Luckily, I learned a few crowd-management tips by observing my kids' teachers in action at their schools' open houses. Who knew these things I had observed would suddenly come in handy now that so many of us are at home with our kids all day long due to COVID-19?
Regardless of whether your kids are doing formal distance learning or they're just winging it, if you can take off your parenting hat and channel your inner teacher, at least for some part of the day, you're far more likely to survive – maybe even enjoy – this unplanned time at home together.
Since I've been pretending to be a schoolteacher, life is a little more predictable, and we're all more productive and happier. If you're experiencing some COVID-19 chaos at home, here are four teachers' tricks I've tried that might help.
Remember that routine is king. During times of transition and uncertainty, consistency is good for everyone. At school, kids know their routine. It's the same every day – or at least nearly the same with slight variations. Schedules help kids know what to expect.
If your kids are out of school for COVID-19, that doesn't mean everyone should sit around and watch TV or play on their iPads all day. Ask your kids' teachers to share a copy of their classroom schedules, and try to stick to something like it. Post a copy of the schedule wherever they're doing schoolwork, so they know what's next throughout the day.
Try to start at the same time each morning, and take breaks, eat lunch, and end at around the same time too. While the kids may complain, after a few weeks everyone will appreciate knowing what's expected of them. It could also help you to get some of your own work done, if you are lucky.
Put them to work. Kids work hard at school – and they enjoy it. In my son's kindergarten class, kids use a mini vacuum and wipe down tables. In my second-grader's class, each student gets a new "occupation" every few weeks; whether it's feeding the class pet, taking attendance, or preparing the classroom for lunch, each child plays a role in keeping the classroom functioning properly.
With three young kids, it's tempting for my husband and me to save time by doing everything. That's a hard habit to break. So I started small. Each child now has a role around dinnertime. Every week, the jobs change: dinner prep, café manager, and clean-up crew.
Dinner prep is definitely a crowd favorite – kids get to help me make dinner, which they absolutely love. Café manager is just a fancy way of saying, "Set the table," another cute idea I stole from my second grader's classroom. Since no one loves clean-up crew, I always help so it's a team effort and an opportunity for quality time with mom. The best part? I'm not grumpily muttering to myself how no one else cleans up after dinner.
Have fun! Teachers try to make even the most mundane tasks fun – and they remember to let kids get their sillies out. In my daughter's second-grade class, students make a competition out of who can clean up the fastest. They keep track of personal times so they can try to beat their own record. The teachers cheer like they're at the Olympics. And they sometimes offer up privileges as rewards – once they even rewarded the class for beating their previous record by letting everyone bring in a stuffed animal to school. At home, I let the kid who's on clean-up crew pick some music and we have a dance party while doing dinner clean-up. Sometimes I still need to remind myself to have fun instead of just being a drill sergeant 24/7. I'm learning that the kids channel my energy, so if I can let loose and have fun, we all have more fun. They're only young once.
Themes work. Schools do a great job of bundling activities and lessons into "theme" weeks or months. So I try to introduce a theme for the week. Themes help keep kids engaged and help reinforce the lessons you're teaching. Some potential themes are manners, gratitude, kindness, and respect. Picture books, personal journals, and art supplies are great props to use to support your themes.
While it's by no means always peaceful around my house, these small changes inspired by my kids' amazing teachers have helped us make our days a bit less chaotic, more fun, and far more productive.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.