Do we need a quarantine schedule?
I like to think of it as a rhythm so it's predictable but flexible enough to ebb and flow with your family's needs. An ideal day with young children should include a balance between active and passive time with many opportunities for children to choose how they play and learn. If you have specific activities or teaching to share with little ones, earlier in the day is better when their tiny gas tanks are full and they're ready to engage.
Check out this simple guide to see how long to expect your child's attention span to last according to their age:
How do I homeschool?
You're probably already homeschooling without even trying and I think we can take the pressure off of ourselves by embracing the learning that happens all around us, even when we're just doing ordinary thinks like making dinner or going for a walk.
I like to keep two core things at the forefront of my mind:
1. Connection is everything.
2. Learning is everywhere.
I wouldn't stress about specific targets, depending on the age of your child, but I would prioritize emotional wellbeing and foster a sense of togetherness and curiosity. There are so many ways to make everyday moments educational with a few simple strategies, like weaving math and writing concepts into your interactions. When we are reading books with children, we can point out letters and their sounds, for example. When we are pouring a bowl of cereal, we can point to the print on the box to look for familiar letters and numbers. When we go for a walk we can play rhyming games, like "I spy something that rhymes with bee..." Introducing new words and asking open-ended questions throughout the day as you interact with your child is a great way to continue building their vocabulary and keep them talking and wondering about their world.
What are kids learning when they’re playing?
Everything. It begins before they even start playing. When we give kids a chance to choose what they are going to play with or where, they are activating a variety of cognitive functions like planning, decision-making, organizing their thoughts, and developing preferences and/or interests. Seemingly repetitive actions are important developmental impulses that naturally motivate children to grow and learn. Transporting, transforming, rotating, and connecting are all considered behavioral schema that children universally engage in as they play.
When our kids ride bikes or clamber over rocks, they are working on gross motor development and coordination. When they dig in the dirt, they are working on persistence and receiving important sensory feedback. When siblings play together or even experience conflict, they are practicing important social skills they’ll need to be successful in school. If you have the time to sit with them for that free play time you'll find all kinds of windows to encourage language development.
My rule is always... first observe, then play alongside with authentic interest, then ask questions. But always let them lead. They have better ideas anyway. Try finding something fun to do alongside them - and give yourself permission to be a kid too!
Independent play doesn't happen overnight, so if you're juggling working from home, give it baby steps. They will get better at it and will go for longer stretches, especially if you use novelty and toy rotation. Getting bored is a beautiful thing in my book. Research about play tells us that deep "flow state" play takes a minimum of 30 minutes to develop, so one of our greatest tools as parents is time itself, and of course trust. The longer blocks of time we can give our children for unstructured free play, the more elaborate and complex their play ideas can become. The more we can trust their play, the more confident and competent they will feel.
Tinkergarten has excellent resources on their blog and through their weekly Tinkergarten At Home email newsletter that offer play ideas with these universal play impulses in mind.
What household items should I never throw away and just give to my kids?
The old joke is true that kids love the box more than what's inside. We don't need expensive resources, special materials, and high tech toys. Kids want to transform things and they have a remarkable ability to make ordinary things interesting by using their imaginations. Our adult brains have a harder time appreciating the allure of a giant box. I never EVER throw away a giant box. It will give your child hours of independent play opportunities. Kids love things like a big box because it has no single purpose and we love it because we don't care if they destroy it. Our attitude about its potential and its destruction is powerful. We don't have to be precious about recycled yogurt containers.
If you give a child a toy car, then they have a toy car. If you give them a box, they have a cave, a rocket ship, a store, a train, a boat, a million possibilities. The more open ended the better, when it comes to play objects.
Things I like to hoard for my kids: Buckets, bowls, scoops, funnels, spoons, toothbrushes, tape, cardboard, tubes, string, rope, shovels, hoses, old electronics for pretend play, sheets, tarps - boards - literally 2x4 scrap boards for ramps. Water, dirt, sand, rocks, dried beans all make for stimulating sensory play mediums.
The freedom to make a mess is also a tool. Our "mud kitchen" is not pinterest worthy. It's a junk yard. It's made of recycled containers and it's always changing because the kids return to it time and time again in different and surprising ways. It's a reflection of their messy, wonderful minds.
I've learned through a lot of trial and error that a fresh heap of loose parts will challenge my kids in deeper ways than most toys, especially with the right prompt.
My own excitement about the potential - NOT the outcome - is a potent strategy. Let the end result be determined by the kids.
In terms of storage, I keep a big box in my garage for large loose parts like egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, interesting cardboard shapes, bubble wrap, tissue paper, packing paper, and larger plastic containers like syrup bottles and old ketchup bottles. I also keep a small container in the kitchen for bottle tops, plastic lids, bread ties, caps, little plastic parts.
I aim to help my kids transform recycled objects into play objects before we discard them, but I do splurge on tape because my kids love tape and it's a great medium for cardboard!