COVID-19 Part 2: Keep Smiling

Hello again, all! I hope you had some great home-based adventures with the tips from Part 1 of our special Saturday Smiles at Home series.

Let’s be honest: Imaginary field trips and forts in the backyard are marvelous, but shelter-in-place doesn’t mean it can be Saturday seven days a week. Today I want to share more tips and resources to help you balance your family’s overall well-being.

Image by Picjumbo on Pixabay

Distance Learning

Let me start with this: PLAY IS LEARNING. You do NOT need “curriculum” for your toddlers and preschoolers, even if their schools are closed right now. (And remember that I say this as a certified preschool teacher.) Open-ended materials, free time to explore, and supportive adults who are around when needed are the most important ingredients for learning. Hands-on experience is the best teacher. Your kids honestly don’t need you to entertain them 24/7. Let them play.

To those of you with older children whose schools are attempting distance learning systems, of course follow their school’s guidance. Just remember that kids of all ages benefit from unstructured downtime, so when their school day and homework are done, let it be done. Please, please don’t worry that they’re “wasting time” by not having “real” school right now. They need downtime to relax and process, and they need the stress release from play to stay healthy on all levels. Let them play. 

Okay, soap box finished. Thank you.

soap bubble hanging on a bubble wand
Image by Sally Wynn from Pixabay

If you do feel the need for an academic supplement for your older kids, many online learning sites are opening some or all of their resources for free right now to help with the crisis. Khan Academy is particularly robust and well-respected.

Life skills are curriculum too.

This is also an excellent time to teach your kids life skills. Which way do you turn a screwdriver? How do you do laundry? How do you make pizza from scratch? How do you safely use a knife to cut the vegetables for dinner? How do you check the air pressure in your tires? What creative projects can they sew out of scrap fabric? If you give them a chance, your kids will truly amaze you with their capability at any age.

girl baking cupcakes
Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

And if you made it to adulthood without learning these skills, you’re not alone. Look up YouTube tutorials and learn the skills together with your kids. It’s 100% okay for kids to see that adults don’t know everything. Role modeling a “lifelong learner” attitude is a powerful gift to give them!

Social Stories

This is a new situation for everyone, but some of us handle new situations more easily than others.

This excellent social story from Easter Seals can help. It’s about why we’re washing our hands so much, why schools are closed, and how the adults are still here to care for kids and keep them safe. I really like this one.

cover to Easter Seals social story called My Coronavirus Story

The Autism Society of Florida also has two very short and simple social stories, as well as other COVID-19 information, on their home page.

Some children (and adults) are also extremely sensitive to the ambient stress level in their house and community. Don’t be surprised if you see more stress reactions that seem out of proportion to what’s happening in the moment. There’s just a lot to process.

Special Needs

Families of children with special needs are obviously used to caring for those needs at home. Still, for some of you, 24/7 togetherness means being on duty 24/7 without a natural mid-day break. That’s a lot. Be patient with yourself as well as with your kids. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself and recharge your own batteries. Take turns with another family member or call for respite care if you can. We’re all human.

two teddy bears hugging
Photo by congerdesign on Pixabay

Fortunately, some things are within your control. If your child struggles with changes in routine, for example, try to keep a consistent routine at home. You can print a free visual schedule to help them follow along.

Take a breather.

Need a calm-down break, or a soothing transition between activities in your routine? Try this. Turn off all background music, TV, and other noise in the house. Turn on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Jelly Cam” feed (with or without sound) and just watch for 60 seconds. It’s incredibly soothing!

screenshot of MBA's live Jelly Cam

Random Acts of Kindness

Even from home, there’s a lot we can do to take care of our community. For example:

  • Make cards for the firefighters at your local fire station.
  • Call your neighbors and family members on the phone to check in.
  • If you play an instrument well, you can invite your neighbors to open their doors and listen to you play from your porch.
  • Leave cheerful chalk doodles or encouraging messages on the sidewalk for your neighbors to enjoy.
rainbow drawn in sidewalk chalk
Image by Paula Wiseman from Pixabay
  • If you have to go to the store, ask your neighbors if they need anything while you’re there. The fewer people going out, the more we can slow the spread of this pesky germ.
  • Got a talent or favorite art project? Post “how to” videos on YouTube for others to enjoy.
  • Order take-out from your favorite local family restaurant. Support other local small businesses by buying their gift cards now (to use later when the shops re-open) or shopping directly on their websites instead of the usual giant warehouse websites.
  • If you know how to sew, make washable cotton masks for medical professionals who are running low on the disposable kind.

This is also a great time to clean out your closets. Gratitude and generosity are the best ways I’ve found to counteract the “hoarder” mentality that’s out in the ether right now. Consciously recognize how much you have, give thanks for abundance, and see what you can release to help families in need. You can look on Nextdoor for specific neighbors who need the help, or search for local sites that are still accepting donations.

Mental health matters too!

