Things can feel uncertain at the moment, and a lot of families I’ve spoken to are feeling worried and anxious about what will come over the coming weeks and months. I’ve quickly pulled this post together in the hope that it will help.
How to talk about the virus with children
Talking to children about the corona virus needs to be done in a way which is calm and age appropriate, helps them feel safe, and explains the changes to routine or daily life your child may be experiencing. Here are some of my tips:
Toddlers: Depending on how old your child is, you may not want to say anything at all. For very young children, I would just focus on keeping hands “lovely and clean” and teaching practical hand-washing and nose-wiping skills. Toddlers often love to help clean, too!
Pre-school / young children: At this age, you can talk about viruses, microbes, and how we get sick. Books like this and this can help, and this one is so good. Keep discussions around corona virus general, and calm (we’ve told our nearly five year old that it’s like a bad cold that we will likely not suffer from too badly, but which can be dangerous for other people, hence the precautions). If you want to talk about your family’s plans for keeping safe or share your concerns about the virus, try to do so when your child is in bed or out of earshot.
Elementary age: Continue talking about viruses and microbes generally so that they understand the importance of hand-washing and containing sneezes and coughs, but at this age you can also involve them in thinking about how we can support our communities in keeping well. This is a great graphic with some more suggestions for this age and this is a helpful post too.
If your children are in childcare or in school, you might want to ask them what they’ve heard about the virus, and if they have any questions about anything they’ve heard. At home, you may prefer to keep radio and television news off until the children are in bed, whatever age they are.
Keeping your family healthy and safe
Although news stories can feel overwhelming and inevitable, there are basic steps we can all take to contribute to our wellbeing and that of our community. I’m absolutely NOT a medical expert, but here are some simple things that we will be doing to keep our family and those around us as safe as we can:
Find ways to keep yourself feeling calm. Meditate, take deep breaths, start a gratitude practice, and avoid unnecessary stress by not looking at the news all the time. Take precautions, and listen to experts rather than social media. How you lead your family during this time will have a big impact on how your children respond.
Teach good hand hygiene. If your child doesn’t yet have a great hand-washing practice, now it the time to teach them. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap, paying attention to fingertips and washing past the wrist. Teaching a song to sing can whilst washing can both be a nice anchor for a regular hand-wash rhythm, and help your child wash for long enough. It can also be a good idea to keep nails nice and short. I have recorded a mini-podcast on supporting your child with their hand hygiene which you can listen to here.
Teach your child to cough or sneeze into their elbow. The younger they are the better, as it will become engrained as a habit. Germs are much safer going into an elbow rather than a hand where they then get spread more easily.
Follow trustworthy, expert advice when it comes to social distancing and self-isolation. Personally, we will be avoiding all trips into town and keeping to our local parks and green spaces, and our home and garden, and self-isolating if we are sick (whatever we’re sick with, even if just a cold). Remember that even if your family is not at direct risk, spreading the virus – or other illnesses – will have negative repercussions for those who are vulnerable as well as our already stretched medical systems.
Take general immunity-boosting measures. Look for immune-boosting foods and herbs, get fresh air, drink lots of water, rest as much as possible. If you have access to a garden, getting your hands in soil is fantastic for the immune system (and gardening is great for mental health and stress reduction too). You could even try cold showers!
Consider how to keep your home clean. If you’ve been somewhere busy, consider changing out of your clothes when you get home, paying a bit more attention to keeping frequently used surfaces clean, changing sheets and pillows as frequently as you feel necessary, and getting some fresh air in by opening windows. It can’t hurt, right?
If your child’s daycare / nursery / school is closed:
Whether you’re keeping your child home because they have a cold or a cough or your child’s daycare or school has closed as a precautionary measure, you might be wondering how you’re going to keep them occupied, especially if you’re avoiding public spaces and playdates. As a home educator, supporting kids to learn and having fun at home is basically my hobby. Here are some ideas and things to consider if you’re feeling a bit stuck – or juggling looking after the children with working from home…
Get a rhythm in place, pronto. If your kids have been in some form of school or daycare, then chances are your weekdays already have quite a strong rhythm to them. Don’t let that go! I’m not saying you have to replicate school, but creating a rhythm to guide your days and help things feel more predictable and secure for everyone can really help. Finding little markers throughout the day can help; lighting a candle at breakfast (these are my current favourites) whilst you listen to some beautiful music and share some books together can ground and connect you first thing, making lunch together, and gathering for afternoon tea and snacks and some poetry or a board game can be a nice way to while out those long hours until bedtime. Build in some “quiet time” where no one gets to disturb you so you can put your feet up for half an hour. If this sounds like a luxury, it really isn’t; being with your small people 24/7 is wonderful but also, a lot. If you want to go deeper into rhythm, decide on a baking day, a cleaning day (sorry to tell you, but your house gets messier when everyone is in it), or a day to do science experiments. If you have young children, my friend Jill creates beautiful seasonal rhythms for families here, and these free guides might support you, too. With older kids, get them involved in deciding how your days might look.
