Annie Keeling: All together now — Family ideas for shelter in place |

Annie Keeling: All together now — Family ideas for shelter in place

Annie Keeling

Every family member is now living constantly within feet of each other. This can be tricky as most modern families are not used to a Little House on the Prairie type of existence.

Fortunately, there are many ideas to help families with current challenges.

Support their schooling

Make a schedule map. Sit down with your school-aged children. Have them tell how their days progressed through the week when attending school. Using a whiteboard, chart out one week of school with the common subjects of math, reading and writing. Then add special research projects (volcanoes, Abraham Lincoln, undersea creatures, etc.) Kids usually enjoy picking their own subjects. Be sure to put fun in the schedule — music, garden, dance, art, snacks, etc. The use of this map allows opportunities for self-guided learning, especially if you are engaging younger children at the same time.

Have a special area for schoolwork. This could be as simple as a special tablecloth that signifies the kitchen table is now a schoolwork area, or a space where you have desks or small tables set up for schooling. This is a quiet space. Youngers can learn to respect this area and olders will appreciate being able to “leave” schoolwork in a specific place.

Engage youngers

What to do with the younger children when the olders are “schooling”?

Arts and crafts: Paint, draw, or play with clay. These can often be done without focused parent attention. When the youngers need more immediate supervision (so the “art” result doesn’t destroy your home), that’s when the olders can do self-guided learning.

Old toys: Put out a basket of toys that haven’t been used in a while. You’ve seen how toys have been ignored until you are about to give them away. They then become the most loved items the child has ever seen!

Play outside: Provide sidewalk chalk, a bucket of water, bubbles, or have a treasure hunt. What if the older is stuck on a spelling word or can’t figure out a math problem and the parent is outside? Try using a set of walkie talkies. The kids will think that’s super fun.

Sorting: Rocks, beans, or coins can be sorted as a do-it-themselves activity that involves sitting in one place for a little while. (No child under the age of 5 should ever be left unattended with small parts as they may pose a choking hazard.) For youngers, take out all your plastic storage containers and lids and let your kids match the lids, stack them, put their favorite toys in them, or just toss them around. Buy a bag of assorted pom poms and have your kids sort them out by color or by size in a jar.

Help you: Get kids into the kitchen. Have the youngers help put away silverware, mash bananas (for banana bread, perhaps) or spread peanut butter on celery. Pour colorful dried pasta into a storage bin, toss in few small toy items, and scoop out hidden toys with spoons. Let the kids stir things in bowls, portion out cookie dough or crack eggs. Also, sort laundry, dust and put things away. You might have to clean up a bit of mess or refold the laundry, but in that moment, you bought yourself some time.

Shaving cream: Messy, but so fun.

Magnetic alphabet: Stick them on cookie sheets or metal buckets.

Screen time: This is inevitable for most families and extremely useful if you need to separately engage the youngers. Create healthy time limits and find age-appropriate shows. PBS’s Elmo Loves ABC’s and 123’s are educational and fun. You might also try Preschool Prep DVDs.

Do things together when you can

Age differences in siblings can be challenging. Gardening, art, read aloud, cooking/baking, and even some science experiments are learning activities that can include all ages some of the time.

Our family’s favorite is dance. You can pick out something fun on GoNoodle. It’s a great way to relieve any tension that’s built up and just get the wiggles out.

Are your creative juices feeling dry? More ideas: Play paper-plate tic-tac-toe on the floor. Or hide-and-seek with stuffed animals. Paint a box. Make a pool noodle fort. Build a dollhouse out of books. Tape craft or butcher paper to the wall for a canvas. Give the toys a bath. Stuff an adult-sized old shirt with pillows and have a sumo match. Hold a fashion show where your child dresses you up! Drape crepe paper in the hallway for a “laser” obstacle course. Turn a cardboard box into a marble run.

And, when you can, get outside. As you go forward, look for a balance between fresh air and Facetime.

How Grandparents can help

Whether separated by hundreds of miles or just down the street, there are wonderful platforms like Zoom, Facetime, Streamyard, Google Hangout, Skype or Facebook where families can see one another.

Grandparents can get involved — and even help with homeschooling:

Lighten the parent’s load. Grandparents can answer homework questions or read a book to the younger child while you help an older. Or, the grandparent could record a story and then upload it to a personal YouTube channel for later viewing. They could play a board or video game together. Grandparents could show their printed photos over video chat. Children usually really like seeing their own parents as kids.

Interview. Come up with a list of 10 questions your older child can ask a grandparent. For example: How did they spend their free time? What are their favorite childhood memories? What toys did they like? How much did a loaf of bread cost? What are the most important lessons they’ve learned? Then the child can write something for a homeschool project.

Art. Do a craft together over video chat — the grandparent could show your child how to knit.

Record a video for one another. Email or text a video message for later viewing. Maybe the grandchild could show a new dance move she’s been working on or Grandpa could film the flowers blooming in his yard.

Unusual times call for a change in the way we have been doing things. The hope is that we can maintain connection, use our creativity to help our children learn and grow, and support one another during these challenging times.

Do you have a success or challenge you have faced with homeschooling or family quarantine? Please share to my email below.

Annie Keeling, MFA, is the Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. Currently, she is teaching parenting classes online. Contact Annie for more information: or 530-268-5086.

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