Strategies for Staying Sane While Staying Home

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

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This article originally appeared on the ASCD InService blog and is reprinted with permission.

Social distancing. Stay-in ordinances. Home schooling. Experiences many of us never thought we would be living at the beginning of 2020. Now, the “new normal,” at least for the near future, involves students of all ages at home all day and parents trying to move their work to a virtual format. Managing the stress of change is a lot, but trying to do it while entertaining a kindergartner or overseeing a high-schooler’s online activities is enough to ramp up anyone’s stress level.

Just as businesses are trying to figure out how to sustain their work by renegotiating how to run the corporate world, so too must parents and caregivers renegotiate how things are done at home.

  • Allow for different sleep/work schedules.Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, emphasizes that different people have different circadian rhythms, and our typical school days don’t really coincide with those rhythms. If someone is an early riser or a night owl, both are acceptable as long as it works with the family’s overall schedule. Working at home can allow some parents to do their best work early in the morning as children sleep in. As long as there is an agreed-upon schedule so that sleeping in doesn’t become a day in bed, different schedules may be a blessing in disguise.
  • Be flexible but relatively consistent.Decide what time everyone in the house needs to be up, but remember that it’s OK to start later than a typical workday or school day (e.g. 10 a.m.). Engage your children in creating their own schedules by using index cards or post-it notes. Use one card per hour-long activity (or shorter times for younger children). They may have four cards with “schoolwork,” two cards with “TV/gaming,” one card with “Be outside,” one card with “Walk dog/chores,” and one card with “Reading.” Some may be used daily while others may be used only on certain days. Have children create their daily card schedules on the previous day for the following one, deciding what time each event will occur. This enables them to have choice and voice. By doing it the day before, parents and caregivers won’t have to spend time negotiating when exactly to walk the dog or how many hours to allot for the TV.

  • Stay physically healthy. We all know exercise and nutrition are important, especially during a pandemic. Create a gym in the garage or schedule times to take a walk outside together or alone. Online PE sessions might be helpful; PE teacher Joe Wicks  has a YouTube channel with free workouts. Embedding academics into regular activities also makes learning more manageable. Teach math and healthy eating through recipes and have older children be responsible for making dinner one night a week (with help at first). Figure out weekly meal menus together. Challenge children to a scavenger hunt of the pantry and research new recipes online, giving certain parental parameters (e.g., “It has to be healthy and tasty and include at least one vegetable”).
  • Stay mentally healthy. Everyone needs brain breaks, but it can be frustrating to work while someone near you is watching TV or working on a puzzle. Have a dedicated area for brain breaks. Kids will need to know what the parameters are (how long, how loud, where, what’s allowed). In 2012, USC professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues demonstrated that even when our brains are resting, they aren’t idle. They recommend constructive internal reflection in addition to external attention. Brain breaks can be active (jumping jacks, kicking the soccer ball) or passive (writing in a journal, reading, coloring); they can be short (2 minutes) or longer (20 minutes). Note: Parents need brain breaks too. Don’t feel guilty—this is research-based!

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Wendy W. Murawski is the executive director and Eisner Endowed Chair of the Center for Teaching and Learning at California State University, Northridge, and a professor of special education.