As I sit down to write a post for this demography blog tonight, it is hard to think of anything but New Zealand’s announcement today that we should be in full lockdown in our homes as soon as possible, and at the latest by midnight this Wednesday.

It is hard to get my head around the many implications of this, including the most imminent one; our three crazy children all at home all the time.  Our youngest turns two today.  I am still not clear exactly what we can do outside within our family group.

It has been a week of pressure and uncertainty with each new development coming apace.

However, I am also conscious that this will be a golden opportunity for families to come together and enjoy a lot more family time than ever before.  For some, this may be the most time they’ve ever been able to spend with their children.  As parents, while acknowledging many of us will find it very stressful to manage part or full-time jobs alongside caring for our children full-time, it could also be a very special time of amazing memories if we choose to treat it as such.

There are many people in the Mercatornet community who choose to homeschool.  I would love to hear your top tips for managing, educating and playing with your children at home.  Especially if you have preschool children in the mix as well, so expecting everyone to sit calmly at the table for any length of time is likely not an option!

Here are some tips I have thought of as I work this through in my own head:

  • Consider agreeing on a family contract / some family rules which everyone agrees to over the period that you will all be at home together;
  • Set up structure and routine (one of my good friends just sent me through a picture of her schedule clearly drawn up on a whiteboard for tomorrow so her 6-year-old son will know exactly how the “school” day will unfold.  Another friend is considering making her son wear his school uniform for a shortened school day to help him to visually understand the transition between doing some school work and free play time.  Another will still be packing lunch boxes for the day to ensure she isn’t eaten out of house and home too quickly!);
  • Make family exercise a part of your routine.  It will be good for everyone’s mental health.  Consider how you can appropriately and responsibly get outdoors if this is an option available to you;
  • Consider skyping friends, or even having some virtual classroom sessions with friends.  Can you virtually teach a lesson to all your children with a friend and build a feeling of “we’re all in this together”?;
  • Remember that play is important learning for children too.  Think of creative ideas for your house, or backyard if you have one, like a household item or nature scavenger hunt;
  • Consider whether there is a large project that everyone can get excited about, and even young children can play a part in.  This could be a small building project that you already have supplies for.  Could you learn a family dance to pull out at your next party?!  If it is the right season and you have access to some seeds, planting a garden is always rewarding.  Consider planning out whatever it is almost as if it is a school project.  Can one child draw up plans?  Can another figure out some maths problems associated with the project? (this may involve taking very seriously something just a little contrived!), Can everyone have a set role that is age appropriate?  Can a younger child play alongside the project with a toy version of what is taking place?  Can a report be written up about how it goes?  Make sure there is a pre-decided reward for finishing and a real celebration of the work that has gone in to whatever it might be;
  • Take turns with your partner to have “time off” from the kids if you can.  Perhaps have some times when you have pre-agreed child-care shifts – especially if you are both managing work;
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve.  These are highly unusual events.  If you tend towards being a perfectionist like me, remember that you are not being lazy by admitting to yourself and others than you just can’t do everything you normally do right now, and others will likely fully understand;
  • Consider making family functions into a real event which break up the week.  One of the most popular reward system ‘prizes’ in our household is holding a “family movie night”.  The kids get so excited about getting to choose dinner, choose dessert and then all sit down together in the lounge to watch a movie.  If you have children who are able to cook, can you plan out a menu and courses, with each child cooking something?  Could you use online cooking shows or different cuisines for inspiration?;
  • Consider what resources may be available online for older kids and yourself if you start to go crazy.  For example, my boot camp has gone virtual, and I am wondering if the combination of some connection with friends and some exercise (though I have to think about this one with my children home!) could make the whole day go better.  I have also seen virtual martial arts classes and all sorts of other skills are being offered.  Could you learn important skills as a family, like First Aid, new soccer moves or even knitting if have the appropriate equipment?  Duolingo is also great for learning languages, and I’m sure there are lots of other extracurricular activities on offer virtually too; and
  • Could older children create a visual or written diary of everything you get up to, and make an online photo book of this time for printing?   My children love to take photos and videos.  Speaking of photos, if you can connect up your laptop to the TV, this a great opportunity to finally have a viewing night for all the thousands of family photos and videos you likely have saved somewhere in the cloud.  

I would be really interested in any other ideas to help make this a special time of connection for families.  We are our children’s first and primary teachers.  The more hours of influence we have while they are young and still within our care, the better off they will be in the long term. 

Parenthood should be regarded as a highly professional role, and this time is a great opportuntity to become even more conscious of treating it as such.  I find intellectualising parenting problems and tasks, just as a professional would, does great things for my patience!  “The days are long, but the years are short.”  Yes, the days might now be very long indeed.  

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...