As I’ve been sorting through the changes and announcements, the articles and the graphs, the stories and the panics with Coronavirus, I’ve realized how nerve-wracking the swift changes are for many families.
“What are we going to do each day?”
“How will we keep our kids occupied?”
“When will I have time for myself?”
“How can I teach my kids anything?”
Within 2 days we went from talking somewhat casually about the virus, and very quickly media exploded with closures and warnings. Now our lives are turned upside-down: events canceled; Schools closing; people panicking. And we are “social distancing” around the country. Many may wonder what “social distancing” really looks like and are unsure if all these measures are worth it.
My feeling is it will look different for everyone.
And yes. It will be worth it.
It will be worth it because human life is valuable. And it will be even more worth it for our families if we choose to be intentional with this time we have been given.
Families have been given a gift of time
For the past few years, our family has been living a home-centered life.
We homeschool our 5 children. My husband has worked fully remote for 5 years. Even our church is increasingly home-centered in it’s approach to learning.
And we love it.
You might say, “Well that works for you. It could never work for me.” but hear me out. My purpose is to inspire a new way of thinking: a way to enjoy life by
- Intentionally focusing on relationships
- Thinking outside the box, and
- Becoming creators as a family team.
1. Focus on Relationships
How many times a week do we find ourselves saying “I just don’t have the time to do…” And often those things we “don’t have time to do” are the things that build relationships with family members or with God.
We now have time to do this. With fewer places to go, less time spent commuting, fewer commitments outside the home, we can either waste away that time in anxiety and worry (scouring Facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc) or we can put down our devices and turn our focus to do better things.
Throw a ball with your kids. Play a board game with your spouse. Write a handwritten letter to a friend. Call a grandparent. Bake with your child. Read a book with your spouse. Pray and study scriptures. Sing a song. Dance with your kids. Write down dreams you have together. Play a video game with your family. Do chores together.
When we are intentional with our time, especially towards relationships, we find outsized benefits again and again. We are motivated, fulfilled, and better able to do everything else we want to do because of the joy that comes from focusing on individual relationships.
Some examples from our experience:
Time to yourself. I used to think “I have 5 little kids. there is no way I can get up and have alone time before they wake up.” So I would just try to “fit it in” to my already packed day. And of course, that never worked. I finally took the plunge and started waking up at 5 am every day to study, prepare and be ready for my day. Amazing things happened. I was more patient. I was more loving. I was more spiritually focused. I could talk to my kids as a leader instead of a manager. Your relationship with yourself is just as important as your relationship with your family. Nurture it so you can nurture them. Sacrifice for it and you will see that it is worth it.
Kids who beg to play. My 6-year-old loves to play board games. He is always asking someone to play a game with him. We try to say yes as often as we can, but after 4 days of monopoly, we just don’t want to play anymore! But I can tell you that the days I say ‘yes’ to playing a board game with him, even if I negotiate to one that I actually would like to play, he is much happier. 1:1 time is vital to building relationships.
Kids on the go. My 9-year-old is always on the go. He walks about 10 feet ahead of us on all family outings, he is rarely in any pictures because he is off doing the “next thing” all the time. And he is such a “boy”! Everything that gets him excited, I have zero experience or zero enjoyment in. So how do I build a relationship with him? Well, after much thought and prayer we have found a mutual activity that we enjoy together — jigsaw puzzles. We love to talk over puzzles, talk about puzzles, find new puzzles, watch youtube videos about puzzles, etc. If I ever feel I need to connect with this child, I know I need to call him over to do a puzzle and we will be good to go. When it feels like you just don’t know how to connect, don’t give up hope. Keep trying. An answer will come.
Connect with your spouse. Give them some of your best time because this is the most important relationship you can and should build in your home. Connect through words. Connect through touch. Connect through technology. Connect through memories.
One thing we enjoy doing is scrolling through old pictures while music is playing in the background. It’s like an impromptu slideshow. But it helps us to be on the same page every day. It helps us to be aligned in our goals, our work, our family, and our dreams.
2. Think out of the box
Many parents may be working from home and have children home from school now and wondering how on earth they are going to survive the rest of the month. No need to fear. Just think of it as a challenge to think outside the box a little bit. Some thoughts on how we do this in our home fulltime:
Myth: learning can only be done with a teacher figure lecturing down to a student figure.
Learning happens anywhere and everywhere. Your kids were born observers and they still are. When you think about it this way, the task to be done isn’t to have a list of “x,y,z” to set up and YOU have to teach them every day. The task at hand is to think about “what opportunities am I giving my kids today?”
