Things are a little unsettled. Regular routines are shot to pieces. Staying productive, calm, and focused might be a challenge, especially if you have children who gravitate to flickering screens like proverbial moths to the flame. Vacation routines won’t work — we won’t be spending all day eating candy canes and unwrapping presents, and we won’t be sunbathing at the beach all day, either. Hanging out at the library is off the table, traveling is unthinkable, and playgrounds are full of shared surfaces that can harbor viruses for days. Home is the place to be, with your own household, closer than ever, for better or worse.
Keeping somewhat busy and establishing a new routine can help. Island schools will be providing educational resources for their students by Monday, March 23, but these will probably not include a full school day of strictly scheduled classes. Families will still have to create some sort of structure that helps kids do what they need to do. Some might do well with a set schedule, especially if parents are still going to work at regular hours, but others might want to try a more flexible routine, as many homeschooling families do.
Alyssa DaSilva, whose household includes four children (ages 4, 6, 8,and 16), maintains a loose routine. “We have a flow to our days and do things in basically the same order every day,” she says, “but we don’t have a set time that we do things every day.” The younger kids do their schoolwork in the mornings, but the 16-year-old does most of her work later in the day. Emily Smith of West Tisbury homeschools her two children (ages 4 and 8). They start the day with reading aloud, then an audio book during breakfast, then do most of their school work early in the day — ideally before lunch, but definitely before mid-afternoon, in order to have plenty of time outside.
Libraries are currently closed to the public but are (as of this writing) still lending books and other resources like movies, puzzles, and games. Audio books are particularly helpful because they provide a way for children and parents to relax a little without the dreaded screen time. Audible has many inexpensively priced classics in their store, and you can download audiobooks for free through Clamsnet, using the OverDrive app on your phone. For help with this process, and to find out what your library can provide at this time, call during regular library hours, when library staff will be available to answer questions and arrange lending.
Other indoor activities that can be fun, and mildly educational, include board games, arts and crafts, and cooking. Check your shelves for toys that haven’t been used, or games that haven’t been played in a while. Find forgotten craft supplies and see what the kids come up with. If they get stuck, there are innumerable blogs, YouTube channels, and Pinterest pages full of ideas. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just drawing a picture every day can give kids (and adults) a creative outlet — all you need is paper and some kind of writing or drawing implement. I also fantasize about the kids somehow learning to clean their rooms properly, but that’s just wishful thinking.
The most important part of the day, in terms of combating bad moods and cabin fever, is getting outside and moving around. Fortunately, the Island has an abundance of uncrowded walking trails, and most Islanders have a yard. The weather is warm enough now for kids to get started on gardening, digging up a small patch of ground, to be planted with peas and lettuce now, or a variety of vegetables and flowers later in the spring. Gardening can provide a sense of accomplishment and some physical exercise. All that’s needed is a shovel and maybe a set of gardening gloves. Seeds are available at local grocery stores or online, so in-person shopping for supplies can be kept to a minimum.
Simple physical games like playing catch can pass the time (just keep it within one household), and if there are other kids in the neighborhood you might be able to take walks or do bicycle rides together — just as long as everyone stays physically separated. Another way of getting exercise is to get moving together. I asked my sixth grader if she would be willing to teach us some of the yoga she’d learned in school, and she said “no way.” I’ll ask again in a week. In the meantime, I’ve seen my kids and their friends enjoy dancing along to “Just Dance,” which can be found on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChIjW4BWKLqpojTrS_tX0mg). Singing together is fun and cathartic, too — you can sing a capella or with instruments, sing along to the radio or with a karaoke track.
One more outdoor activity that kids can try is bird-watching, or animal watching. Kids can try sitting quietly outside to watch and listen for birds and other wildlife, then try to identify what they’ve seen. This is especially interesting at dusk when a variety of animals are moving around.
Soon, it will be time to fix dinner, and this is another opportunity to teach kids a valuable life skill. With restaurant dining on the list of banned activities, it’s a great time to try a new recipe, or let a young chef take charge of making a simple dinner. Winding down and getting to bed at a regular time should help everyone get enough sleep and thereby stay on an even keel, emotionally. Someday soon we will all be back to our previous routines of school and going out to work, and I’d rather not struggle with jet lag when that time comes. For now, getting along, enjoying life, and learning will all be a little different as we figure out how to manage with the shutdown. Staying home will be challenging at times, but it’s also an opportunity to watch spring come to our own backyards.