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Organizing the day into 'buckets' such as schoolwork or social connection can provide a framework for your / Getty Images

We are grandparents taking care of our 1- and 4-year-old grandchildren through this pandemic. We could use some help figuring out how to make it through the day with small kids at home. What should we be doing to make this time manageable?

Wow, grandparents of the year! I’m sure your children appreciate you stepping in like this.

You are not alone in wondering how to get through the days. There are many parents out there right now who are wondering the same thing. Many parents are in an unusual (for them) situation of caring for their children all day and every day. No daycare, no school. And to top it off, many parents are also trying to work from home. It’s helpful to remember that everyone is dealing with the same challenges right now and to give yourself some grace.

In terms of daily life with children at home, I like to think of structure in terms of “buckets.” A bucket is a category of activity. Every day we do at least one thing that falls into each bucket. Which buckets to include takes a little thinking and planning on your part. What is important to you and non-negotiable?

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Buckets include things like exercise, fresh air, reading time, independent play, chore time, schoolwork and social connection. These will be different depending on your family and your values. You might make a schedule if you are a schedule person. At the very least, I recommend using the bucket approach to give your life with children at home a sense of routine and predictability. Children need predictability to feel safe and secure. Use 3-5 buckets to provide a framework for your day and refer to them when discussing the day with your child.

Here are some bucket examples and some tips for making them work.

Move your body

Experts agree that exercise and fresh air must be included so we can stay mentally and physically healthy. There are lots of free resources available right now for keeping kids active. A quick Google search for “indoor exercise ideas for kids” will give you a starting point. If you have a yard, get outside every day. If you don’t, open the window! This is also extremely important for caregivers. Move your body. Get your blood pumping. This alone can make a huge difference in your ability to cope.

People on social media are sharing imaginative ways of entertaining, informing and having fun while staying isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a compilation of some that made us smile.

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Educational activities

If your children are school-age and you are pandemic-schooling at home, remember that the most important thing is to keep their minds engaged. It may or may not work for you to keep up with the assigned work. Remember that play is the work of childhood. If you are doing other things to keep your child’s mind active, such as reading with them, and you are not cut out to be their teacher, that’s okay. One of your buckets could reflect this, such as “brain games” or something similar.

Independent play

If your child is hesitant to play on their own, make sure to fill their cup first with some play time with you. When their connection needs are met, children are much more willing to play by themselves. A great way to encourage independent play is to set up some sensory activities, such as water or sand play. Again, Google has great ideas for sensory activities.

Helping around the house

If you don’t already have a chore routine, start by asking older kids how they’d like to help out the family team. If you have younger kids, they can help out by being involved in daily household tasks such as food preparation, laundry and cleaning. If they get to spend time with you and get attention, children are usually happy to help out.

Finally, make sure to schedule some time for yourself. What do you need to do to stay grounded during this unprecedented time? Give yourself so much compassion. This is hard. It includes forgiving yourself for letting the kids have more screen time than you would normally be okay with. If we are to get through this with grace, we need to remind ourselves that these are not ordinary times. If you can, comfort yourself with the bright side of more time spent as a family. When things go back to normal, it’s possible we just might miss these days.

Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden is isolating like all of us, but found time to make a lighthearted "workout" video using some toilet paper in exercises.

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