Keeping kids busy could be key to helping them cope with the new normal, as schools remain closed due to the coronavirus, experts say.
In mid-March, schools and day cares across the country temporarily closed their doors to help prevent the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus.
Along with moving classes online, many school systems have canceled or postponed sports events and extracurricular activities.
For parents, this means not only working at home, but ensuring their children stay busy to help them cope with COVID-related changes.
Adding to that challenge is the fact that many churches, museums and movie theaters have closed, meaning parents have no easy options for keeping their kids occupied during these tough times.
Experts say solutions include setting schedules and providing at-home activities to keep children busy.
Northside attorney Kathleen O’Beirne is taking that advice, making her sons stick to a strict daily regimen that includes outside play time, creative time and academics.
Her boys, Thomas, 8, and James, 6, are students at St. Richard Catholic School.
“They get a solid two to two and a half hours of outdoor time each morning, followed by a set snack time and a set time for academic work,” she said. “They’re not sitting around and watching screens all day.
“We’re muddling through,” O’Beirne said. “It’s not perfect, but we’re making it.”
Dr. Susan Buttross, a professor of pediatrics and medical director for the Center for the Advancement of Youth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) said setting and keeping a schedule is one of the best ways to help young children cope during what are stressful, uneasy times.
“It doesn’t mean you have to make them study all day long. Have a set time to wake up. Let them help make breakfast. Add chores to the child’s day. Add outside time. Play games,” she said. “The most important thing parents can do is to not act like every day is a weekend.”
As of last week, more than two million children had been affected by school closures, according to Insider.com.
Buttross said there are several online resources that can help parents.
Among them, Scholastic, an academic company, was offering lessons for children from kindergarten through sixth grade on its website. Other sites, like projectkid.com, were offering arts and crafts projects for parents and children to do together.
Annie Oeth, editor/writer for UMMC public affairs, also recommended some websites, including healthychildren.org, which provides tips on keeping children busy and talking to them about the virus.
Healthychildren.org is sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Among tips, it recommends parents read to their children, make time for active play and monitor screen and media time.
Buttross said her daughter has already picked up several tips online to help children kill time.
“This was somebody else’s idea and she thought it was brilliant: she suggested that because it was St. Patrick’s Day, everybody in the neighborhood could make shamrocks and put them in their windows, and kids could go on a shamrock hunt with their parents to see how many they could find,” she said.
“It’s simple, it costs nothing to cut them out and color them, and it’s a great way to entertain kids and make them feel like their sharing with friends,” Buttross said.
O’Beirne said her children had spent time painting, drawing and writing letters to family members and friends. “My eight-year-old wrote a letter to Cody Bellinger, his favorite baseball player,” she said.
Buttross said parents’ jobs will likely be easier as schools ramp up their distance learning programs.
Madison County Schools began providing resource packets to parents last week. Some Northside schools had already started classes, while others were expected to begin earlier this week.
Buttross said parents should set up quiet areas in the house where students can do schoolwork without being distracted.
“A lot of parents will be at home now, for the next few weeks anyway, so it might be fun to sit there and see what they’re learning,” she said.
To help children feel less isolated, Buttross suggests that parents set up online events to let their kids connect with friends.
She also says that it’s okay to for children to play with one-on-one with others, as long as neither child displays coronavirus symptoms and as long as they practice social distancing.
Symptoms of COVID-19 appear two to 14 days after exposure. They include fever, cough and shortness of breath, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website states.
The virus is spread person-to-person through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The CDC recommends that individuals who are in close contact stay at least six feet apart.
Even with the difficulties, experts say it’s important to put the crisis in perspective.
O’Beirne is doing just that. “We’re so keenly aware of how fortunate we are to be able to work from home and have beautiful weather and yard space,” she said. “I have friends in Massachusetts who are trying to stay home with their kids and it’s 45 degrees and rainy. I have other friends who can’t work at home.
“It could be much worse for us.”