*This is a guest post. The opinions expressed is that of the author’s and do no necessarily reflect my own.
Typically when September is around the corner, everyone is buzzing with back-to-school ideas, lists, and shopping. However, for most of us, the days and months of 2020 have been blurring together and we are facing the challenging reality that school will likely remain online for the foreseeable future. But families can adopt a back-to-school routine whether or not there is physical school. A daily routine can help add healthy structure to the days once school starts, even if it is online. Healthy for kids, sanity-saving for parents.
Turn lunch into a stress-free break
Most teenagers are managing their schedule and lunch independently. “Ours wander into the kitchen to make an omelet or grab leftovers whenever there is a break in the schedule,” says Deana Gunn, author of “Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s.” For most teenagers, it’s sufficient to keep the kitchen stocked with snacks, fruit, and easy meal ingredients. Convenient, healthy products are available at many grocers, from traditional baby carrots and yogurt cups to exotic seaweed snack packs and beet chips. For younger kids, a little bit of prep work can turn lunch into a positive and welcomed event, rather than a chaotic interruption.
1. Prepare bento boxes or container lunches, ready to grab out of the fridge. As a general rule or thumb, the following four elements create a balanced meal: protein, carbohydrate, vegetable, and fruit. So for example, turkey/cheese slices, whole grain tortilla, carrots, and an apple. Or hummus, pita triangles, avocado, and grapes. Come up with five variations that will cover each day of the week.
2. While the weather is good (or if you live somewhere that has good weather year-round) make lunch into a backyard picnic. A change of scenery is re-energizing and turns lunch into a fun event.
3. Add a little surprise to lunch such as a riddle or note or a joke. “For families with multiple kids, reading jokes aloud is a great way to connect, especially for shy or quiet kids.” says Wona Miniati, author of the “Lunchbox Jokes” series. “Books like Lunchbox Jokes make it effortless to add a tear-out joke to a bento box or tucked under a plate. What did Yoda say to the cowboy? May the horse be with you!”
Make physical movement part of the day’s routine
At school, kids have regular activity just getting to the bus, to school, from class to class, and back home, not to mention PE classes and recess breaks. The sedentary home schedule, where kids roll out of bed and onto their online classes, can contribute to long-term health issues as well as situational depression.
1. Create a routine of playing a short outdoor game as part of the lunch break or snack break. For younger kids, hide-and-seek or tag can be played all year, even in snow. An outdoor trampoline can get the jiggles out on a short break.
2. Older kids can be directed to shoot baskets in the driveway or to take the dog for a walk at the same time every day. If teens are allowed to see friends in your family, a socially-distanced bike ride, jog, or swim might be a great way to exercise and get some social interaction.
Keep a family planner
A centralized family calendar or planner takes on a whole new purpose when the entire family is spending the day together at home. Place a large family planner on the fridge and have everyone enter their classes, conference calls, and zoom calls with friends or family.
1. Prioritize computer use. With nearly every activity from online school to work calls to Zoom exercise classes requiring a screen, a family planner will ensure that there are enough computers and tablets for all (or give you ample warning of conflicts so you can acquire extras).
2. Plan family events. If all the kids have classes, mom has a conference call for work, the youngest has an online ballet class, and the oldest is taking the dog on a walk that afternoon, you can decide to schedule the Zoom call with grandma when everyone is free.
Don’t Skip Back-to-School Shopping
Even if your kids aren’t physically going back to school, don’t skip back-to-school shopping.
1. Whether you go into a store or do your shopping online, have kids choose new notebooks, folders, and pencils. Splurge on fun items such as glitter pens or a new water bottle.
2. Buy new outfits! Pick out fashionable yet comfortable clothes that work for online school, whether it’s new joggers, pajama bottoms, soft tee-shirts, or house slippers.
3. Encourage kids to organize their desks or their “classroom” space. Make sure their space is free from distractions such as video game screens, toys, and sounds from other rooms of the house.
The school day as we knew it may be gone for the time being, but maintaining and creating routines can create a healthy rhythm during the new normal.