Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.
We understand this better than most. We’ve been doing it since we became parents.
Still, this is different. This is extra. This is terrifying because our loved ones are at a greater risk.
So repeat after me:
- Staying at home for a month or two won’t kill you, this virus is killing thousands.
- Missing a month (or more) of school won’t kill anyone, this virus already has.
Whenever things get hard at home with your children or partner, just repeat that mantra in your mind. This too shall pass.
We’re already seeing plenty of guidance for getting through this with homeschool schedules and social distancing tips. But none of it takes into account how to maintain some sense of order and learning when you have a child who learns differently. There are no schedules floating around for students who require teams of 4-12 people to help them throughout their school day. How do you teach your child at home when they won’t even brush their teeth?
We’ve got some ideas.
GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER
Spend a few hours or a few days letting your child(ren) do whatever will keep them occupied so you can do whatever you need for your place to feel relatively organized. A clean slate will make this all feel doable. It does NOT have to be Pinterest perfect.
Designate a room that can be their playroom. Allow the chaos to stay in one place. Let them leave that room a mess. Establish ground rules for the space you need to work. Explain your needs as best you can.
CREATE YOUR OWN CALENDAR
School is out for … the foreseeable future. There is a good chance we won’t return this school year. Don’t feel like you have to start homeschooling right this moment. Take time to plan now and call it a long weekend. You could even call this week “early spring break” and make up for lost teaching time over what would have been spring break. Break up learning into the weekends. If you’re working from home, see if you can stagger hours to utilize the early morning and evening so you can work with your child(ren) during optimal their optimal learning times.
STAY ON SCHEDULE
Children thrive on routine. Many of our children have a really hard time getting back into the swing of things when our schedules get out of whack. Create your own Coronavirus schedule. Include hygiene, medication, chores, learning, recess, and anything else you need to do regularly. There are schedules floating around online you could print or modify to make your own.
This is a great time to use “first, then” language. First read this book, then screen time. First chores and bath, then ice cream. Keep instructions simple and dangle a reasonable carrot whenever you need to motivate your family.
CONSIDER PROJECT-BASED LEARNING
Many of our children have a difficult time with workbooks and other school tools. Use this as an opportunity to do project-based learning. Make bread, plant seeds and watch them grow, build and fly a kite, film and edit a video you can share online. Think about something your child is excited about and let them lead the way.
Cooking is a great way to learn about the world. Explore your pantry and see what you can turn into a geography or social studies lesson.
Choose a different genre or era every night. Pick the most popular song of the year for a chosen decade. Look up the dance moves online and get down! Maybe our children will appreciate the joy that is the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
PLAY A GAME
Board games, puzzles, and cards teach us math, turn taking, words, patience. It’s learning without realizing it.
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX
How often have you thought about wanting to do things with your child – if only you had the time? This is a great opportunity to slow things down and do it. Maybe it’s tackling potty training once and for all. Maybe it’s teaching them to make a sandwich. Maybe it’s utilizing a new communication device. Maybe it’s making pancakes.
Perhaps it’s doing something fun. Paint a mural on your garage. Get a large canvas and make an art installation. Learn how to ride a bike. Plan a summer garden together and start digging. Get a bird/tree/geology book and take the things in our backyard that we’ve been too busy to notice.
PICK ONE OR TWO IEP GOALS
Look at your child’s IEP and focus on one goal that you can work on at home. See if you can help your child master it by doing the things you do every day. Maybe it’s counting to thirty. Maybe it’s mastering certain sight words. Maybe it’s fastening a button. Just work on one. Then maybe another. Make it fun. Let siblings join in.
THERAPY AT HOME
While special education services are mandated through IEPs, this is the time to cut the schools some slack. They are scrambling to figure this all out with us. Teachers and service providers are at home with their families too. We are all in this together. So tap into all that stuff we learned in early intervention and use it.
- Occupational therapy ideas:
- Label your house: Identify objects, write or type the words on a sheet of paper, cut it and tape it on objects and recite it whenever you see it. Let your child write, cut, and/or tape if possible. This is surprisingly fun for the pre-school and elementary schoolers.
- Fold laundry: This is a great skill for every child to learn, and now we have the time to teach it.
- Cooking: Cutting, stirring, mixing, measuring. These are great ways keep nimble and build strength as well as life skills.
- Chores: Figure out what chores are doable – making the bed, sweeping, wiping a counter, or creating the chore schedule itself.
- Speech therapy ideas:
- Label your house: As you’re identifying and labeling items, practicing saying or signing them too.
