Pre shelter-in-place, I was one of the irritatingly-principled parents who seriously limited screen time to special occasions like a quarterly family movie night. Admittedly, I also found it useful here and there when I noticed smoke from an overcooked bird cascading out of the oven or it felt like the whole house was going to crumble into a heap around me as a result of the sheer volume inside it. In this new reality, as a working parent with 3 littles (all 4 and under), I feel the constant temptation to put the older two in front of a screen so I can get a little time in front of mine. I am very grateful for the various sizes of square babysitters I can turn to at any moment.
It’s not all about me though. I want my kids to become fully-functioning human beings with the capacity to do something productive with their boredom, energy, and creativity. Also, I’m fairly confident they’ll still benefit from knowing how to read in our new reality.
3 ways to make the days a little more orderly, happy, and productive—
for kids and parents alike
- Make a plan the night before. My husband and I used to have a nightly routine of packing lunches and bags for the following day. We’ve replaced that with planning activities and deciding which blocks of time we will each cover with kids or work, respectively. We never follow the plan exactly, but it sure does help to have a guideline. Since our daughter is learning letters, we start the day by spelling out a word (our theme for the day) with magnetic letters. The younger one identifies the color of the magnets. I have noticed the kids are actually happier when we have a structure (even if it’s a loose one) instead of letting the day just run itself.
- Cook together: We enjoy this Kids Cook Real Food program to support cooking together in the kitchen. Yes, you can just wing it, but I have found the structure of this very helpful since my kids are small and need to be guided carefully rather than just set loose with a knife. It also provides guidance for working with multiple age/skill levels at one time so you can be in the kitchen with toddlers (no joke!) all the way up to older kids. I love that it gives them some independence in the kitchen and motivates them to be participants rather than just recipients in mealtime.
- Garden: As we mentioned last week, gardening is having a moment. Between sparse grocery store shelves and more time at home, people are growing food for food’s sake as well as for therapeutic reasons. Why not get the kids involved? Of course they love to water the plants, but you can take it further with activities that they will learn from, too. This online resource is geared specifically toward kids.
- Water day: Each of the above requires your full attention. A water day , on the other hand, is a great option because a) kids love it; b) some water activities are independent enough that you might be able to catch up on some communication or just get a moment to think; and c) it sets them up for a very long nap. And nap times are more valuable than gold right now.
I realize that every person’s situation is different. Some are still working the front lines or don’t have a partner to share the load. And some will have to let the screen be the babysitter just to be able to keep feeding the babies. Whatever your situation is, I hope you’ll be patient with yourself and those around you.
As long and trying as this time seems, we will never get it back. Yesterday, my son woke up from his nap and wanted to snuggle. It was a rare moment with just the middle child while the other two were sleeping. I had things to do, sure. I always do. But I left my phone in the other room and sat with him. I told my restless legs–which threatened to carry me away–to be still. I told myself: This 2-year-old in your arms is not an obstacle to all you have to do: Being with him is all you have to do in this moment. So I was. And sure enough, a short time later, he was wriggling out of my arms and on to the next thing. I’m just glad I wasn’t the first one to move on. During this shelter in place, I am determined to look back and know that I did what I could to provide shelter (haven, security, love) for those in my care.
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