How to Keep Kids’ Brains Sharp During Quarantine

A young boy does his homework at the kitchen table
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Coronavirus outbreak has many children quarantined at home with their parents as schools and day care centers are closed across the country. Our kids’ social lives, usually full of events with friends like birthday parties, sports and play dates, have suddenly come to a halt. What now? We’ll help you navigate this new time.

Infographic: Keep Kids' Brains Sharp in Quarantine

School at Home During Quarantine

For many students, remote learning is continuing in one way or another. Schools are taking various approaches to education during this time of closure.

Some are implementing e-learning, particularly colleges that have moved to online instruction for the rest of the semester. But this can be more difficult to implement for elementary age children, who may not have a device at home to use for online education.

Some districts have provided devices for children to take home. Other schools have sent kids home with a box of physical schoolwork in the form of worksheets, books and activities.

For toddlers and preschool-age children, you may be on your own trying to entertain and enrich their days. To make it more difficult, many families are juggling remote work with caring for young children or supervising remote learning with older kids.

But don’t despair. Whether you’re helping your child with their schoolwork online or creating it all from scratch, you can keep kids engaged and their brains sharp using some tips and ideas from homeschoolers and getting creative.

Allow for Transition Time

If possible, give your kids the first few days to a week to adjust to this new reality. We are in unprecedented times, and they may have worries and concerns about coronavirus and its effect on their lives — and the quarantine itself.

Talk with them, answering their questions honestly and calmly without overloading them with information. Reassure them that coronavirus is generally mild in children. And if their schedules and yours allow, let them decompress for a few days and do whatever they want, including overindulging a bit in screen time (but not the news, which may only fuel their anxiety).

Develop a Schedule for Your Days

After the initial adjustment period, life will feel more normal if you stick to a routine. Use the first few days while everyone is unwinding to brainstorm some ideas for a schedule that works. Don’t be afraid to adjust the schedule as needed.

There are many sample schedules being circulated online. The Khan Academy has published some that span a wide range of ages. Here is a sample schedule:

  • 7 am to 7:30 am — Wake up, eat breakfast
  • 8 am to 8:30 am — Get ready for the day (put on clothes, make beds), free play
  • 8:30 am to 9:30 am — Reading
  • 9:30 am to 10 am — Reach out to friends and family by phone or video chat, snack (if needed)
  • 10 am to 11 am — School learning activity • 11 am to noon — Creative play
  • Noon to 12:30 pm — Lunch
  • 12:30 to 1 pm — Get outside
  • 1 pm to 2 pm — School learning activity
  • 2 pm to 2:30 pm — Creative play with a snack (if needed)
  • 2:30 pm to 3 pm — Reading
  • (For younger children: 1 pm to 3pm — Nap/quiet time)
  • 3 pm to 4 pm — Get outside • 4 pm to 4:30 pm — Free electronics/TV time
  • 4:30 pm to 5 pm — Stretching/exercise
  • 5pm to bedtime — Dinner, family time, bath, reading, bedtime

Make sure to include a walk outdoors at least once a day and plenty of time outside getting fresh air, making sure to stay at least six feet away from other people. Consider a designated social connection time each day when they can video chat with friends and family.

You will not need to schedule as many hours of school as your kids usually have, as homeschooling allows for work to be completed in a more time-efficient manner. To break up the schoolwork, schedule less structured enrichment time like art, music and other fun activities.

Maintain your usual household rules. This will give your kids a sense of normalcy and help reassure them that some things have remained the same. Summarize the rules below the schedule as a reminder.

Post the schedule somewhere everyone will see it, or write it on a whiteboard. You can even enlist your kids’ help in setting the schedule. It helps ease their anxiety when kids are engaged in developing solutions.

Find Online Alternatives for In-Person Activities

Your kids may have taken acting classes or gone to music lessons weekly. Some instructors are setting up online classes, streaming at a specific time, so that their students can continue learning.

Even if your children’s classes are not going online, see if you can find a different online class for them to take instead. Many of these alternatives are being made available as teachers themselves are quarantined and unable to offer classes in person.

Be Realistic

Don’t set your expectations too high — you don’t want to burn yourself out trying to do too much. Realize that there are a lot of stresses for families right now. That will limit how much focused time your kids can give to learning.

Doing the best you can is good enough. Focusing on quality time together and staying calm and grounded is the most important thing you can do to get through this time.

Spend Time Outdoors

Getting fresh air and exercise every day is very important to keeping your kids mentally engaged. Taking walks in the neighborhood can be a simple, safe way to make this happen.

While you walk, talk with your kids about whatever catches their attention. If they’re younger, you can narrate what they’re doing and name and describe objects. For example, “You see a caterpillar! He is yellow and black. What is he doing? He is crawling.”

Become a Bookworm

Now is a great time to rediscover books! The American Academy of Pediatrics says that reading together strengthens your bond with your children and helps their development. Not only can you put reading into your evening or bedtime schedule, but you can also find time throughout the day to read together.

Most libraries offer the option to sign in online to download e-books. Check with your local library to find out how to access e-books in your area.

Get Creative With Activities

Check out the many online resources that are available and free at this time. Many of these resources already exist for the homeschooling community.

Let your children help pick things that they want to do, and be sure you ask them what they’re interested in. If you have the flexibility, consider setting up learning projects that help them explore a topic of interest more deeply. Kids are more motivated when they can follow their own passions and interests.

Getting hands-on can also help kids’ motivation. Educators say that a creative project that allows your child to explore a subject in a hands-on way can deeply enhance learning. For example, to study history, ask your child to interview family members and put together the family story.

Help Them Express Themselves

Make sure to schedule some time for creative activities like making art, listening to music and journaling. Giving kids an outlet for expressing their feelings in healthy ways can help them feel better through this big disruption to their lives.

Some schedule ideas include a coronavirus journal time when kids can write about their feelings about COVID-19 and all the ways their lives have changed because of it. Again, this can help them process their emotions and deal with the stress.

Use What You Have for Supplies

Raid the wrapping paper bin and dig into your closets to find items that can be used for craft activities with your kids. Wrapping paper can be used for origami and many other kinds of paper crafts.

Cardboard boxes are very versatile, and can be used to create cars, airplanes, animals and so much more. Simple household items like shaving cream and rice can be used for sensory play.

Keep Kids Occupied While You Work

Working from home while also caring for your children is not an easy task, but it’s easier the older your children are. While screens can keep kids occupied for hours, too much screen time will hamper their language and cognitive development.

Some engaging ideas for things they may be able to do on their own include:

  • Building with blocks, Legos or magnetic tiles
  • Drawing with crayons, markers and colored pencils
  • Listening to audiobooks
  • Playing with playdough
  • Pretending to cook, or other imaginative play with dolls and stuffed animals

Another tip is to be flexible with your work hours, if you can. If you have a spouse or partner, work when they are not working and trade off childcare duties. Wake up extra early and get in a few hours while your children sleep, or put in time in the evenings after they go to bed. Get creative and stay flexible and you will get more done than you might think.

Helping You Juggle

You’re wearing many hats right now, and we’re here to help. For more ideas for how to get through a quarantine at home with your children, please visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub.

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