Part I

As of mid-April, we've been social-distancing for one full month. What started as a panicky few days where I wondered what I would do with my kids home for longer periods of time has turned into a strange normal; an Earth-2 storyline seems to be playing out here. It was anxiety-inducing at first, but I'm finding that I've changed quickly in a short amount of time. Necessity, and all that. I crave alone time way less than before, and I rarely get annoyed with the non-stop handsy behaviour of my kids.

First and foremost, the reason for this has to be that we have a close proximity to nature and all of the fresh air and good weather that come with it. Second of all, I'm able to parent full time (squeezing in work while I can) and my husband is able to work full time from home. We were able to self-quarantine as soon as we felt like it was necessary. These are priveleges, and I don't take them for granted. What I'm doing, and what I strongly feel that all of us with differing levels of privelege should be doing, is looking to support small businesses in any way we can, staying in as much as we can to stop the spread, and advocating for better healthcare for every member of society in this very important election year.

We've been playing around with scheduling for a few weeks now, and have finally landed on what works best for our family. It's a loose guide, not a rigid plan. Every hour is scheduled but we also allow freedom to stray from the plans if necessary.  For my son, a daily schedule is an absolute necessity. He operates best when he knows what’s coming, and when he HAS stuff coming. Unlimited free time is not his best look. We make sure to include free time on weekends and in little bits throughout the day.

The one thing I remain strict on these days is screen time. It simply doesn't bring out the best in my kids. There are exceptions to every rule, like days where everything is thrown out of whack and I decide that we're going to marathon Masterchef Junior (because Milan is heavily into cooking now.) But mostly we try to limit screen time to the last part of the day, just before dinner.

Here's the schedule I modified from the color-coded schedule for pandemic homeschool that went viral a few weeks ago:

And yes, those are basically clip art icons. My mom had the idea to add in pictures to help the kids understand the schedule better (teachers always have the best ideas!) but we only have a black and white printer so I had to keep the images super simple.

Homeschooling my kids wasn't originally part of my plan for their lives, and the increased together time left me frantically googling a weighted blanket to calm my nerves in the evenings. But it's turned out to be an educational time for all of us. I'm learning that this is the perfect time to allow my kids to learn by doing. On the podcast this week, Mariah Oller from Harvest and Moon talks about chores being great educational tools for kids, and I'm really leaning into this lately.

So we don't spend a full hour on "lessons" as much as we spend the time doing things that teach kids life lessons. Games are a great way to teach turns, counting, patience, and healthy competition. Doing the dishes and helping with laundry are great ways to teach responsibility around the house. Helping to plant seeds is a great way to teach a plethora of things, starting with the importance of nature and basically having no end.

As far as my own life lessons, I've noticed myself changing for what I hope is the better. I’ve started saying “no” to my kids less. If they want to do an activity that I didn't plan or eat something something that ordinarily I would say no to, I'm usually choosing "yes" these days. Which leads to my next life lesson:

I’m letting loose on snacks and food. If they want it, they can mostly have it (within reason. We’ve stockpiled things that I don’t mind them having anyway; we don’t have much in the way of candies or typical junk food.) But one trick that's been super helpful for me is to always have veggies out in the open and ready to snack on. Cut up broccoli or carrot sticks in a bowl get devoured, because kids love to snack and will grab whatever is easiest and close by. But if they ask for a snack and I suggest broccoli, it's a hard no. Even for me, having fresh veggies at the ready eases hunger pangs, keeps my body going with a steady stream of nutrients, and reduces my junk food cravings.

Plus, we talk up fresh produce quite a bit. We discuss the vitamins that are found in vegetables and fruits, what they do for our bodies, how what we eat makes us stronger, etc. We do not talk down about junk food or sweets. Instead we talk about moderation and about how treats are perfectly fine but we have to make sure we're getting the right amounts of everything.

Now more than ever, I’m trying to live as much of our day outdoors as possible. We’re focusing on learning to read, for Milan (and I swear by this book) and being outside is a great way to help him stay focused. I’m trying hard to maintain a positive and fact-based attitude, which means fielding the many questions that arise about coronavirus with an even tone and legitimate answers. Big questions like this seem more palatable when you're outside, breathing fresh air and watching the bees pollinate flowers. It easily turns a lesson about social distancing into doing what's right for ourselves, for others, and for the Earth.

And importantly, I'm finding peace in this. My husband and I laugh and make jokes more, and get a little more facetime during the day (real facetime, not phone facetime.) My kids are truly each other's best friends now and are getting little ways of connection outside our family thanks to the Caribu app, which was another good idea of my Mom's. We also try to plan outside time at the same time as neighbors a few times a week so the kids can be in our yards and yelling across to one another.

So, to sum up:

No to saying no, no to dietary concerns

Yes to screen time limits, yes to doing all the things outside

All of that being said, I'm off to do dishes now. Because with the whole family home all the time, we live in a constant cycle of doing the dishes. And that may be what eventually drives me insane.

What are your survival tips during this very chaotic time in history?

Update: after publishing this piece, I realized that this discussion is missing a big piece: what to do when you have bad days, or can't do everything, or don't have time to make a schedule for your kids. So there's a Part II right over here!

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