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Like many round the world we have been watching the coronavirus pandemic spread. This is an unsettling time for everyone, especially those who, like me, find themselves in the high risk category. In order to minimise the spread and control the need for hospital and medical care many of the activities that we normally take for granted have been stopped or curtailed. I’m sure most of you who are reading this are in the same boat.

Eleven days ago the Dutch government banned large gatherings and encouraged everyone to work from home as much as possible, but they left the schools open. That lasted until the weekend. Late Sunday afternoon they announced that schools would be closed with immediate effect for the next three weeks. So, Monday morning we woke up to our first day of homeschooling.

I knew that even without material from school it was important to start the children off with the expectation that they needed to work. So I created a timetable, with plenty of gaps, and set us up on the table to work our way through the mountain of workbooks that we already had. One child on either side and I sat in the middle with my laptop and did my best to do some editing on my dragon shifter book. I set up the day with four half hour work sessions in the morning (my kids are both early risers so we start working at 8) and they had the choice of what to do in each session. My son (8 years old) had a choice of writing, reading, maths or spelling, and my daughter (6 years old)  just had to sit quietly doing something.

Over the course of the week we received more instructions from school and remote access codes to the different online tools they use in class. And I was able to go in and pick up workbooks for my son, so he has now switched to working through a weekly list of activities from his teacher. While my daughter does go to school she is still in the more informal learning years. So, much to her disappointment, she has a more relaxed bingo card of activities she has to do each week, half of which we could cross off by the time we got the list. We wait and see now what the instructions are for them to do for this week.

In the afternoon they have time to play outside after lunch, then my plan was for us all to have a period of quiet time, but that didn’t really work, followed by a craft session. I think I was the only person panic buying balloons and newspapers so we could do papier mache together! That project has been a big hit, though it’s not yet completed as we still need to paint them. I will share photos on Instagram when we’re finished. Then lastly my husband has been taking them out for a run/cycle ride together. The current guidelines here are to maintain social distance and to stay away from other people, so they are following that while they exercise. I think this week I will flip the afternoon sessions round so we do craft after they’ve been outside, and then they can play by themselves.

All credit to them, the kids have taken the restrictions and change to routine in their stride. Having daddy at home all the time is incredibly exciting (he works in the home office, not with me and the kids) and I’m sure when we do go back to normal it will be with a pang of disappointment. The two of them have, so far, been happy to sit at the table with me and do something. The fact they can choose has been a great motivator, though less so at the end of the day/week when the thing they’ve been putting off is the only one left to do. But that also is a good skill for them to learn. I am trying to be relaxed and help them enjoy it. I am making more progress on my editing than I worried I was going to. Fingers crossed that carries on for the next few weeks too.

My tips to those of you who are just starting out with your children home:

  1. Have a plan – try not to force too much in, but have an idea of how the day will flow and explain that to the children.
  2. Leave gaps – we have a five to ten minute wiggle break to stretch and shake out or dance around in between sessions of sitting down at the table.
  3. Free play is also important, so include time for that.
  4. Don’t try and be school – your rules will be different and the day will be structured differently, and that’s a good thing.
  5. Decide beforehand how much screen or device time they are allowed per day or week and be clear with them on that.
  6. Be gentle with yourself – don’t compare what you’re doing to other families, or to school. And be realistic about what you can hope to achieve at the same time as looking after the kids.
  7. Enjoy this unexpected time with them – try to do things you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to do.
  8. Stay safe – follow whatever the guidelines are where you live.

If you’re stuck for ideas for what to do with them there are tons of lists of links to online learning resources, free books, online activities and more. I’ve seen information about free streaming of Broadway plays, of sports classes now doing online sessions, of zoos doing daily videos of different animals among others. Pick an interest of your child and see what you can find. Many authors are making their books available for free (including my short story collection) so there is plenty to keep everyone entertained.

This situation is unprecedented in modern times, and our reaction to it is the same. I am incredibly impressed by all the school staff, and everyone else, who has worked to switch to remote lessons. I have no idea how much longer we are going to be working in this way, or what it will be like when we do go back. Schools are going to have another readjustment to re-assimilate everyone back into class again. But for now, I am going to enjoy this sunshine and all the games I get to play and painting I get to do. I hope you do the same.

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