When Andrea Traynor’s two children wake up at 7 a.m., they get 30 minutes of quiet time reading in bed. Then breakfast. At 8:30 a.m. it’s time for a walk, a hike or a scooter ride. Every minute of the day is accounted for in the COVID-19 family schedule that Ms. Traynor created over the weekend.
“For my own sanity, I need a schedule. And I need something to keep us accountable,” says Ms. Traynor, a blogger who lives in Courtice, Ont.
The schedule isn’t just about maintaining her sanity. It’s also for the well-being of her nine-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. “I want them to know we’re fine, everybody’s okay,” Ms. Traynor says. “I just need everyone to feel that it’s business as usual.”
With parents working from home and schools shuttered due to the novel coronavirus, things are anything but business as usual. However, COVID-19 schedules, some taken from the internet, some created at home, are helping newly housebound families across Canada give their days a sense of structure, and reduce the potential anxiety children are dealing with.
“When you’re in a time of low control it feels good to have some control, and kids feel even less control over their daily lives than adults do,” says Alyson Schafer, a Toronto-based family counsellor. “When things become predictable, it makes kids feel safe. They know how to behave, things become familiar.”
Daily schedules can also be a huge benefit to parents, who might otherwise become stressed out over how to fill their kids’ days now that busy routines of school and sports and social activities are on hold.
“It’s about decreasing overwhelm for parents who wonder what they’re going to do all day,” Ms. Schafer says.
These are stressful times as parents adapt to remote work and full-time child care. Jen Ball, who teaches sociology at a college in Toronto, is currently working from home and taking care of her two children, ages six and nine.
“We got a schedule going on Day One because boredom is our challenge,” Ms. Ball says
“When one of our kids says ‘I’m bored,’ the countdown is on before someone gets punched [by the other one] in the face,” she says.
The schedule she and her husband created includes time for academics, along with creative activities such as music, drama, art and yoga.
Like many parents, Ms. Ball and her husband added activities that are important to them and help them fill the hours. Their schedule includes things like teaching their children bike maintenance, gardening, cooking and sewing.
“Those are the things we always wished we had time to do with the kids, like teaching them how to sew on a sewing machine,” Ms. Ball says.
The three categories – academics, creative projects and the other activities – are colour coded on Post-it notes. Each night, the children get to pick which ones to put on a large schedule, with every hour covered for the next day hanging on a wall in the family’s kitchen.
“It gives them some semblance of control,” Ms. Ball says.
The schedule also lets the family know when she has to work, and so they’ve stuck to it strictly. Her husband will teach the kids about how to take a bike apart while Ms. Ball video conferences with students, for example.
“We’re on the militant side, mostly because I have to work still,” Ms. Ball says.
Noreel Asuro, a creative director who lives in Toronto, is currently working from home and looking after his three children, ages 11, nine and three, with his wife. His family’s schedule covers when the children can’t have electronics, when they must go outside and get fresh air in the family’s backyard and other activities.
Why is it so important for his family to have a schedule at the moment?
“So we’re not yelling at each other, that’s why,” Mr. Asuro says.
They try to follow the schedule as closely as they can, but it is no big deal if some activities run longer than planned, Mr. Asuro says.
Ms. Traynor’s family schedule ends with everyone reading together and then bedtime. Before that, however, there is “family TV time” from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Including that in the schedule was essential to Ms. Traynor, and not just because she loves watching television. It’s a way to help the family bond in these incredibly stressful times. “I want us to all just chill and be okay together,” she says.
Daily schedule shared on social media
Jessica McHale shared the COVID-19 daily schedule that she created for her family last Friday on social media, thinking one or two of her friends might use it. Since then it has been shared thousands of times.
“That’s just really been incredible for me to see,” says Ms. McHale, who runs a photography business in Medfield, Mass., where she lives with her three children, ages 13, nine and seven.
“I know my kids really thrive on routine,” she says. “It’s easier for them to know what’s coming next so there aren’t really any surprises. It minimizes bickering, it minimizes anxiety.”
If you’re a parent, chances are you’ve already seen the schedule that she created. In brightly coloured stripes it lays out activities for an entire day, from academic time in the morning to creative time and “Afternoon fresh air,” all in chunks ranging from one hour to 90-minutes long.
“I based this off of my kids and our values as a family. We highly value outdoor time, we highly value creative time and we value academic time,” Ms. McHale says.
She also knows when to schedule certain activities over others, such as putting academic time in the morning. “Doing that first thing in the morning is going to be so much easier than in the afternoon when everyone is a little cranky,” she says.
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