For example: If I want my kids to learn about money. I could give them a worksheet I printed on the internet for them to fill out. That would be fine. But I could ALSO:
- Play monopoly, life or other games that deal with counting money.
- We could get out cash and talk about the different currencies and coins.
- Then use that money in our kitchen pantry as if it is a shopping center and have the kids label the groceries, buy the groceries, give each other change, etc.
- We could watch videos online about how the government makes money.
- We could watch/read articles about the economy and how flows of economy work in our nation and other nations.
- Use a map or a globe to look at other nations.
- Talk about the money used in different places.
Use google often to learn. The list and ideas could go on and on. And when you think outside the box, you’ll find that it’s hard to stay just with one subject (math) but suddenly you are touching on geography, social studies, history, and creativity.
Check out Unit Studies Made Easy for a resource that could help you think outside the box a little bit for a topic that you think your kids should explore.
And the neat thing is you can adjust as needed — some topics your kids may run with and want to explore all week. Others may only last a day. Some topics you might end up spending more time learning with them, and others they will do more themselves.
Our topic we chose for our home the next week or two is Oceans.
- I have found a list of youtube videos to watch about oceans, animals, coral reefs, fish, whales, dolphins, etc.
- I found books at the library — kids are never too old for picture books. 😉
- We also will be reading a book aloud together (snuggling on giant beanbags or the couches are my personal favorite spots) about a girl who lived during the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
- We will be doing science experiments with sinking and floating, talking about density, understanding temperatures and how currents and waves and tides are made, introducing the topography of the ocean floor.
- Art projects are amazing for this topic. Painting, gluing, cutting, sand art, go outside in the yard and find some sand, order seashells online, etc. all sorts of things to do.
- We will be baking and cooking together. Some ideas I have in the back of my head right now are snack mixes we would normally take to the beach (could do a read-a-thon with the snacks we make?!) and maybe ocean jello or a fancy fish dinner!
- *For older kids — have them research the topic and report to you in some way. Make a poster. Make a slide deck (google slides or adobe spark are easy free ways to do this). Type a paper.
- Feeling Artistic? Go paint a mural or Print out coloring pages for littles.
- Write a letter/email to a marine biologist.
Myth: School subjects are the only framework for learning
Subjects taught at school are important but they are not the all-encompassing list. Branch out. Think about what you and your kids really want to know how to do. Some examples could be:
- Family History — personal and finding ancestors
- Doing their own laundry
- computer programming
- Chess or other strategy games
- Rubik’s cubes
- Baking/cooking certain foods
- designing (digitally or by hand)
- home projects — building, painting, sanding, etc.
- finding joy in fiction vs. nonfiction books
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. It can seem overwhelming at first, but as you do it, you’ll come to find many benefits. It will keep everyone busy, you will all learn as you go, and you will enjoy the time together.
The list is endless
Thinking outside the box applies to other areas of life as well:
Myth: I have to stay inside all the time
Staying cooped up could lead to problems of loneliness, isolation, more germs and sickness if we shut out the world and treat our homes like a cement room with no windows or doors. “Social Distancing” is advised now, which means not shaking hands, not going to group activities, and keeping a distance from others.
However, if we think outside the box, we will make sure we still get time outside in fresh air.
- Go throw a ball.
- Go on a walk.
- Maybe we skip the playground, but I teach my 5-year-old to ride a 2 wheeler (finally)!
- Go on a family bike ride.
- Go up to the mountains and hike.
- Do those things that you only do on “vacation” and try to be outdoors where other crowds aren’t and where you aren’t touching public surfaces.
Myth: Staying in your home means you can’t be social
Again, negative side effects to isolating yourself and not giving yourself time with your peers. This is one of the biggest myths of homeschooling — that homeschool kids don’t ever talk to anyone.
Think outside the box:
- Call people
- Text people
- Video chat
- Use social media (though I will say that if social media is stressing you out, get off now! It never stops! lol).
- Check-in with your neighbors just to see how they are doing.
- Plan in time for your kids to call their friends. If you have multiple kids then they will have each other to play with in person but they will want to have chances to interact with their friends. Thank goodness we live in an age of technology.
Myth: It is weird to give hugs, especially to teenagers
This is completely untrue.
Family therapist Virginia Satir advises:
“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”
We all need physical touch. We all need that closeness. As your kids are transitioning from their normal to a “new normal”, make sure to hug them. Hold them close. Hold your spouse close. Studies show that hugs reduce stress, protect against illness, make us happier, and communicate love and support.
