The past couple of months have been unlike any other in recent memory, and we can’t predict exactly what will happen this summer, but at least some aspects of social distancing, isolation and caution are likely to stick around through the season. That makes parenting this summer a challenge as what’s worked for us in the past might not work this summer.

Here are some ideas on how to adapt to the disruption in our lives, to make it easier to keep your kids occupied (and sane) and to simplify your life a little in the process.

Embrace technology

I can’t imagine going through what we endured this spring without technology, and I’m planning to institute many of the things we did into our normal routine after this to help us keep the connections going through the summer and beyond. My favorite use of technology has been weekly family dinners via Google Hangouts or Zoom with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.

My daughter now has her own email address so she can email her aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as set up Google Chats with her classmates. This not only keeps her connected but also helps her writing and social skills. (Because of her age, I oversee everything in her email address including who can send her emails.)

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

 logo

Introduce order, choices

Our biggest struggle on days we’re home, whether that’s weekends, summer days or quarantine time, is lack of a schedule and order, which almost always leads to cranky kids and parents. During social distancing, we devised a system we’ll keep going throughout the summer and beyond. I wrote on popsicle sticks six things that my daughter must do every day:

  1. Take a walk

  2. Tidy up or clean

  3. Learn one new thing

  4. Read

  5. Have family game time

  6. Write someone a letter

We let her choose how she wants to do them — select one at random or take them all out and pick the order herself — so she has control over what she does, but with clear expectations and rules on what has to be done before we move on to the rest of our day (and before she even has a chance at more screen time).

This could easily be adapted to older or younger kids by doing things like swapping popsicle sticks for pictures with magnets or a checklist, and it’s customizable.

Calliope Hoalcraft and her father sword fight during a walk to keep occupied and have "gym class" as part of distance learning. Photo by Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft
Calliope Hoalcraft and her father sword fight during a walk to keep occupied and have "gym class" as part of distance learning. Photo by Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft

Embrace learning opportunities

When we found out our daughter would be in distance learning programs for the rest of the school year, I talked to friends who are homeschoolers for their tips. I quickly learned that their routine was upended, too. Homeschoolers used outings and social gatherings as part of their curriculum. But one thing really stuck out during our conversation — homeschoolers said learning was about what’s around us, not just worksheets.

When I received our distance learning information from our school, it seemed the teachers were already on to this, as most of the assignments weren’t the “sit down and learn this” activities I remember from school.

So in our household we focus most of our learning on everyday things. We haven’t done a single math worksheet, but we’ve gone on a walk and counted our steps by twos and played store with real money to talk about budgeting and costs. We haven’t watched a scientific documentary, but we’ve watched ants build hills on our sidewalk and learned what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda.

Everyone entertains

One of my daughter’s favorite pastimes is drama, putting on concerts and plays, dance recitals and gymnastics routines. When she’s experiencing a tough day during this isolation, I ask her to act for me. Then, I put my phone and laptop away and focus for 15 minutes on whatever imaginative story she weaves for me. A friend said she does a similar thing with her children, but schedules it for a certain time and then uses Zoom to “broadcast” their concert to family and friends.

Calliope Hoalcraft performs as part of an impromptu musical play in her home. Photo by Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft
Calliope Hoalcraft performs as part of an impromptu musical play in her home. Photo by Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft

Use what’s available

The internet is full of fun ideas for how to keep kids engaged without spending a dime. Here’s a list of few my favorites:

  • Color wheel find: kids find items around the house and arrange them into the color wheel.

  • Scavenger hunt: Make a list — something with wheels, something made of metal, something older than you, something green — and give it to your kid(s) to search for each item.

  • Movie theater at home: Pick a family movie and pretend you’re watching it at the theater, with popcorn and snacks (bonus points if you can get your children to pay you movie theater prices for these).

A color wheel scavenger hunt can keep kids occupied while teaching them about art. Photo by Mara Morken
A color wheel scavenger hunt can keep kids occupied while teaching them about art. Photo by Mara Morken

Serve others together

We’ve talked a lot as a family about doing things for our community. In addition to the obvious staying home (the simplest way we can support our community right now), we’ve picked up trash in our neighborhoods when we go on our walks (if you don’t have something that will work as a trash grabber, washable dish gloves work great to protect your hands without using personal protective equipment). We also placed paper hearts in our window in support of the #aworldofhearts movement to share joy.

Talk about feelings

Isolation and change bring up big feelings in our kids, and it’s important to give our children a chance to express themselves. Each day when we sit down for dinner, we say a feeling word that describes our inner world. About half the time, my daughter doesn’t want to discuss it beyond that, but it helps me keep track of how she’s doing. Telling her our feelings in an age-appropriate way helps her understand that we’re all in this together and that it’s okay to tell the people you love what you’re feeling. You can also search “questions games for kids” for ideas for prompts to get kids to engage with you over dinner, in the car, on walks or any time you’re together and want to focus on each other.

For more ideas, check out the Facebook Group, Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic at Facebook.com/groups/coronavirusparents. This group has more than 35,000 members and they have some great ideas on activities for all age groups, many of which would be great even when life has returned to “normal.”

Do you have a story about #ParentinginaPandemic that you’d like to share? Email us at moms@forumcommm.com.

Alicia Strnad Hoalcraft is manager of integrated media operations production for Forum Communications. She lives in Moorhead with her husband, Brian, and their 6-year-old daughter, Calliope. When she’s not working or parenting, she enjoys reading too much, reorganizing her cabinets too often and watching too much “Real Housewives.”

See this story and more in the summer On the Minds of Moms magazine on stands this week in area grocery stores in Fargo-Moorhead, West Fargo and Grand Forks.