- Folding laundry: Identify the items as you fold them. Practicing sentences, “These are my favorite pajamas. I love this blue shirt.” And questions, “Why don’t any of our socks match?”
- Read to each other: Find your favorite books and let your child lead. Talk about pictures and characters.
- Eat meals together: We’re always so busy doing all the things. Now that we’re forced to slow down, implement families meals. Choose a conversation prompt if needed: “What was your favorite part of the day? What’s something wild to make for breakfast one day this week? What would your Avenger power/name be? What is your least favorite chore? Why do you think there is a toilet paper shortage?”
- Do a daily check in: Call or video chat with someone you love every day and allow or help your child to lead that conversation. It could be a grandparent, friend, aunty, or even a teacher. This will help with speech, and connect us with others during a scary time.
- Physical therapy
- Make nature your playground: Unfortunately, now is not the time for public playgrounds. We just don’t know if these surfaces are clean. But heading outside is good for us.
- The ground is lava game: If you’re walking in the woods, try to stay on roots and pretend the ground is lava. This is a great balance exercise.
- Tree balance: Walking on fallen trees can kill hours of time and is a fantastic strength builder.
- Fencing with sticks: Preferably fencing in the air or striking trees.
- Play in the dirt: Planting, digging, even throwing. Get outside and get messy.
- Simon says: You name it: tree pose, stand on one leg, floss, dab, hug your brother, touch your nose. Not only is this a great way to move around, it also gets kids to listen fast.
- Play ball: Use your yard or find an empty field and play catch. Shoot some hoops. Just make sure you sanitize the ball and stay away from others.
- Keep rolling: Practice biking, scooters, plasma cars, or just wheel outside in whatever you ride. Fresh air and sunlight are game changers for our moods.
- Stairs: This is a great strength builder/energy burner.
- Indoor basketball: Use a hamper or whatever basket you can find. Bounce ping pong balls or other throw stuffed animals in them.
LEARNING AT HOME
Some of us will receive assignments and materials to do at home. Some of us won’t. Anyone who regularly does homework with their child knows this is easier said than done. It is extremely difficult for some student to focus at home. Home is their safe place, free of the constant demands of the school day. There are some ways to make it a bit more feasible.
- Get everyone on board: This is where that schedule comes in handy. If it’s quiet reading time, having siblings and parents doing the same will help (parents quietly working also works). If it’s time for writing, siblings need to be sitting calmly at the table.
- Get a virtual buddy on board: Perhaps having a peer on a video call doing a project together can help. Talking about math or practicing instruments over skype could provide that peer modeling that’s so important in the classroom.
- Get access: If your child’s teacher hasn’t already, request passwords to online programs they use at school and build a lesson off of one of those. For example, watch a video on fractions and then practice fractions on paper, with a whiteboard, or with manipulatives.
- Turn on educational TV: If you can’t get your child on board with learning, turn on television shows that offer more than mindless entertainment. Signing time, Wild Kratts, Octonauts, Odd Squad, Sesame Street. Many organizations are offering free programs online. Virtual tours of museums, educational songs. Take advantage of all of that amazing content.
- Read: If all else fails, just read together. It is one of the best things we can do.
LOVE EACH OTHER
We’ll just need to try our best and think outside the box. If it doesn’t work, remember that mantra: “Missing school for a month or more never killed anyone, this virus already has.”
As awful and scary as this time is, it is forcing us to slow down. If we are lucky enough to not get sick, this is a good time to just reset. Do a puzzle. Watch TV. Bake. Read. Snuggle. Stay in our pajamas. Tackle a couple of projects that have been nagging at you. Write a letter. Call someone you love and tell them you miss them.
ASK FOR HELP
Most of the pointers here are suggestions for those in a place of privilege. Many parents will still have to work outside the home. Many parents will need childcare. Many parents will be facing a period of time without a paycheck. If you’re in need of assistance, reach out to your school district as many are providing free meals. Reach out to neighbors, many want to help. If you don’t know how to reach them, drop a note in their mailbox.
Utilize a phone tree so someone is checking in on you daily if you don’t have local friend and family looking out for you. Return that favor to others.
While social distancing is critical, it’s not possible for those who have to report to work. If you have a medically fragile child, reach out to your city or county’s social worker for assistance.
To support efforts to lessen the spread of Coronavirus, the Center for Family Involvement team are all working remotely for the next couple of weeks. We remain available to provide emotional, informational and systems navigational support by phone. And, as a family engagement arm of the Virginia Departments of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, Education, and Health, we are here to help with any questions you may have about how agency and school closures may affect Home and Community Based Waiver services, health supports, and special education. Contact us and someone will get back to you within 48 hours.