With COVID-19 disrupting just about every part of our daily lives, many people want to know how to make a schedule that meets their children’s needs. After all, school typically determines most of the familial schedule. With schools across the country currently closed until further notice, many parents feel they’re left holding the proverbial bill. Kids of all ages still need to fill their time, to learn, and socialize and grow. Parents need to work and keep the ball rolling while also, for many, navigating unemployment and the public health insurance market. How do you come up with the best schedule in quarantine for you and your kids under these circumstances?
Every family has different needs. Below, we discuss approaches toward creating a viable schedule for your family. Use what meets your needs and don’t worry about the rest.
Find a Schedule in Quarantine that Works for You
Right now, the internet is abuzz with template schedules for parents trying to plot out their children’s days. If you’re not sure how to create a schedule for your family, template schedules can be a good place to start. At a minimum, they provide an example of what a schedule could look like, and give you some ideas of how to build your own.
These schedules can be helpful, but they don’t work for everyone. These schedules make some pretty big assumptions–namely that somebody (one parent, both parents, a live-in grandparent) stays at home with the kids all day and is able to keep on task. That’s simply not the reality for everybody. Single parents, working parents (whether remotely or on-location), those deemed “essential workers” in the pandemic, and others will have difficulties keeping a schedule like this.
There are numerous other reasons why such a rigid schedule in quarantine might not work, which we don’t need to get into here. What’s important to remember is: it’s fine if you can’t make a template schedule work. Really. If you can use one of these schedules as-written, go for it. If you can’t, don’t. This isn’t a competition and you’re not losing points. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses (on Instagram or anywhere else). Instead, plan out a schedule that works for you, and be gentle with yourself and your kids. If it doesn’t go according to plan, take a breath, cut back, and try again tomorrow.
Below we have included a schedule that’s appropriate for elementary students, between Kindergarten and grade 6.
If you have middle or high school students, your schedule needs might be different. He’s another approach, for older kids.
Wake When you Need, Sleep When you Need
Lots of us wake up and go to sleep at designated times because of hard obligations. Imagine you and your kids have no obligations. Do you still get up at 6:00 a.m. for work and school? Why? Many people are struggling with sudden schedule flexibility right now. Yes, there is work to be done, and studying to complete, but there are fewer commutes or hard limits on when things must happen.
Many of us, especially teenagers, do not function at our best early in the morning. We wake up groggy, work through the fuzz, and by the afternoon we are burned out. So if school doesn’t have to start at 8:00 AM, why keep acting like it does? If you and your kids have the option to be flexible, take this situation as an opportunity to make a schedule that works for you. Optimize your days. Yes, you should get up at a specified time, but you get to pick when. If you don’t have to start the day with work and studies, do something more personal first to start your day right. Take a walk with your child, or sit outside and read. If school can wait until 10:00, then let it wait. This approach lets you and your family build a schedule in quarantine in a way that works for you.
The same goes for sleep. Do you or your child feel like you need naps every day after lunch? If nothing is stopping you, schedule nap time. Siesta is a practice in many countries, after all.
Create Designated Work Spaces
No matter what you’re working on, studying, or practicing, you’re more likely to do it if you have a designated (and organized!) space for it. This is why people have offices, studies, libraries, desks, kitchens, and dinner tables. Virginia Woolfe wrote that in order to succeed as a writer, you must have, “A room of one’s own.” She also used a standing desk, but that’s a different story.
Creating workspaces for yourself and your child isn’t exactly a part of making a schedule, but it will help get you started. Children and teenagers thrive on structure (yes, even the messiest ones). This means carving out both time and space. Make sure there’s a designated spot for what you’ve scheduled, even if it’s the kitchen table. Setting up a workspace is setting up for success.
When in Doubt, Schedule Less
If you aren’t used to working from home or homeschooling, it’s very easy to overestimate what you and your kids can do in a day. Although school and work might account for 40 hours of our week, we aren’t actually busy for every minute of those 40 hours. We spend a lot of time moving around, a lot of time talking to one another, and a lot of time doing anything but work.
If it feels like you’ve scheduled too much, if your kids aren’t getting everything done that has been written down, or if everyone in the house seems stressed out, dial it back. Do fewer things better, not more things worse.
Paint in Broad Strokes
The most common approach to developing a schedule is to plot out the day in hours, then meticulously fill the hours with activities. This works great sometimes, but other times it can just make things more stressful, especially if your schedule is bursting at the seams. If an hourly schedule works for you, great. If not, try a softer and broader approach to making a schedule. Don’t break it down by hours. Instead, establish some basic categories.