Relax about formal learning. Unless you have teenagers who are going into important exams, or your child has been sent home with a rigorous schedule of work to do from home, you can afford to relax around school work. Abundant research shows that play is SO valuable to children’s emotional, intellectual, physical, and social development. Honestly, taking a couple of months off formal work is unlikely to do much in the way of harm to your child’s academic life, but the positives are potentially huge. I’m not saying you have to ignore anything that looks like school work, but remember that your child will likely learn faster and more effectively with you guiding them one to one (or two, or three) rather that in a class of 25-35 kids. Pick a few things which need to happen, and let the rest be led by interest. Play board or card games which involve maths. Write and post letters to grandparents. Mix potions in the sink. Dress up as characters from books and act them out. Look at maps. Learn bits of foreign languages together. Grow things in pots and jars. Learning will still happen, I promise, and you don’t need to turn your home into a classroom.
Read, read, read. If you have the time, this is a wonderful opportunity to read through piles of books with your children. Use this time to learn around subjects your child is learning in school (history! geography! artists! music! maths!) through brilliant, well-written fiction, non-fiction, or biography – or just read for the sheer pleasure of it. You will all learn so much together, and it will deepen your family culture of reading. If you’re juggling working from home with temporarily having to homeschool your kids then audiobooks are your friend! Some libraries lend out audiobooks for free too. Podcasts are great too for children of all ages.
Create a mini-studio in your home. Grab a cardboard box and gather together or order pencils, crayons, oil pastels, felt tips, washi tape, glue, scissors, paints, paper, stickers, card, some cheap canvases, envelopes, recycling junk (old loo rolls and cereal boxes), scraps of fabric, sewing kits, and anything else crafty you can find. This book is great with lots of fun ideas for process art. I did warn you having everyone at home was messy, didn’t I? Tape newspaper over the dining table or coffee table, and put an old bedsheet down on the floor.
Think about your home environment. The world can be stressful and worrying at the moment, but your home doesn’t have to be. Bake, tell jokes, spring clean, string up fairy lights, put jam jars of bright flowers everywhere. Buy more plants, repaint walls, wash the windows. Your home can be a haven for you and your family, and you’re going to be spending a lot more time there…
Find ways to keep everyone active, even if you’re stuck at home. Cosmic Kids yoga is free and fun. Build dens, have regular dance parties, jump on the beds. Go for walks outside, away from crowds. Getting into nature is well known for being superb for mental and physical health, so if you have a green space you can safely get to nearby then consider still going out into the fresh air for nature walks (I plan to keep doing this with Frida but with some restrictions on having long chats with people we don’t know – this happens to us a lot when out and about! – and avoiding playgrounds in favour of woods and gardens). My friend Jamey has written about helping “spirited kids” cope with being indoors here with some fab ideas.
Grow things. If you are lucky enough to have your own outdoor space, this is a perfect time to get your kids involved in planting, growing, weeding, ordering seeds, and generally mucking about in the dirt. If you don’t have any soil, you can grow many vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in pots, or even on a sunny windowsill if you don’t have a garden or balcony. The RHS has loads of ideas.
Think about how you want your kids to use screens. It can be tempting to just stick the TV on all day, but overall I’ve found that tends to lead to less ease and more conflict. It’s OK for kids to be bored! But it’s also OK to watch stuff. Documentaries, concerts, foreign language cartoons, cooking tutorials, dance classes… there’s loads of good stuff out there beyond Netflix. It doesn’t all have to be “worthy” – there’s nothing like putting on a great film with some ice cream at 3pm on a rainy day – but there’s also loads of brilliant stuff which might spark an interest or deepen learning around a specific project. Skype and Facetime are great ways for children to speak to their school friends and any family members who you might not be able to see for the time being.
Share your passions with your children. Being forced by circumstance to spend this time together is an amazing opportunity to share with your kids what really lights you up – or to learn a new skill together, or to get your kids to share their passion with you! If your child loves Minecraft, let them show you. Sharing what brings you joy with the people you love is a really special thing to be able to do.
Ask the home education community for help! Whether you want advice on guiding your seven year old through maths worksheets from school to a sympathetic ear to listen to your sibling argument woes, we’ve got you. We know what it’s like to spend all day with our children, and know how to keep it feeling enjoyable for everyone. This book is a great place to start and you’ll take lots from it whether you’re a schooling at school family or a schooling through home family, and hop on over to Instagram and say hello.
Finally, here’s a quick list of cheap or free activities that kids of all ages will love:
- Daytime baths with an audiobook playing
- Building pillow forts
- Watching documentaries
- Planting seeds in toilet roll holders
- Baking bread, cookies, or cakes
- Writing in spy code
- Kitchen dance parties
- Nature walks somewhere quiet (if you’re worried, go early mornings and late afternoons when places are quieter)
- Illustrating and writing their own books
- Making up poems
- Sewing clothes for dolls
- Bird spotting with binoculars
- Skype dates with friends
- Drawing maps
- Making stop motion videos out of Playdough and small toys
- Learning a new language
- Body painting
- Taking walks to look for mini-beasts outside your home
- Re-reading favourite books
- Cooking from scratch
Keep safe and well, and I’ll be back soon. Eloise xx