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Education at Home: Pandemic Plan for Working Parents with Kids Aged 4+

A friend asked me how my young family was managing through COVID 19 and quarantine, so I put together this blog post highlighting our process.  It works great for us, and I hope it can help some people looking for support during the pandemic.

Problem: – How to get older kids (4+) to run their day independently and productively 

Solution: Activities, options, and a free plan (below) to help kids manage and run their day

Benefits: Our children (5 and 7) now run their day with little intervention and a moderate level of enthusiasm. I’m so proud of their growth this summer!

Before we envisioned and implemented this system for the Pandemic Summer, our kids would ask us, “what can I do?” regularly.  With my start-up, Gooru Inc., nearing an imminent launch, and my Ellen’s career demanding her attention, we needed the kids to manage their weekdays and motivate themselves independently.  They now do it beautifully!

Set-Up

Below you can see a list of activities and vendors/programs available to our kids.  These activities and content providers are based on the following criteria:

A) Perceivable interests of our children (what we thought they might like to do).

B) What they need to know in school.

C) Where we thought they might excel.

D) Content providers who could help them cost-effectively.  

The following activity choices are available for the kids in my house to choose every day:

Art – We use various coloring books.  On Youtube, we’ve used Art for Kids Hub and Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems.  They produce seasonal art that’s really great come holidays.

Charades – Kids can play this independently. Suitable for improving non-verbal communication and creative thinking.  We use a Family charades game found on Amazon.  We play this together as a family on occasion.

Chess – Various Youtube videos, Chess.com.  On Great Courses Plus, they watched a course a wee bit over their heads, but good; How to Play Chess: Lessons from an International Master.

Chinese – We have the kids taking MiaoMiao on Youtube.  The kids write down the words they learn, say them aloud, and tell us what they learned later in the day. This activity is inspired by my work evaluating Schwarzman Scholars.

Coding Kodable ($6.99/month)  Maybe they’ll love coding, definitely they love the screentime.  This activity is a steady player, nearly every day.

Communication – We’ve used Alexa and Facetime to have the kids call their grandparents. Kids try to work on having regular, adult conversations.  We’ve also had them write letters to their grandparents.  Emails are a good idea, but we haven’t gone there yet.

Exercise – This has varied throughout the summer (running, tennis, hiking, etc.).  We’ve used Little Sports on youtube.  We also run together as a family to start many days, tracking our progress with tools from Just Run, associated with the Big Sur Marathon in California.  This happens even when exercise doesn’t make the board.

Games – Kids can choose from multiple board games in the house.  Moneywise Kids is a good game that was recommended to me by Pat at the museum store at Federal Hill.  Federal Hill is where George Washington was inaugurated on Wall Street, NY, USA.  They also can choose from Chutes and Ladders, Battleship, and Candyland, among others.

Side note: Last weekend, we joyfully played Risk as a family, from Friday night to Sunday.  

Handwriting/Journal – The kids work on handwriting via many writing opportunities, including workbooks, writing lists, labeling pictures, etc.  Writing in a journal is useful for solidifying happy childhood memories.  Our kids like to draw, paint, and make pictures that document experiences.  Lawson is using PowerPoint/GoogleDocs.  

Math (general learning) – Khan Academy.  Free.  Useful.  Measures Progress. Usually a required activity daily.  

Piano – Kids use Hoffman Academy on YouTube.  We play on a Casio Previa keyboard.

Play Dolls – This was the exclusive interest of our daughter at the start of the Pandemic.  Our son would not play, even when we rebranded the activity “directing plays.” Halfway into the summer, we added it as a required Activity option to give our daughter more choices.  Now, they both can run a Play Dolls session without issue, and come up with wide-ranging storylines.

Play outside – Get outside of the house for play and fresh air.   

Puzzles – They work through 100 piece puzzles.  They both could do a US map puzzle before they turned 3.  That was all engagement-based nurturing.

Reading – They both take time to read independently.  Younger children may enjoy Storyline Online – Kid Stories read by actors.  Our son is now reading stories to our daughter.

Salsa – We wanted another physical activity. YouTube.  They are early beginners, but are still cute as they try to shake, shake, shake.

Yoga – Kids hold the ABC’s of Yoga for a minute, and have also watched videos of various quality on Youtube, including Cosmic Kids. 

Essential Tools:

An iPad 

Amazon TV with Youtube App

A place for kids to plan, choose and track their activities

How it works week to week

At the start of the week, the kids are in charge of creating the grid on the whiteboard in the kitchen, where they’ll write the week’s activities and daily progress. 

Activities generally run from 30 minutes to 1 hour, with 45 minutes being average.  They both know how to set timers.  Once an activity is completed, they’ll check it off the whiteboard, choose another from their daily list, and independently transition.  A typical day has 10-12 activities listed, plus lunch and snack times, which are not listed. 

Typical Day

7:15 AM Family run (.5 to 1.8 miles) followed by breakfast together.

8:30 AM Kids choose and write their daily activities. We, the parents, sometimes assign specific actions, not on the list (like birthday cards for relatives).  

8:45 AM to Noon – Chosen, morning Activities 

Noon – Family Lunch 

1 to 4 PM – Chosen, afternoon Activities

4 PM to Dinner – Free Time

Once the final activity has been checked off the whiteboard (by them), they can “watch something” or play a curated game on the iPad until dinner.  

This is our current plan for filling the hours of any given workday with activities kids want to do and will help them later in life.   When they get a bit older, they may have stronger opinions on things they’d like to do, and that’s our hope.  We’re happy to have them add their interests as activity options always.  But activity is required, and “what can I do?” should not be a regular question coming out of their mouth, as the world is full of interesting, beautiful content to learn or create.

Parenting is a privilege and a joy, but it can also be overwhelming.  It’s useful to have a plan.  I hope our system is able to help someone else during this pandemic school year.

One more Pandemic idea: Weekends – Family Movie Night

Each Saturday, a different member of the family is responsible for running a family movie night.  Friday nights during the pandemic, we’ve been nominating movies.  Each parent nominates two films; kids nominate one movie each.  We nominate a film by showing a preview from Disney+ or Netflix.  Kids look forward to this pre-event event and are in charge of writing the nominated movies down on a piece of paper (more writing reinforcement).  After all of the films are nominated, whoever is in charge of the Saturday night movie chooses what we all consume the following night (Film, Dinner, Dessert).

On Saturday, usually around 4 PM, Family Movie Night begins. Whichever family member is in charge that week is responsible for preparing or procuring dinner and dessert, and then setting up the movie, which they’ll stand and introduce.  

This is a fun night and gives the kids a chance to be in charge of something for everyone.  We parents often nominate movies from this list of Movies all kids should see before 12 on Common Sense Media.

That’s all the things I can think of for now.   

I’d love to hear any additional ideas, feedback or resources parents have used.  Our list of options is always growing.

Keep your heads up!

Puck Fernsten

Founder, Gooru
puck@gooruglobal.com