Cooped up with the kids? Consider these tips from a mom who home-schooled 5

A London, Ont., mother who home-schooled her five children offers these tips for parents who may be feeling confined and confounded as they hunker down with their kids against the spread of COVID-19.

Liz Sheil suggests having some structure to the day and developing independent play habits

Liz Sheil and her husband Greg home-schooled their five children and over those years, developed some tips on how parents can adjust to keeping kids happy for all those hours inside. (Submitted by Liz Sheil)

With the world hunkered down against a fast-spreading pandemic, many parents suddenly find themselves with long hours to fill and bored kids at home.

Self isolation means no school and no outside activities. Even a play date is out as health officials call on Canadians to adhere to strict social distancing rules to curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

Liz Sheil has never been a parent of young children during a pandemic but the London, Ont., mother did manage to home school her five children, each separated in age by about two years. 

Sheil's home schooling days are pretty much behind her — her youngest is now 17 — but all those hours with multiple kids at home taught her a few tricks and tactics that parents suddenly thrown into all-day parenting might find handy. 

She shared with CBC London some ways she learned to keep kids happy and busy during all those hours. 

Moving children toward developing independent play habits is a big help, especially if there are multiple kids at home. (Submitted by Sarah Swan)

Some structure helps

Sheil found that kids behave better and can focus easier if they know a bit about how their day will unfold. She suggests parents make a daily agenda that includes outside chores, lessons and fun activities planned for the day. She suggests talking to kids about the schedule and even give them a hand in shaping it. Kids are less likely to act up if there's an agenda to follow, even if it's only spelled out in broad strokes. "Some kids benefit by having a schedule so they know what to expect," she said. "Some thrive on that more than others."

Move toward independence

When kids get good at playing on their own, it takes the weight off the caregiver. This is especially important in a house with multiple kids of different ages, where they can't always be counted on to play together and entertain each other. For some kids, this doesn't come naturally but is a skill they can develop. In Sheil's experience, this often requires suggesting activities and projects for kids at first, until they get good at coming up with projects on their own. The effort it takes to get kids operating more independently pays off later, especially when the caregiver has to do something else, like prepare lunch or make a phone call.

Don't strive for lessons every minute 

Sheil says some parents suddenly thrown into all-day parenting may feel they need to match every minute of instruction time kids would be getting in school. She says striving for all-day lessons is an unrealistic goal and points out that kids in school don't always have their nose in a book. Also, remember that involving them in things like food preparation, gardening and cleanup chores can be a lesson in itself. 

Use online resources

It may not fit with the home-schooler stereotype, but Sheil embraces the use of online tools. Everything from educational videos, stories and craft ideas are all useful, especially on rainy times. "There's no problem with sometimes putting on a video and letting them watch something. I'm not anti screen," she said. Some libraries, school boards and producers of content for kids are already adding educational content for kids at home. TVO for example, last week announced enhanced access to online learning tools, including educational games, math tutoring and more. Sheil understands that parents are concerned about too much screen time, but says it's all about finding a balance. 

Invent your own games

Kids love playing games they've helped create themselves. She remembers playing "doggy tag" with her kids. It's like tag but to avoid having kids dash around the house, the rules require them to walk on their hands and knees. Creating an obstacle course was another favourite with Sheil's children, with stations where kids had to turn summersaults on mats made with chair cushions. 

Enjoy this time with them (it's fleeting)

In the moments of frustration that will surely come during these long hours under one roof, Sheil suggests parents take a step back and remember just how quickly childhood flies by. Despite the occasional moments of frustration and anxiety, she sees the long hours together as something to be savoured.  "Take this time to get to know you're kids better," she said. "This can be a time when you make your family bond stronger." 


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