- When a child seems to be unreasonable, if I rub their back or hug them, it can bring their heightened stress level down.
- When I am feeling unsure how to connect with a child and they are closed off and can’t answer what they are feeling, a hug can open those doors.
- Hug your kids through the stress. Put it in the back of your mind to hug them multiple times every day…watch and see what happens. You’ll see changes in you and them.
These are just a few examples of how we approach daily life with our children. Hopefully, these spark ideas for you, your family, and what you care about.
How might you think outside the box?
3. Become Creators as a Family Team
Just because you are the parent doesn’t mean it is fully your responsibility to plan and carry out the “entertainment” and schedule for the next couple weeks. In our home, we ask the kids for their input and ideas daily and we also give them chances to be responsible for tasks or schedules. We view our home, our school, our activities as all of ours instead of mom and dad always being the acting agents.
Every day we talk about the schedule for the day, today’s priorities, and Dad’s work schedule. The kids get out planners and write down the things they hope to accomplish that day (or for younger kids, mom already has a list prepared for them).
We also counsel at the end of the day asking everyone at the dinner table “What did you learn today?” Sometimes the kids give funny answers and then it leads to real discussion of good experiences, messages, and principles that they have learned today. Mom and Dad also contribute what they learned today. After dinner, we clean up and prepare for the next day.
These include household chores, school tasks, fun activities, solo time, screen time, and outdoor time.
We always begin our day with some sort of devotional. For us, this includes prayer, song, and scripture study. Then we have a discussion of the day (ie.Family council). We firmly believe that if we do the most important things first, then the rest of the day will fall into place.
Household chores— Families who learn to work together, stay together. Or at least can learn to enjoy working with each other. Create a system that works for your family.
We have breakfast jobs, lunch jobs and dinner jobs assigned to each member of the family. Think outside the box here — what needs to be done and what could parents handoff for kids to do?
Our oldest makes breakfast every day because she enjoys cooking and wants to get better at it. Because she is learning to cook, she also needs to learn how to do dishes by hand. So at dinner time she often is in charge of that. Pairing kids together to do laundry, to put by hand dishes away, etc. is a great learning tool.
Other parts of routines: Create the systems that work for your family.
- use planners for children who can read and write (or a piece of paper daily works just as well)
- set certain times for certain activities — be specific about screen time vs. downtime vs. learning time
- post a general routine in an obvious place to help keep kids from wandering or being off task (add pictures to the posted routine for non-readers)
Church at home expectations
There is a neat template for an at-home worship service found here. We haven’t done church at home yet but are excited to experience this and excited to create habits in this area. Our thoughts are:
- Be clear about what time church starts.
- Wear church clothes.
- Have a program in place so all family members know what to expect.
- Include family members in choosing hymns and saying prayers and bearing testimony.
Reward Systems: Create experiences to look forward to as a family.
Have you always wanted to go on a specific hike? Go to a specific beach? Watch a specific movie together? Now’s is the time to do that!
Learn a specific game. Do a project you have just “not had the time for”. Organize the garage. Plant a garden. Make a quilt. Do a service project at home that you can give to others later. Bake a new recipe.
Set up systems to be able to do these things together.
Experiences as rewards can include:
- Friday Family Movie Night. We choose a movie at the beginning of the week and we are looking forward to watching it on Friday night. It isn’t conditioned just on how much “good” we do during the week, but the anticipation to make it to Friday is sometimes motivation enough to just keep going.
- New recipes for breakfasts. We often keep these exciting recipes for Saturday mornings. It becomes something to anticipate and look forward to and prepare for.
- Growing a garden. We grew a garden as a family a couple of years ago. It became a family activity to plant, weed, and harvest after all our hard work. Every Saturday we would go out and work together. It wasn’t just Dad’s responsibility. Our kids still have fond memories of that time and talk about it often and ask when we can do it again.
- Video game championships! How often does mom sit down and play video games with her boys who love it so much? Take the time to do it together.
Again, the list could go on and on. There are systems, experiences, and memories you can create as a family.
What else can you Create together?
I hope in reading these experiences you can catch a vision of what a home-centered life can look like.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, interviewed patients at the end of their lives and asked them about their biggest regrets. The top 5 regrets were:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
All these things have to do with building relationships, thinking outside the box, and creating the world we want.
This month we’ve been given the gift of time together as families. Every one of these regrets will be less of a factor in our lives if we are intentional about how we spend our time.
It can be scary to think about this much change at once. Some days being with your kids 24/7 is tough. Embrace it. You won’t regret it.