Of course this is all changing every day, but some experts believe the social distancing may have to extend well into the summer. We don’t know yet if that means the full shelter-in-place measures will be in force that long, but it does mean life isn’t likely to go back to normal anytime soon. At this point, it’s better to plan for the long haul and be pleasantly surprised if it ends earlier.

With that in mind, please figure out a system or routine that feels sustainable for your family. You don’t want to exhaust yourself by using up your “spoons” early on, only to find that this 3-week quarantine becomes a 3-month experience.

I know it’s incredibly hard to be teacher and caregiver while also working from home. It feels harder still when you’re cut off from some of your usual outside supports. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself along the way.

  • Can’t get to the nail salon? Declare a “me time” hour and do your own nails in the backyard while listening to your favorite music.
  • Want to try a new hobby? Check out YouTube videos on beginning crochet or old Bob Ross episodes to practice painting. Creative expression in any form is a powerful stress reliever.
    (Don’t have paints or canvas? Try the Procreate app on your iPad. It’s my favorite!)
screenshot of a Bob Ross "The Joy of Painting" classic episode
The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross on YouTube
  • Find a TED Talk on something you know nothing about.
  • Can’t get to your book group or Bible study? Do it over FaceTime. Remember, social distancing does not equal social isolating. Stay as connected as you can.

If you’re approaching the end of your rope, please reach out for help — mental health professionals are still available and there’s no shame in asking for support. Contact your doctor or one of these online supports.  You are not alone.

Stay Healthy

African-American father and daughter washing their hands
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I’ll spare you the usual “wash your hands” advice. You all know that by now. I will share a an idea from my former professor, though:

Q: What do you get when you close all the doors and windows and turn up the heat?
A: An incubator!

Even if none of you has this virus—and I pray you don’t—it’s still cold & flu season in general. Please don’t make your house an incubator. Whenever possible, open the doors and windows for at least half an hour every day to get fresh air in the house. It will lift your spirits, prevent that stuffy smell, and help you all stay healthier.

Stay Informed

If you haven’t already signed up for your city’s or county’s emergency alert system, now is a great time. Many places are using a system called Nixle to connect with everyone, so that’s a great place to start. Simply text your zip code to 888777 to opt in for your area. (Nixle is not just about COVID-19. It’s a general emergency alert system for severe weather and other emergency situations, so you’ll want to stay registered even after this pandemic is over.) They send out messages by text, phone, and/or email. You can also check out the city/county websites for wherever you live and look for emergency alerts. (For San Jose residents, scroll about halfway down this page for another way to sign up.)

screenshot of homepage

Keep smiling.

Watch your favorite comedy. Listen to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me  on NPR. Read the funniest book you own. Play charades, Pictionary, or another goofy game with your family. Re-hang your Christmas lights to add sparkle inside and out. Do whatever it takes to raise your spirits.

And hang in there. We’re in this together and we’ll get through it together. With some extra creativity, we might even enjoy parts of it. We’re here anyway, so slow down and appreciate the scenery. Look for joy, spread kindness (from 6 feet away, of course!), stay connected to those you love, and find a reason to smile every day!

Bunch of pink and yellow balloons with happy faces on the yellow ones
Photo by Hybrid on Unsplash

COVID-19 Part 1: How to Enjoy Staying Home

Happy Saturday, everyone! I hope your families are safe and happy. Obviously there won’t be any new destination posts here for a few weeks because everything we could visit is closed due to the coronavirus. Luckily, that doesn’t mean the fun is over!

Check out these great ideas for a shelter-in-place Saturday that you and your kids will remember with a smile:

Zoos & Aquariums

Many zoos and aquariums are livestreaming their most popular animals. You and your kids can read about your favorite animals and then watch them in real time. If you’re working from home, you could even open the livestream in a small corner of your screen and let the penguins keep you company during the week!

3 meerkats
Photo by Dušan Smetana on Unsplash

Take a virtual field trip

To take it a step further, how about an imaginary field trip? Pack the Cheerios in little baggies, put on your sweatshirts and sneakers, and line up the kitchen chairs in two columns to be the “car.” You can even let your kids do the “driving” on the way to your virtual zoo. Talk about what you think you’ll see, what sounds the animals make, or which animal they’d like to visit first. When you “arrive” at the “zoo,” you can pile out of the “car” and into the living room, where you’ve slung the livestreams onto your TV. Which animals are there? What else can we see? When it’s lunchtime, should we have a picnic beside the monkeys or the otters? Use your imaginations!

Photo by Karen Lau on Unsplash

Get outside!

It’s really, really important to get a little sunshine every day if you can. Even if you’re not an “outdoorsy” type (we can relate!), just go for a walk around the block or read your book on the patio for a little while. Social distancing can feel isolating enough; compounding that with lack of sunshine will make this time even harder. Please be kind to your mental health as well as your physical well-being.

sun peeking through pink flowers on a clear blue sky
Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash

If you don’t have a yard, you can still create a safe outdoor play space for your family. (Thanks to Janet Lansbury for that article!)