For example, your child you might have: Me-Time, Study-Time, and Work-Time. Each of these categories is built around a goal, and can include activities that serve those goals. Me-Time includes stuff that feels good, like walking, exercising, playing games, or talking to friends. Study-Time is for learning, including reading, homework, and group study. Work-Time is for chores, like doing dishes, folding laundry, making the bed, and washing up.
Give each category a section of the day, such as morning (before lunch), afternoon (before dinner) and evening (after dinner). Then, in those time frames, only do activities that fit into the category. Don’t try to do every activity that you can think of, just do enough to satisfy the goal of the category.
Can-Do, Doing, Done
When staying home for so long, it can be easy to lose track of the days. One way to prevent this is to use a modular to-do list. This works great with the “broad strokes” method of scheduling. Make a large chart, and hang it somewhere everyone in the family will easily see and use it. This could be made from a big piece of paper, or a dry-erase board or chalkboard. Make three columns: Can-Do, Doing, and Done. Now make activity cards using sticky notes (or squares of paper and tape). Designate different categories for the activities, such as: Social, Exercise, Language, Math, Outdoors, Chores, Free Time, etc. Try not to overload it.
Start each day with a selection of the cards in the Can-Do column; limit the selection to one card for each category. Then, let your kids choose the order they want to do things in. As you and your kids start an activity, move it to the Doing column, and when it’s finished, to the Done column. This allows your kids to move through the day at a pace that feels good to them, while making sure they cover all the bases. At the end of the day, your child will have a visualization of everything they’ve done, which is encouraging.
If you want to organize your schedule in quarantine a bit more, try color-coding the activities, either with different colored pens or sticky notes. Going even further, you can use personal identifiers (like magnets, stickers, etc) for each member of the family, to show who is doing what.
Use Online Tools to Take out The Guesswork
We are fortunate to live in a time when there are lots of online learning options, such as virtual museum tours, streaming video lessons, live virtual discussions and study groups, online tutoring, and online courses. Lots of this material is available for free or at a low price (especially in response to the COVID-19 pandemic). If you aren’t sure how to fill your child’s schedule, online resources and supplemental education can make it easy.
Looking for online tutoring help? We offer several free or low-priced online tutoring programs designed to keep your students on track and make your schedule in quarantine easier to manage.
Use a Timer for Specific Activities
For your own sake and your child’s, use a timer for specific activities. This isn’t to keep your nose to the grindstone; it’s to prevent burnout. It’s easy to get too wrapped up in work and study, which can make us anxious and exhausted. Timing activities helps make sure we don’t push ourselves too hard. Whether on your phone, or an old-fashioned egg timer, timing is a useful way to establish boundaries with ourselves, especially when we (and our kids) don’t want to do something. “Let’s study calculus,” can sound like endless torture, but with a timer, it’s guaranteed to only last for a designated amount of time. If you know when something will end, it’s easier to start.
Count Your Successes, All of Them
It’s common to get discouraged and like you’re not doing enough. Many of us are stuck at home, but still feel the pressures to be productive, to have something to show for our time. Some days are harder than others. It’s important to remember that every success counts, no matter how little, and getting anything done is productive. Sometimes this means plowing through a calculus study session, and sometimes this means just getting out of bed. It’s important that you and your children count all of your successes and remember that even if you don’t go anywhere, you’re getting things done and taking care of yourselves every day. The above-mentioned “done” list is one way of doing this.
Don’t Forget Personal Unstructured Time
Try not to get caught up in playing the “perfect schedule in quarantine” game, or become obsessed with efficiency. Resist the urge to fill every minute of the day. The typical day at work or school comes with downtime and time to yourself; why should things be different now? Make sure you and your kids are leaving room for unstructured personal time in your day. Under normal circumstances, most kids and parents aren’t together all day, every day. Just because you’re home together now doesn’t mean you have to be with each other all of the time; in fact, that can cause tensions to run high. Give yourselves alone time, without any obligations; it can do wonders for your emotional health and connection.
Don’t Forget to Schedule Days Off
On top of everything else, make sure you’re giving yourself and your kids days off. They don’t have to be weekends, necessarily, but you should have at least one day a week devoted to rest, relaxation, and enjoyment. Without this, the days tend to run together, increasing the potential for burnout. Schedule days off so that you make sure to take them.
Finally, it’s important that everyone stays connected to the world outside their homes. Kids and adults alike should make time to connect with friends, whether over the phone, by video call, online gaming, or any other number of distance connection options. We are social creatures, after all.
We Will Get Through This Together
Right now, everyone is encountering many new challenges. We are in this together, and we will get through this together. It can be difficult, but we can only do so much. Work with your kids to develop a schedule in quarantine that works for your unique situation, and don’t worry if it doesn’t match up with what others are doing.