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Kids at home? Here’s how to make a schedule you (and they) can keep

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A reading specialist shows how to create structure and consistency for kids during quarantine with a schedule that benefits both children and parents.

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“This is uncharted territory for all of us,” says Tammy Giampapa.

The sudden impact of coronavirus has put us all on shaky ground. Like so many parents across the country, Giampapa found herself home with her 4-year-old son, Landon, as schools began to close last week.

With her experience teaching kindergarten for eight years and then as a reading specialist in the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, school district for 10 years, she knew right away that, during this uncertain time, both she and her son would benefit from a detailed written schedule for Landon’s activities, from breakfast and play time in the morning to bath time and bedtime at night.

Create consistency.

“I could see right away that Landon was ‘off’ by being home, and I was ‘off,’ too,” says Giampapa.

“I knew that we needed some type of structure if we were going to get through this. From teaching and being a mom, I know that children feel the most secure when their lives are predictable.”

This is especially true during a stressful and unsettling period, she adds. “A schedule can help maintain some order and normalcy and also consistency to a child’s life.” And the same thing goes for parents, too.

We are less likely to have power struggles throughout the day, she explains, because the kids “know what we are expecting of them. And it helps to establish boundaries as well as develop good habits.”

Bring structure to activities.

What are the essentials of an effective daily schedule? Of course, that depends on the age of the child.

“We have a structured morning and bedtime routine. We build in regular naps and rest times. Snack and mealtimes should be consistent as well. We do read-alouds. We have academic time, but we keep it light and fun,” Giampapa says.

She also stresses the importance of taking plenty of brain breaks, including taking time to just talk. Make sure you plan time for physical activity. This can take place outside, weather permitting, but there are plenty of options for indoor fun, too. She recommends the online resources Cosmic Kids Yoga and Go Noodle, an interactive dance party for kids.

Don’t forget play time.

When kids are a bit older, you’ll want to build in a little more academic time, and you can adjust other aspects of the schedule. But one thing that is universal, says Giampapa, is the need for play.

“The biggest part of our day is play—unstructured free time,” Giampapa says. “In school now, we deal with a scripted, intense curriculum—even for young ages—and that has significantly reduced play and creativity among all ages. It’s so important that children have the freedom to play.”

Parents at home right now may feel busy or conflicted because their kids are not in school and “learning” every minute. “They should know that play does not negate learning. Play is serious learning—and unstructured play is critically important to kids’ cognitive development,” she says. “It allows them to be more creative and imaginative.”

Treasure your time.

As we try to navigate unknown waters in the weeks and perhaps months ahead, it’s helpful to have tools like a schedule for our child’s day that can allow us to gain a sense of control over our immediate environment. Luckily, our kids are resilient. And this is not the time to criticize ourselves because we think our parenting/home-schooling may not measure up to perfect standards.

“At the end of the day, I think the most important thing for parents to do is try to relax and be in the moment with our children,” says Giampapa. “We are all so accustomed to a fast-paced, busy daily schedule. Now, suddenly, we are being forced to slow down,” she says.

“Being able to give our children our undivided attention feels good. We can’t go anywhere, so we are stuck together,” she says. “In a strange way, this is a gift.”

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