The panic is palpable. We didn’t think it could happen, but the threat slowly crept closer and closer. And now it’s here. Millions of parents across the country are faced with the horrifying reality of being quarantined with their children for weeks on end.

I say this tongue in cheek, but the struggle is real. Last week, our governor declared that all Illinois schools will be shut down for the rest of March. We’re joining at least 18 other states where parents are facing a minimum of two weeks at home with our kids. For Chicago parents, this feels all too familiar after the Chicago Teachers Union strike closed schools for 12 days back in October. As a stay-at-home mom, the strike should have been easy enough for me—and logistically it was—but the uncertainty of how long it would last combined with my need for routine made it pretty stressful. By the end of it, I felt 100% depleted.

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While COVID-19 school closure is similar to the strike, there are two big differences for me (and countless other parents):

1. We can’t be social. During the strike, we visited parks and museums. We scheduled playdates with friends and went out to eat. We got out of the house as much as possible. This time around, my family is staring at two long weeks in a confined space, with the very real possibility of this extending into April.

2. My husband’s office has closed and assigned all employees to work from home. And in a cruel twist of fate, our home “office” is a closet-based desk in (of all rooms) the playroom! It will be interesting to see how productive he can be while there are two wild kids running amok around him and to see if I can keep the peace with one less room to spread out into.

This time around I’m preparing—not just stocking up our pantry, but also planning our days to give us all a sense of peace and comfort in these uncertain times.

The strike was hard on Chicago parents, and with the added challenges, I don’t expect it to be any easier this time around. One of the hardest parts for me personally was not knowing how long it would last. We were going day-by-day, waiting until 5pm to see if that blessed robocall would come through reinstating classes. The COVID shutdown is going to be at least two weeks. We know that. (And there’s a good chance that call will be extending our time at home.) So it feels like a chance to do this right. This time around I’m preparing—not just stocking up our pantry, but also planning our days to give us all a sense of peace and comfort in these uncertain times.

a daily schedule for kids home from school

Last summer, I came up with a daily schedule to guide our days off. Though, I prefer to call it a rhythm since there’s no built-in time structure and it’s easily adaptable. I post it on a wall in our living/dining room so everyone can see it. It’s got simple drawings on it to help my 5-year-old understand what’s coming up next. It gives my oldest comfort in knowing what to expect, while also holding me accountable. (No more hour-long Instagram scrolling sessions on the couch!)

I pulled out our old summer schedule and adapted it for the coming weeks. No more outings and a lot less reliance on outside play because, let’s be honest, winter is far from over here in Chicago. Instead, we’ve got days filled with a variety of activities, broken up by gross motor games, free play, and quiet time. I’m not an educator or a home-schooler, so our days will be a lot less academically focused than if they were in school. But they will get a chance to use their brains, move their bodies, and practice the skills they’re developing through fun, playful activities.

My hope is that we can make a very abnormal situation feel a little more normal.

In addition to creating a daily rhythm, we talked to the girls about what’s going on and why we’re staying home. We talked about being flexible and respecting each other’s space. We even came up with a family safe-word for when we just need everyone to leave us alone! (I am foolishly optimistic about this.) We plan to get up and get dressed every day, even though we’re not going anywhere. My hope is that we can make a very abnormal situation feel a little more normal.

a list of categorized activities as options for kids at home

I’ve seen a tweet by Simon Holland shared many times in recent days. “No one is full of more false hope than a parent making a colorful daily schedule for their kids during the Covid-19 quarantine.” He’s right, of course, and it made me laugh anxiously. But this colorful little sign of mine brings me a sense of control and peace and hope—and we all need a little bit more of that right about now. Especially parents. Stay healthy and sane, friends!

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