A schedule can be your family's best ally during the coronavirus lockdown

A family schedule written on a chalkboard.

This story was written by Penn GSE Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development MSEd student Lauren Wright for Penn GSE’s Consortium for Mental Health and Optimal Development.

Stay-at-home orders have left many families struggling without routines or rhythms. Creating a schedule for your family can be a way to regain, even in a small way, a sense of order and normalcy.

A schedule can also help you manage the juggling of spaces in the household as well as resources such as computers and other devices, and it can help you and your children manage activities that are focused on being productive versus those that give your brains a break. Lastly, creating a schedule now can help you “set it and forget it”- imagine waking up, glancing at the schedule, and going about your day. Thanks past self

With the many changes to daily life and responsibilities you are trying to manage, creating a schedule at this very moment may not be possible - and that is OK! I encourage you to revisit this article at a later time, when high priority needs are met and more information and resources become accessible for you and your family. 

Below are some tips for creating a useful stay-at-home schedule, which can be pieced together to fit your needs and capacity. 

Plan your weekly schedule as a family during a low-key time of day

Make a plan when everyone is relaxed - after breakfast, after dinner, or during a walk outside together. Creating the schedule together will ensure your child is fully aware of what is expected of him or her. Ask your child if he or she has any questions, and give them an opportunity to negotiate the order of the activities.  Again, you may need to share space and computer devices among several family members, so you will want to take this into account as well. While you’re planning the schedule, consider non-academic activities and needs, including physical exercise, chores, creative time, and their emotional well-being. Integrate blocks of time into the day to include these. See the sample schedules below for some inspiration. If you have more than one child, you may also want to create individual schedules to decrease the need to share space and materials/devices and reduce the likelihood of disagreements. 

Penn GSE’s counseling experts are here to answer your Covid-19 parenting questions. Ask anonymously.

Post the schedule where everyone can see it, and discuss how you will keep track of each block of time

Whether you have a chalkboard or whiteboard, family calendar, or a piece of paper and a magnet on the fridge, post the schedule where everyone can see it. Have one person be the designated timer for each block in the schedule. For ease of access, many phones have timers in the clock apps; however, a kitchen baking timer can also do the trick. Your child may become distracted by watching the time count down or by the ticking, so it is best to keep the timer out of view.

Incorporate Breaks

The timer has gone off (again!) and you do not have time to redirect your child to the next activity. Create a short list in advance with no more than 3 different breaks that your child can pick from that day, and give them 5 minutes to enjoy that break-time activity. For example, they can do some deep breathing, a short spurt of exercises, doodle, or listen to music.  If you have time to engage with your child during a break, you can select one of these brain break activities/games.  Include these 5-minute breaks in the written schedule. Talk to your child about brief activities they might enjoy, then search together online to find a few for the week.  

Social time is essential

While it is best to eliminate screen distractions as much as possible, it is also important for your child to connect with their peers and even their teachers so that they do not feel isolated. Integrate dedicated family time into the day. Include time to talk about how your day went. Skype or call an elderly or sick family member together. Play a board game, or take a walk. You could even take turns picking activities.

Set boundaries now, and have a plan for when things go wrong

There will inevitably be disruptions, arguments, meltdowns - you will be with one another 24 hours a day! When you are creating your schedule, have each person write down 3 things that would help them get the physical, emotional, and/or mental space that they need. Some of these may not be possible given the situation. Acknowledge you hear your child’s needs, and explain why this need may not be able to be met right now. Create a final list of agreed upon boundaries, and post them with the schedule as a visual reminder to everyone. 

Interruptions will occur, and your child may try to test the limits of what they can and cannot get away with. Set clear expectations for behavior. Be firm and consistent. Not every person - or child - needs the same thing when they are feeling anxious or upset. You may need to incorporate more or different break time activities into your child’s day or rearrange the order of activities, which is why it is essential to include time to reflect and make changes as needed.  Consider meltdowns (your child’s and your own) as signs that the schedule or boundaries may not be working. Ask yourself if the current schedule is practical and manageable in the long-term, and whether this is the best possible scenario based on the situation. Talk about establishing additional boundaries as a family. Even if you may not be feeling particularly stressed, your child may. Ensure that you check in with your other family members at least once during the first week, and make updates to the plan as necessary.

Voice your concerns

 You may notice specific challenges to the school’s requirements for at-home learning or e-learning. Your school’s administrators may not be fully aware of your unique situation and the ways in which these expectations might be challenging for you and your child. You do not have to suffer in silence.  Bring your concerns to the school’s attention early so that updates can be made to the general requirements or to address your child’s specific needs.

Get Inspired

There is no need to recreate the wheel! Parents and educators around the country have come up with creative and practical schedules ideas. Ask other parents for ideas, do a quick search on Twitter, or make this a full-day activity for your child: find your top 3 schedule templates by the end of the day, get parents’ approval, then design and decorate!

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