The spread of the coronavirus in the United States hit a major milestone this week — it’s reached all 50 states and Puerto Rico. As a result, federal, state and local governments have enacted stricter social distancing measures, including a number of shelter-in-place orders and statewide or district-wide school closures.

These measures mean many Americans are adjusting to a new way of life that includes working from home while managing their children’s daily activities, which would’ve taken place at school.

Liz Bruch

Missouri-based realtor and former elementary school teacher Liz Bruch told Inman the key to managing work and children is keeping a set schedule, which relieves stress for parents and provides reassurance to children.

“Keeping a schedule and keeping a consistent structure just like they would have in a classroom is important,” Bruch said. “They need to know that they have a certain routine in place, especially when they’re feeling unsure or that it’s more lackadaisical than a normal classroom.”

“Posting it up on a fridge or a playroom is a good visual reminder,” she added. “It gives them reassurance and helps them to set their expectations.”

Bruch said it’s important for parents to strike a balance between work and play for their children and to use online educational and entertainment resources to lighten the load.

“They’re going to feel stir-crazy as is, so it’s important to give them breaks,” she said. “Utilize these educational resources, whether it’s online study guides or teachers offering virtual lessons. They exist.”

With that in mind, here are 10 things you can do to keep your children engaged during social distancing:

1. Start the day with meditation

Meditation and mental health app Calm released a number of quick, easy-to-do meditations and relaxing playlists. Six meditations with titles such as “A Heart Less Heavy” and “Softening Fear” will help you and your family work through anxiety and panic caused by the coronavirus.

Calm’s Sleep Stories will lull your children to sleep for naptime, with narrations by Matthew McConaughey and David Walliams. Lastly, Calm offers a number of playlists with spa-like music that soothes the mind and soul.

2. Make time for easy learning with Scholastic’s Learn At Home Program

In light of Covid-19 school closures, Scholastic is offering a free learning program, Learn At Home. The program provides four weeks of lessons timed at three hours per day for all grade levels.

Kindergarteners can learn about how plants grow, while first and second graders are introduced to weather patterns and the environment. Older elementary school students can take a virtual field trip to the Museum of the American Revolution, and middle and high schoolers can learn about chemistry through a fun lesson called “Extreme Candy.”

“We designed Scholastic Learn At Home knowing that administrators and teachers need to create extensive virtual learning plans, quickly, and that students need uplifting and engaging experiences,” Scholastic Classroom Magazines Editor-in-Chief Lauren Tarshis told The Hill. “Our hope is that even though daily routines are being disrupted and students may not have valuable time in school with their educators, together we can support meaningful learning at home while it is necessary.”

One of Scholastic’s Pre-K and Kindergarten lessons.

3. Host a Netflix Party for your children and their friends

Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that enables Netflix users to gather virtually and watch a show or movie. To get started, choose a movie, and click the “NP” logo. Once you do, the Netflix Party extension will generate a URL invite code that you can share with partygoers.

The extension also has a chat function, so everyone can share their reactions in real-time. If you’re concerned about what might happen in the chat (looking at you, tweens and teens), you can ask a parent to act as a monitor or shut the chat function off.

For small children, PJ Masks, Shaun the Sheep, Thomas and Friends and Octonauts are currently Netflix’s top picks. For older children, Stranger Things, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, One Day at a Time and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse are good options.

4. Bolster creativity and practice writing skills with The New York Times’ Learning Network

Perfect for high schoolers, The New York Times‘ Learning Network offers free, thought-provoking articles, quizzes, lessons and writing prompts. The Times covers current events, with a quiz dispelling Covid-19 myths, and basic subjects, including language arts, science, mathematics, social studies and arts.

Two of the latest NYT writing prompts.

5. Help your children battle procrastination with this Smarter Living guide

Children (and adults) may be tempted to procrastinate on important tasks while working from home. In this installment of Smarter Living, opinion columnist Adam Grant shares that procrastination isn’t a matter of laziness, but a matter of “avoiding negative emotions.”

Gleaning information from the world’s top psychologists, Grant encourages us to stop worrying about perfection, to adjust our schedules to fit when we’re naturally most energized and to consider working near someone (which in this situation, could be a spouse or loved one you live with).

For parents, this could mean allowing your night owls to tackle take-home assignments in the evening, allowing children to work in pairs, and taking time to talk about anxiety and fears they have about missing school or the virus.

6. Have storytime with celebrity guests

As reported by Inman’s Veronika Bondarenko, celebrities are bringing stories to life by hosting daily storytimes on social media. Keep an eye on Josh Gad, Jennifer Gardner, Amy Adams and Reese Witherspoon’s social media feeds for new reads. If you’re not a social media lover, then download Libby on iOS and Android to access children’s audiobooks at your local library.

7. Use YouTube to find educational videos

Although YouTube is primarily known as an entertainment platform, the site has plenty of channels that offer educational content perfect for children and adults.

SciShow Kids offers short videos for young children on topics such as “How are raisins made?” and “Why is fire hot?” Crash Course Kids offers more fun, partially animated science videos fit for older elementary and middle school students, and the main Crash Course channel covers everything from philosophy to media literacy.

Thought Cafe, The Brain Scoop, SmarterEveryDay, and ASAPScience and the PBS Idea Channel also have plenty of thought and conversation-provoking videos.

8. Let them play outside

If you’re not living in an area with a shelter-in-place mandate, consider allowing your children to play outside in a fenced-in backyard, or take them for an afternoon stroll in your neighborhood (remember, to stay at least 6 feet away from others). Use this opportunity to get some fresh air, or teach them schoolyard games that you used to play. Freeze tag, anyone?!

9. Loosen your restrictions on tablets and games

Inman design guru Ted Irvine suggests keeping a tablet or gaming device charged up to quickly calm anxious children. “Audiobooks and Nintendo Switch are really good things for parents to have around when the kids meltdown,” he said.

Although you don’t want to let them play it all day, have a few go-to games uploaded when you need a quick fix in the midst of a work rush. Animal Crossing, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and Super Mario Party are bestsellers.

10. Rely on your community

Although most of us are living in near or complete isolation these days, Bruch said it doesn’t mean that we can’t connect. “I’m happy to offer resources and help to anyone who needs it,” she said while mentioning there are thousands of teachers and parents who are quickly connecting via social media to conduct virtual lessons, storytimes and babysitting sessions.

Email Marian McPherson

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