Glad you asked! Let’s start with what parents don’t have to do with their kids during the coronavirus, and that is: constantly entertain, educate, and stimulate them.
You’ve got enough to do, what with staying sane and washing your hands. You may also be trying to work from home or figure out how to make ends meet if you are not working. Piling on the worry that it is up to you to make sure your kids don’t get bored or fall behind now that they’re not in school or at their other activities is a true burden. So, flip it. Instead of worrying about what the kids are missing, think about what they now have time to learn.
Your kids have plenty of educational opportunities at home.
Education isn’t just what kids get in the classroom. Think of all the things you learned in your summers off, or when you were doing something you loved, like practicing free throws, exploring outside, or getting really great at Minecraft (you are a very young parent if it's the latter!).
When something interests you and you get into it, it’s not a waste of time. It’s developmentally rich. In fact, sometimes I ask people to think back on something they loved to do as a kid that they still are sort of doing as an adult. A couple months ago (when there were still parties!) I met an 80-ish-year-old woman in Manhattan who told me that when she was five— yes, five—her beautiful, distracted society mother told her to organize her own birthday party. So she did. The little girl ordered fabulous cakes from several different bakeries and invited her friends to a fantastically over-the-top cake party.
And later she went on to found Food & Wine magazine.
Not that the coronavirus interlude means your kids are finally going to launch their publishing empire. (About time!) Just that when kids have some free time, two things happen:
They start to figure out what they like to do for their own sake, not just what they have to do for school or an extracurricular.
And you get to see what they’re like when they are trusted with some independence.
So how do you get them past the whiny, bored, hitting-themselves-on-the-head-with-an-empty-water-bottle stage to the point where they punch through to the joy of self-discovery—or at least stop punching through to their brother?
Here are a few tips for how to entertain kids (basically by not entertaining them).
1. Be distracted.
You have stuff to do = they have to entertain themselves.
2. Print out our list of Let Grow Project activities.
These are things that kids can start doing on their own, from the obvious (make their own snack) to the helpful (reorganize a cabinet), to the cool (plant flowers good for butterflies). Go here and scroll to the bottom of the post to get the list.
3. Make the most of your junk.
Go to your closet or basement or wherever there’s some old junky stuff and have the kids rummage through it. It’s a lot easier to get creative when there’s stuff to noodle around with.
4. Create art.
Although my kids never, ever, not ONCE drew a picture unless under duress (art class, Mother's Day), art materials are good to have around.
5. Be okay with screen time.
The screen is going to be very, very tempting to everyone in the family. That’s not terrible. Most of us watched a lot of TV as kids, and here we are … surfing the web but functioning. When today’s kids are 30, they will bond over the shows and video games they all binged on during coronavirus 2020. Still, one sort of easy way to give kids a window of non-screen time may be to say that the hours they would have been spending in school (say, 9 to 3) are tech-free.
6. Let your kids rise to the occasion.
Having just read Little House on the Prairie, I have to recommend it as a great read—for you. The 8-year-old is in charge of the baby. The 6-year-old is in charge of wide-eyed wonder, minor housework, and some day writing a hugely popular series about frontier life. The thing is, it’s just the three kids, mom, and dad by themselves in that little house for most of the time, which may remind you of your own situation at the moment. (But you have indoor plumbing.) The kids were expected to keep themselves entertained and even be handy. Kids today can do the same; they just have to be sort of weaned off what was, for many of them, a very adult-run, adult-structured life till now.
When the old way doesn't work, you always find a new way.
Disruption is educational just by being disruptive. When you can’t do things the old way anymore, you are suddenly more alert, and creative. That’s why travel is so exciting—and frustrating. It can take half an hour to figure out how the stupid self-storage lockers at the Paris train station work. Half an hour! Euro after euro down the coin slot with nothing happening! Was that the happiest part of my vacation?
Thinking back, it sort of was. I was with one of my kids, we felt so mad and baffled, and then finally, the thing opened up.
Hey—it’s a metaphor! (But it also really happened.)
So, as much as this is a time of fear, threat and toilet paper jokes, your kids are going to get some new skills and memories.
Yes, that’s a silver lining way to look at it.
But the locker really did finally open.
Ask Lenore features advice from Let Grow's President, Lenore Skenazy. Send your questions and stories to her at AskLenore@LetGrow.org.