Playgrounds are closed; parks are open.

The shelter-in-place order says to stay home and stay indoors, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go outside at all. If you have a dog, walk the dog. If you want to go for a walk or ride your bike, go for it! Just make sure you’re staying 6 feet away from anyone else along the way. Please note that all playgrounds are currently closed in San Jose, but the parks themselves are open for walking, hiking, and biking.

Obviously the rules change frequently right now, so please see the official updates from the WHO (world), the CDC (national), and the State of California. If you’re local, check Santa Clara County‘s and San Jose‘s specific guidance as well.

Treasure hunt in your own backyard.

If you have a backyard, go on a scavenger hunt together. How many different colors or shapes of leaves can you find? Can we gather the flat ones to do crayon rubbings? Can we make a collage by gluing leaves and twigs to construction paper?

collage of leaves and twigs on paper
Photo by Jonas Elia on Unsplash

If you don’t mind your kids digging in part of the yard, consider burying some “treasure.” When I was little, I remember my dad and his girlfriend building this whole story about how a pirate had lived in the house before she did and had left his treasure behind. Her nephew and I found dozens of coins — some chocolate, some real coins collected on my dad’s overseas trips — and loved it. What could your imaginary “pirate” have left in your yard?

The Amazing Ever-Changing Backyard

How many different things can your backyard become? Here are some ideas:

  • Move or angle your tv to face the backyard. Then fill an inflatable swimming pool with pillows and blankets for a comfy “movie theater” under the stars.
  • If you have any kind of play structure, shed, basketball hoop, fence with lattice work on top, or anything else that can become an anchor or frame, challenge your kids to turn it into something different every few days. Re-use old sheets, garbage bags, string, buckets, or whatever else you have around. Can it become a pirate ship? A circus tent? A campout? A space station?
    (Obviously make sure any pesticides or other toxic substances are out of reach while your kids are playing out back.)
children drawing with sidewalk chalk
Photo courtesy of Stock Snap
  • Turn your driveway into an art museum with sidewalk chalk. You can even post pictures of their creations on Instagram or Facebook.
  • Make a fairy garden using recycled materials found around the house.
  • “Paint” the fence or house with plain water and a wide paint brush. The color contrast is great while it’s wet, and there’s no paint to rinse off afterward!
  • Use sidewalk chalk to draw on the ground or the fences. It washes off easily with the hose for a fresh canvas every time.
  • What kind of balls or other sports gear do you have at home? How many games can you invent to use those in different ways?
Two kids digging in backyard garden
Photo courtesy of Pixnio

Together from a Distance

If you have families nextdoor or behind you, you can have grand fun over the fence or between your apartment balconies:

  • Have an acapella sing-along. How many Disney lyrics can you remember together without checking?
  • Start a story, then have the other person add the next part. Use the voice memo app on someone’s phone to record it if possible.
  • Have a jump rope or hula hoop contest. Who can go the longest?
  • Tune to the same radio station and have a dance party.
  • Sit near the fence and  stream the same movie at the same time on your tablets. Then you can share all the squeals and “oh my gosh”es at the same time.
  • If you both have the same board game, you can each set it up on your side of the fence. Announce your moves out loud and move both pieces so you’re seeing the same thing. Otherwise, play as usual. This is especially effective in a game like Guess Who or Battleship when you’d normally each have your own boards anyway.
  • Important: Do NOT play catch over or share/pass any other objects over the fence. Just share the experience verbally.
close-up of car piece in boardgame of Life
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Indoor Activities

  • Use watercolor or food coloring and water in clear containers to learn about colors. Can you make a color wheel with 6 colors? How about 12? How many shades can you create by mixing different numbers of drops of each color?
  • Practice physics by creating a compound mechanical contraption. (If you want the gold medal ultimate version, check out this amazing video!)
  • Combine your Halloween costumes and/or stuffed animals in unexpected ways. What if your frog wears a tutu and bunny ears? What kind of story can you invent for that new character?
  • Play the photo mystery game—each person in the house takes 5 creative photos. Look for intriguing textures, close-up details, and other harder-to-guess shots. Then everyone else guesses the subject/location. The person with the most mysterious shots wins!
  • When you all need a break, check out PBS Kids for commercial-free educational programming.
  • Many public libraries are opening up their online resources to help. If you don’t already have a San Jose library card, you can get a temporary “eLibrary Card” to let you access everything from home right now.

Of course, see Pinterest for (literally) millions more ideas specific to your children’s ages, interests, and needs.

Child's foot covered in paint
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Let’s get creative!

It’s time to put your imaginations in high gear. Trust your kids to have great ideas; trust yourselves to be able to relax and follow their lead. Even when we’re stuck at home, life is full of reasons to smile!

children's hands on dirt with caterpillar

This special edition Saturday Smiles at Home series continues with Part 2. Stay tuned!