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