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Who Has Time for This?!

Establishing a New Routine for At-Home Learning

These are truly extraordinary and difficult times. Our lives, routines and roles have changed in such fundamental ways, which can create anxiety, fear, and sadness—not just for us adults, but for young children, too. These feelings are not only common, but okay!

For families you serve, their most important job still is “parent.” This was true before, and will be during and after COVID-19. The weight of this responsibility can feel much heavier without outside resources to physically help—be it schools, child care, extended families, or friends. This stress competes with keeping up with job expectations and maintaining self-care.

Some adults may question whether they are “good enough” parents for their children, whether they will do irreparable harm by not getting enough “education” into them while unexpectedly at home, or feel guilty they’re not always emotionally present and positive.

So, how can you help?

Invite parents to give themselves grace. Let them know that however they get through today is good enough. And, remind them to nurture resilience, sharing how children are adaptable and resilient. Lastly, encourage them to find the learning in everyday life. All kinds of daily experiences are learning opportunities for children. They're natural-born learners! Simple activities like stacking blocks, gathering a pile of rocks, sorting and putting away toys, and helping prepare food are great ways to keep young children occupied and learning. Contributing to household life creates a sense of pride and accomplishment, too.

Share with Families: Tips to Set a New Routine

Dr. Laura Bailet, chief academic officer, Kaplan Early Learning Company, created 10 easy, approachable suggestions to establish and stick to a new at-home learning routine with preschoolers. Share these tips with families you serve:

Choose a start-time. Get everyone dressed by a reasonable hour each day. This sets the expectation that today will be somewhat organized and something will be accomplished.

Nurture connection. Before or after breakfast, make a conscious effort to snuggle, play, or read a book with your child/children for a few minutes. Your child loves your attention more than anything. Providing it proactively and early will reassure your child, helping her to be more independent the rest of the day. You’ll feel better, too!

Set expectations. When establishing your new at-home routine, share your expectations for the day. Emphasize your need to work, and the importance of your preschool child playing quietly for a little while.

Loosely plan your day. Plan a few blocks of time throughout the day for specific purposes, organized around your work schedule if needed. For preschoolers, these should be 15-30 minute blocks, which could be extended if your child is engaged and content. For infants and toddlers, the blocks are a bit shorter—10-15 minutes—during which they can perhaps entertain themselves in a high chair or on the floor with a few interesting toys or music. Below are some examples, which can be arranged in any order and repeated throughout the day:

  1. Quiet independent (but supervised) play—20-30 minutes
  2. Play/learning with Mom/Dad—10-15 minutes
  3. Chore time—10-20 minutes
  4. Snack
  5. Outdoor time with Mom/Dad—20-30 minutes
  6. Lunch

Make the daily schedule visual. Use simple pictures that represent each time block. Place the schedule in a location your preschooler can easily see, and encourage him to check the schedule for what comes next in the day.

Start small and celebrate. Focus on completing just one or two scheduled blocks, and when you do, celebrate that success! Example: “You played quietly while I worked, and then we finished some math together! Great job!”

Make a list of available play activities. Offer your child three choices for each play block, such as:
  • Block or construction play
  • Pretend kitchen play
  • Pretend tea party, shopping or restaurant play
  • Pretend doctor play
  • Play with books, such as “reading” or showing pictures to dolls, stuffed animals, or younger siblings
  • Drawing, writing, and coloring activities
  • Watching educational videos or playing educational computer games

Make a list of chores your preschooler can help with:

  • Sorting clean laundry
  • Matching socks
  • Putting toys away
  • Setting the table
  • Making simple snacks for everyone
  • Feeding pets
  • Watering plants

Provide ample praise. Celebrate when your child independently plays or completes a chore. If you get through several hours or an entire day successfully, reward your child with a special activity to reinforce the behavior.

Give yourself and your child grace. Some moments and days may be pretty topsy-turvy. But there will be small moments, too, of joy in your togetherness, laughter, and love. Find and cherish them.

As impossible as this may sound, working to create even a little bit of a new, predictable routine could provide a sense of competence and calm. Remember that your children have successfully adapted to routines in child care or preschool, even as infants! They know how to do this if you set the expectation and stick with it.