Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, preschools and childcare centers have shut their doors and you’re probably either working remotely or on hiatus. If you’re wondering what to do with your preschooler for the next few weeks besides plop him in front of Netflix Kids, you’re not alone.
If you don’t have to work from home, filling the hours with things to do with your kids will be easier, especially given the great reading and activity recommendations from others here at The Federalist. If you still have some work to get done remotely, however, you might be struggling with this new kind of work-life balance.
My husband and I still have a lot to learn about educating and parenting, but since we’ve been working from home for years, this is a fish-in-water situation for the two of us and our three-year-old girl and nine-month-old boy. Here are three ways you can encourage learning, play, and discovery in your little ones, with minimal television and while allowing you to get your work done.
Include Preschoolers In Your Daily Activities
The wonderful thing about toddlers is they want to be doing whatever you’re doing. They will follow you everywhere, stand directly in the way, and ask a thousand questions. When we’re frazzled and tired, our instinct is to put our kids aside to do something else (like watch TV) while we “get this done.”
Chores like laundry, dishes, making dinner, and dusting all need to get done on top of your “work” work, but they’re also great opportunities for your little one to learn and bond with you. Including preschoolers in kid-safe housekeeping is a great way to minimize exasperation and help them develop important skills and habits.
When I move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, my preschooler helps push the wet clothes off the door and into the dryer barrel. When they’re ready to be folded, I hand her all the rectangular items like towels and burp cloths for her to practice folding. (She’s not terrible at it! She just needs reminders of how to do it.)
When I’m wiping down glass surfaces, I give her a paper towel and let her help me clean. And of course, putting toys away is a “you do, I help” kind of activity.
Baking is also a great way to help them learn by letting them scoop things like flour and sugar. (“Three scoops, four scoops, five scoops!”) It makes our daughter’s day when she can whisk flour mixtures or cool liquids like icing under close supervision.
Even when your little one can’t directly assist you, you can include her by letting her imitate you. When I vacuum, she pulls out her toy vacuum (you can help your kid find something roughly equivalent in their toy box or the broom closet) and follows me all over the house. When I’m cooking hot meals, she pulls out her little pots and pans (or extra kitchen items you have in your cabinets) and starts stirring and frying things on the dinner table.
Asking what they’re making and how they’re making it (“Are you stirring the spaghetti sauce? Is it simmering?”) is a fun way to help them develop vocabulary and use their imagination while you prepare meals.
While your daily activities can take significantly longer when including small children, they are less stressful and more rewarding for you and enriching for them. And it won’t be long before they are skilled enough to help you get things done faster, or even by themselves.
Save Brain Work for Nap and Quiet Times
After years of struggling to do “mom stuff” and write at the same time (I’ve typed tens of thousands of words with one hand while breastfeeding), I’ve come to realize that it usually generates more frustration than actual accomplishment, especially if you make a habit of trying to squeeze brain-work into three- or four-minute increments. Save work that requires concentration for when your kids are sleeping or in quiet time, which your preschooler may have transitioned to after outgrowing naps.
I also recommend trading no-distraction periods with your spouse, when possible. Mom or dad can take the kids for a walk or to the park while you hammer out your priority emails or make calls.
In any case, nap time is ideal for “deep work” because it is the quietest. You’ll be surprised the amount of work you can get done with none of the typical office or childcare distractions. The most productive hours of the day for most people are before lunchtime and the least productive are in the early afternoon, meaning morning naptime is the golden window of accomplishment and the late afternoon rebound can be saved for dinner prep.
So schedule your hardest brain work while your kids are sleeping and don’t even think about it until nap time comes around. The stress of thinking about one kind of work while doing another will eat away at your composure, especially during a pandemic.
Of course, if you are an early bird, or capable of becoming one, getting up one to two hours before your kids can also boost productivity and your attitude. Even if you don’t get a lot done before the children wake up, it promotes a feeling of being ahead of the day instead of behind it, and that will translate to more patient and cheerful interactions with your kids.
Read Books Aloud Every Day
You’ve heard it a thousand times before: reading to your kids encourages cognitive development and academic success and helps you bond with them.
Books are a great nighttime ritual, but they’re great to incorporate into your morning ritual, too. Read a book after breakfast or listen to some stories or rhymes or the Bible (I use a Bible app). Some of my fondest memories of being homeschooled was when my mom read to us in the mornings.
I try to weave learning into the natural rhythm of the day, but that doesn’t preclude you from dropping what you’re doing when your preschooler runs up with a book at some random time in the afternoon. You don’t always have to say yes, but who in the world have you ever heard say they wished they hadn’t read so much to their kids?
That being said, toddlers will have one or two favorites they will ask to read every day. Save those for bedtime, which is more of a calming, pre-sleep ritual than a learning time anyway. Consider making a habit of reading at least one non-favorite book in the morning and follow a non-favorite with a favorite before nap time.
My three-year-old throws an occasional fit when I overrule her choice, but quickly gets over it when I start reading. Not only will the variety encourage broader exposure to grammatical structures and vocabulary, but it will keep you from going insane from repeating the same lines over and over. The more variety you can incorporate into your home life while cooped up, the better.
Give Yourself Leeway as You Adjust
Whether you’re a working mom or working dad, if you’re not used to nurturing little ones 24/7, it’s going to be an adjustment. Patience with children is like a muscle in that it takes time to strengthen.
It doesn’t matter how hard the work you were doing outside the home was; being the nurturer day in and day out is a different kind of work that’s just as difficult. Add remote work on top of that, and you’re basically working two full-time jobs at the same time.
Go easy on yourself and your partner, and if you’re a single parent, double it. It’s okay if you’re exhausted by one o’ clock the first few days. It’s okay to feel in over your head. If your kids spend a few afternoons watching Sesame Street or “Ask the Storybots,” so what? We may be in a pandemic, but as far as parenting goes, it’s not the end of the world.