have the least structure which isn't a bad thing but I'm wondering if having some would help us all. The boys are getting more likely to be rambunctious as the day goes on and also tend to bicker around this time. We usually try to get outside in the backyard where they can play tether ball but sometimes that just results in fighting about the rules. I think it would help if we had other outside activities such as messy fun like shaving cream, baking soda volcanoes, and the like (your ideas welcome!). Pretty soon it will be warm enough to turn on the hose in the backyard and do water play.
During the afternoon if the boys are playing well Chris might take some time to practice violin or work on a woodworking project and I might work on a blog post. But sometimes the afternoons also feel like constant demands and bickering from the boys.
Evening: We eat dinner around 5:30 or 6 p.m. so we might be prepping dinner as early as 4:30 p.m. We don't have any specific activities around this time other than Chris or I figuring out what to have for dinner and playing with/refereeing between the boys depending on how the day is going. Our grocery shopping and meal planning has been upended with me not eating dinner at the end of pregnancy plus grocery shopping being so inconsistent with the pandemic. After we settle in with having a baby I hope we get back to better meal planning.
One thing that we've started doing that I love is going for a family walk after dinner. Sometimes the boys will ride their bikes. Just like our morning walk it feels so refreshing to get out of the house and to let the boys get activity. Chris and I also get a chance to talk with relatively little interruption and that's really nice. When we get home from our walk it's close to 7 p.m. so it's time for shower/bath (although those aren't every night), pajamas, brushing teeth, and bedtime.
And that's generally what our days have been looking like. One thing I've noticed is that "investing" in engagement with the boys really helps in getting independent play from them later. But it can also be hard because they don't always let us have uninterrupted time to ourselves so then I'm not in the best mindset to engage with them. Another thing I'd like to do more of with them is to spend individual time with them. They always play so well together after being apart at school all day. And now we're all together...all day long.
These are some of the activities for the boys that are working for us right now. Prior to being at home full time we did not do any consistent screen time with the boys. We would occasionally watch a movie as a family or let them watch some episodes of shows but those were fairly rare. We're letting the boys watch movies and shows a bit more often now but mostly we're trying to use screen time for instruction or engagement.
+ Legos. We have a ton of Legos. Honestly more than I'd like to have but if we only have some of them out at any one time I can maintain my sanity. If we put all the Legos away in the attic for a few weeks then when we bring out a few bins we get several days of play from them. We've also bought the boys new Lego sets recently including the Harry Potter quidditch pitch and Hogwarts castle (although I suspect Chris might have bought this more for himself, haha).
+ Baking soda volcanoes. I set the boys up outside with baking pans, small containers, baking soda, dish soap, food coloring, and squirt bottles of vinegar.
+ Chalk obstacle course. Our neighbors created an awesome chalk obstacle course down our street and the boys love to do it on our family walks. We should make one of our own to share with the neighborhood.
+ Family walks. Morning and evening, so good for everyone!
+ Tether ball. Dash is obsessed with playing tether ball at school so we set up tether ball at our house! Chris used Quickcrete for the base and the tether ball pole itself can be removed from the base so we don't always have to have a pole in the backyard.
+ Audiobooks. As I mentioned it's pretty much exclusively Harry Potter around here right now. Maybe we can get them to venture out but if we're only going to listen to one story this is about as good as it gets!
+ Podcasts. Our favorites are still Circle Round (you can print out coloring pages for each story) and Story Pirates. Others that we have loved if you haven't tried them are Molly of Denali, Becoming Mother Nature, and Young Ben Franklin. What other kids podcasts are you loving that we could get into? I love the narrative fiction ones.
+ Board games. We bought Clue Jr. and Monopoly Jr. recently and they have been big hits with the boys (the currently listing price of $37 is WAY more than we paid for these! Must be in high demand). For Clue Jr. it works best if Cedric plays on a team with one of us but he can play Monopoly on his own. Dash can play both games really well and it's so fun to be playing more advanced family games.
+ Pretend play. Depending on the day the boys can get into the flow of pretend play together and it's THE BEST. Letting them take all the pillows off the couch or build a massive fort helps things along.
+ Epic! Books. Audiobooks, books to read on the computer, and videos including topics like "how to make the best paper airplane." Dash's teacher sent us a link for a free account and both boys have been enjoying it. The website says if your school is closed you should be able to get free access.
+ Art for Kids Hub. We've really enjoyed doing these videos as a family.
+ Cosmic Kids Yoga. These are so clever but unfortunately I think I love these videos more than the boys do but sometimes I can get them to do one.
+ Brain Pop Jr. We haven't used this yet but just signed up after Dash's teacher sent the information. It looks like it offers a variety of learning activities.
+ The Magic School Bus episodes via Netflix. One day when I had a midwife appointment and Chris has conference calls I set the boys up to watch The Magic School bus for a couple of hours. I remember loving these books and episodes when I was little. I felt zero guilt about them watching it.
What's working and not working for you right now with activities and a family schedule?