It’s been four months since kids have last been in a classroom — and it’s at least another six weeks before they may or may not physically return to school.
Have your kids gone feral? One day rolls into another. Schedule? What schedule? Bedtime? What bedtime? So much screen time, so little activity.
Even in summer, even in this time of pandemic, schedules are important to kids.
The developing brain benefits from consistency, says Dr. Stanley Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics and Texas Children’s Urgent Care.
If kids are going to bed at different times and waking up at different times, they can’t get their bodies adjusted and they are exhausted, he says.
"Our internal clocks are not set to work that way," he says.
Not having a set schedule can mean meal times slide and nutrition might not be as good. It also can mean that kids don’t get exercise.
Kids are also feeling more stress around the uncertainty of the last few months.
"Even though they are at home, they are feeling that stress," says Dr. Meena Iyer, the chief medical officer at Dell Children’s Medical Center.
She recommends slowing bringing kids back into a structure, which can help ease that uncertainty.
Create a daily schedule and post it on a white board or poster board in the kitchen. Let the kids offer their own ideas about what Camp (insert your last name here) looks like.
Some of that schedule can include resources from local groups that are experts at running camps. Many of our local day-camp providers are doing virtual camps this year such as the Thinkery, Zach Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Girlstart, and our local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts councils. The Andy Roddick Foundation offers its own schedule of activities to do each day. These camps are a mix of scheduled online content as well as some kits you can pick up and work on at convenient times for your family.
Make sure exercise is part of the schedule. Kids need ways to burn off energy. It could be going outside and running around the yard or taking an exploration walk around the neighborhood. It could be creating their own games and obstacle courses or playing some standard ones like basketball, tag and relay races with their siblings.
Also schedule some quiet time for things like reading, puzzles and projects. Build in hands-on and creative time with art projects, age-appropriate cooking, building blocks, Play-Doh and slime.
Expand creativity by making up silly songs and games, having your own dance party or performing your own plays.
Try to limit screen time to high-quality games and programs that teach something or group viewing like a family movie night.
You don’t have to schedule each minute of the day. Free time and even boredom can bring about the best opportunities for learning and creativity.
Do build in time for winding down before bed. The wind-down ritual is important because you can’t expect kids to go from running around to being asleep in five minutes.
They need a bedtime routine and a consistent bedtime, even if it is slightly different in the summer than the school year.
While Spinner knows that bedtime can often be power struggle, especially if you’ve been out of a routine, start establishing consistency and expectations.
Think about winding down with a bath and then reading a story to them, or, if they are old enough, having them read a story to you. If kids are older, you can give them some quiet time and set a timer for when it’s lights out.
At that time, remove all electronics in the bedroom, or whatever other temptations your kid might have to stay awake. For some younger kids, that could be creating a ritual of putting some favorite toys to bed, too.
If the struggle continues, consider rewarding good behavior the next day, as well as walking away and letting them cry for a set time and then increasing that time each night until they finally go to sleep without crying.
Both Iyer and Spinner recognize that all of this is hard to do for the single parent trying to also work from home right now.
The routine, though, can help kids know when you need quiet to get on that Zoom call and when you can be more present with activities you can do together.