Kids at home for 2 more weeks? Here are some creative, practical tips for parents

·4 min read

With elementary students stuck at home for at least two more weeks, some Ottawa-area experts are offering creative tips for parents who may need help.

Students who opted for in-person learning were supposed to go back to school on Jan. 11. But on Thursday, Ontario extended online learning for all elementary students in southern and eastern Ontario until Jan. 25., amid record-high COVID-19 numbers in the province.

From meaningful craft ideas to taking some time for self-care, here are some tips for parents to survive the next few weeks:

Create a family memory book

Wendy O'Connell-Smith, co-ordinator of parenting programs with Family Services Ottawa, says connecting with your children is key.

"Quality of an attachment helps guide [your] children toward better behaviour. It helps in making discipline easier," she said.

To create that connection, she suggests creating a family memory book together.

That could mean drawing or colouring pictures, taking photographs, making video blogs, or writing poetry about how you're passing time.

"They can capture what it was like to live through a pandemic," she said. "It instinctively creates a fun moment for everyone."

Tyson Koschik/CBC
Tyson Koschik/CBC

Make a routine with the kids

Children need guidance, consistency and predictability, added O'Connell-Smith — and her tip is to involve kids in coming up with a routine for the next few weeks.

"Have some fun with this," O'Connell-Smith said.

"If a routine is getting dressed in the morning, they can print off a picture and colour it and add it to a routine schedule."

Learn their online platforms

Mimi Masson, a professor of education at the University of Ottawa, suggests parents try positioning their children as the experts and let them do the teaching.

For instance, you can get them to show you their online learning platform. That can help put them at ease, she said.

"Take some time to learn," said Masson, who has a son in Grade 4. "We have this rare opportunity as parents here to actually really be involved and present in our kids' learning."

It's OK to have time away from the kids. There's no need to feel guilty about that. - Sylvia Corzato, Parent and behaviour coach

Masson says it's also important to explain computer basics to younger kids — from browser tabs to mute buttons.

"How does the camera work? How does the mic work?" said Masson. "All these little things will help your child be able to navigate their new online learning environment a little bit better."

Play games and make a healthy snack board

Sylvia Corzato, a parent consultant and behaviour coach based in Ottawa, says she plays a game of "rapid-fire questions" with her children at the dinner table.

It involves parents asking questions in quick succession — like, what they learned in math class today, and what they struggled with — and then kids answer without thinking too much.

"Sometimes when we're sitting down with our children and we're asking them one-on-one questions, they feel intimidated or there's a barrier," she said.

A rapid format is motivating and light, and parents will get "a more true perspective" of their children's answers, said Corzato.

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Corzato also suggests having healthy snacks readily available, and writing the menu somewhere so the kids can self-serve.

"What I like to use in our household is a dry-erase board," she said. "They know what they could have so that they're not always scrambling to look for something."

Don't feel guilty about self-care

All of that will drain your energy, said Corzato.

She suggests taking a bath, going for a walk with your dog, or reading a book — and when you take care of yourself, you take better care of your children.

"We can't pour from an empty cup," she said.

"It's OK to have time away from the kids. There's no need to feel guilty about that."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Pick your battles, celebrate small things

Rebecca Stanisic, an Ottawa mother-of two who runs the parenting blog A Little Bit of Momsense, says although homework is important, parents should "pick and choose [their] homework battles."

"After a long day, sometimes the kids just need a break," Stanisic said.

Stanisic is also reminding parents to celebrate the wins — no matter how small.

"Just getting through a school day can be a win. Handing in an assignment is a win," she said.