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Stories & Ideas

Wed 08 Apr 2020

Family survival guide

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Christine Evely

Head of Education, ACMI

Working from home with young children? According to Christine Evely, Head of ACMI Education, it’s all about relationships and routines

Are you a parent or carer trying to get some work done, manage the household and help kids learn at home? That’s serious multitasking!

Relax you know what you’re doing. Think of all the knowledge and skills you’ve passed on in just a few short years. You’ve got this! But don’t think you need to suddenly become an expert on school-based learning or keep the family involve in formal learning at home from 9am–3.30pm.

Focus on wellbeing 

First things first. Take a deep breath and focus on wellbeing – yours to begin with and then your family’s. There’s a reason you put oxygen masks on adults first in an airline emergency. You can’t help others if you’ve passed out. Maybe not the best analogy for this challenging time, but you get the drift ... If you’re overtired, stressed and time poor, it’s hard to maintain a calm, positive household. And this is what kids need right now. They are missing their friends, routines and teachers. Even young children will be aware their world is a bit out of kilter.

Many children are on holidays so formal schoolwork can wait a bit longer – have fun together, talk a lot and keep building strong relationships. Listen to and observe your children. Tap into how they are feeling and coping. Some will feel anxious about coronavirus and its effect on them, their family or friends. Calm Kid Central's 5-minute video and suggested questions and activities can help you discuss the topic and alleviate worries for primary age children. And we love the recent Playschool episode that gives children information in a reassuring and respectful way.

Playschool Coronavirus episode.jpg

Beyond Blue also provides tips for talking to young people about worrying news and social media reports.

Be positive 

Sharing positive, age-appropriate screen or social media stories that highlight those who are helping or being kind to others can give young people a sense that things will be ok, as well as improve your own outlook.

Together time

Take the time to play with your children. They may not be able to explain how they are feeling, so you may see unusual play as they try to understand what is happening, or behavioural issues as they seek your attention. Reading together, general chatting, hugs and cuddles while viewing TV or films can help create a feeling of safety, that all is OK, as we adapt to new at-home routines.

Establish a routine

It can help some children to feel they have an element of control over what is happening. Try involving them in creating a ‘relaxed’ holiday routine, or if necessary a ‘school-day’ schedule. For many parents and carers some type of schedule will be essential for them to be able to manage working from home. Talk with your kids about each of you having work to do and responsibilities (kids too), and the importance of balance in each day – taking breaks, having fun with one another and keeping healthy with good nutrition, exercise, plenty of water and a good night’s sleep. Some young people will find their calm through everyday activities that restore order, such as tidying bookshelves, sorting toys, folding clothes or putting dishes away.

Plan chunks of time in your schedule for you and your children to do some things together and others independently – use a timer and set goals. The routine and goals will vary depending on the age of your kids. Most of us have to accept some level of productivity loss, but by creating routines that involve chunking our time, we can tick off a few key tasks each day. In our household of three children under 7, we’ve made good use of the 30-day Lego challenges (easy version) and plan to move on to a more demanding 30-day set down the track. You can find plenty of others online. Each day a challenge provides 30 mins to one hour where the adults can achieve some uninterrupted focused work. When you're back on duty, why not try making a stop motion animation using Lego?

Have fun outside​​​​​​

When the weather has been fine, we’ve been taking the children out for a walk or bike ride (while maintaining social distance from others). Other outdoor activities have also had wellbeing in mind – with a focus on fun, finding ways to move and interpersonal skills (such as taking turns). We’ve been playing hopscotch, blowing the world’s biggest bubbles (and trying to capture them on video), doing driveway chalk drawings, planting and watering seedlings (and charting growth with a 30-second video every couple of days), picnicking and making cubbies using tables chairs, rugs and old cushions. And I’ve also seen great ideas online for outdoor and indoor scavenger hunts.

Inside time

Indoors, the older children happily draw, and at times write stories, with the youngest one copying for short bursts of time. Sometimes they act out their stories, and we may even try filming a few. At other times the three will build an enormous train track and play imaginatively together. One day, I challenged them to create a matchbox car graph showing how many of each colour car they had. They really enjoyed the collaboration and even took it a bit further, labelling their graph.

Learning activity with toy cars

At other times three is a crowd! Then it’s time for one to have a quiet, separate activity. I’m about to search for play doh challenges!

Stay connected

Virtual catchups with trusted friends and extended family using your platform of choice is a terrific way to keep connected, and to gain another half hour for yourself. Most tools are for 13 years and older so a parent or carer at each end should take turns to supervise the chat. We’ve found online meetups a great way to maintain relationships and, as an added bonus, our young people are learning some real-life and important online skills – the occasional gentle reminder will help them learn about online etiquette and safety.

And don’t feel bad about screen time. In this time of social distancing, active and thoughtful use of digital and screen media can help us to maintain meaningful connections with others. Throw in a few thoughtful activities using these tools and you are in a position to scaffold many positive memories for your children. Check out these helpful suggestions from our friends at the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF). You might also like to host your own movie night – watching a film together as a family is great fun, especially if you remember the popcorn.

– Christine Evely, Head of ACMI Education

For more fun, family friendly ideas to keep the family happy during this time at home head over to ACMI's online activities and resources

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