Today, in many communities, children and adults are unexpectedly home from school and work and possibly struggling with a mixture of emotions. There is the immediate disappointment about events being cancelled and not being able to relax with friends. There is also an overall uncertainty. How do we manage ourselves and do our work while also positively supporting our children who may also have distance learning requirements, while everyone is home together? 

Many kids (and adults) struggle with uncertainty and unclear structure. As one of the teens in our family put it last night, “I’ll get annoyed really fast if each day is just ‘whatever’ ‘woohoo!’  all of the time.” Establishing a routine, creating a structure, helps us to feel settled. It can be done in a very encouraging, warm, inclusive way.  

Set a plan together

With everyone’s help and input, create a comfortable order to your day, this includes establishing and holding the limits on bedtime and wake-up time. But what about the in-between times? How do we help our kids and get our own work done? 

One simple idea involves taking a set of note cards and writing out the elements that make for a good day. Invite everyone to weigh-in on how they want to meet each element. Then, put the cards up on a wall, or arrange them on a table and, together, create a structure and plan that will work for everyone. 

Consider that the elements that make for a good day include activities that:

  1. Build connections with others
  2. Grow capability skills, life skills
  3. Give an opportunity to share those capability skills with others in the family and in the community

I offered the categories below to my family as headings on 5×7 notecards and then invited everyone to write down on each card the ways they might fulfil that element in their day. Your family might have others that we didn’t think of so adjust it to make it work for you.

Here’s what our categories look like and some of the options that we brainstormed together. Each day we pick from the bulleted lists (or add new options to them!).

Enjoy fresh air & physical activity (1 hour)

  • Yoga 
  • Ride my bike 
  • Walk with the dog
  • Jog
  • Gardening
  • Have a dance party

Contribute to making our home a fun, clean, relaxing place to be

  • Be head chef for a meal each day
  • Run laundry
  • Unload dishwasher
  • Vacuum
  • Clean up the garden
  • Brush the dog

Grow myself, set a goal for a skill to work towards

  • Practice meditation
  • Read an inspiring book
  • Make music (piano, guitar, sing)
  • Knit a blanket
  • Improve my biking skills
  • Build a bench out of wood
  • Try a new recipe

Do my school work / business: 

  • At the start of the week, determine three big goals I want to accomplish by the end of the week
  • Complete my homework assignments before dinner
  • Dive into a research project on a topic I’ve been wanting to know more about, share what I learn with the family or a friend
  • Keep thinking of creative ways to continue growing my business and helping others
  • Start a journal of my days

Stay connected with family and friends (while being conscious of social-distancing demands)

  • Read a story together over the phone
  • Do a virtual art project together – side by side on the phone 
  • Make up a story and share it over email
  • Write letters and mail them to friends and family far away
  • Share my thoughts and worries with a friend or family member who can give me support
  • Special time (15 minutes a day) (1-1 time between a parent and a child)
  • Family fun (30 minutes a day) (everyone together – decided through consensus)

Take care of neighbors, nature and people around us (think about others in our community)

  • Offer to help a neighbor with yard work
  • Share photos with friends (online or via mail)
  • Plant some seeds, nurture and watch a flower grow
  • Offer to run an errand for a neighbor
  • Drop off food at a food bank
  • Fill the bird feeder and record all of the birds you see in 10 minutes 

Relax, have downtime, away from a screen

  • Read a fun book
  • Play cards / a board game with a family member
  • Draw, paint
  • Work on a puzzle
  • Make music together

Recalibrate regularly

Have a family meeting to set your plan for the week. How you do this may vary depending on the ages of your children. 

With teens, offer the categories and then invite them to think of how they’ll meet them and when. Together, as a family, decide on reasonable limits. 

With young children, set the categories and give limited choices on how they will follow them. Together, work to make sure each category is met in the day. Also, set reasonable limits. For example, it is reasonable to expect a young child to be able to entertain herself and with practice and training, this time can grow. On either end of the time, provide one-on-one special time and training. 

Children (and adults) enjoy checking off the boxes each day as they accomplish their goals!

Reflect together, regularly and often

Take a few moments together each morning to make adjustments to the plan and at the end of the day, review how it went. You might invite each person to give himself a score and set some new goals for the next day.  One approach to self-scoring is, I’m: 

  • “Beginning” the goal
  • “Achieving” the goal
  • “Exceeding” the goal

Be encouraging

Above all, encourage each other. Notice what is working. Remember the old adage “What we feed flourishes.” That can simply mean commenting on and noticing the one thing that worked well. Let the rest go. Hold on tightly to what is good.

The results

When you wake up, instead of seeing a long, unchartered day in isolation – you have a fun, vibrant, growing list of things you can do that grow yourself, grow your connections with others, and make your home and community a little brighter and warmer because you are there and part of it.