Family time has taken on new meaning during the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s family time all the time.
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With schools closed, routines lost and three kids suddenly my work-from-home (WFH) colleagues, surviving family isolation during the time of coronavirus is a challenge.
Pre-pandemic, my kids would set off to school in the morning and only return home after school, or after after-school activities. I had my workspace at home to myself.
On March 13, 2020, when Israel shuttered schools, I found myself with three “colleagues” under the age of 12.
From the get-go, I explained to the kids that we are not on vacation. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have fun together.
The first days required some adjustments. We’re still tweaking, actually.
We do not spend our days in pajamas. As a WFH mom, there is the importance of getting dressed in the morning and getting in the “mode” to begin the day.
We follow a flexible schedule that kicks off with self-serve breakfast followed by schoolwork/work, reading, lunch and then free time (read: screen time).
“A routine is essential. A routine creates security. When we know what is going to happen or what to expect, it is easier for us to do something. It is important that kids have a set schedule for the day. Something to guide them. But in fact, we all need it. From young kids to adults,” says Mandi Abram, a parenting counselor in Tel Aviv.
A sense of order is key but staying flexible enough to accept that things are “not routine” and there is still a lot unknown is also crucial.
“It is important to get up in the morning, brush teeth, get dressed, and do something. And at the same time, it is important not to be too stringent about the schedule,” agrees Abram, who leads workshops for parents in conjunction with the Tel Aviv Municipality. “Setting up a strict timetable with every hour accounted for is unrealistic and creates stress. When I speak to parents, I suggest splitting the day into blocks of time: morning block, afternoon block and evening block. In each time block, choose to do one thing.”
Indeed, we try to follow the “blocks of time” Abram suggests. But, kids being kids, are also prone to “needing” something immediately and make sure that whatever it is, I’m the first to know about it. Now. Even if I’m working. Anyway, it’s “just one question/request.”
Flexibility in the workplace – especially with these new colleagues – is key.
And while we once had the concept of limited screen time, our new reality has changed the rules. Again, flexibility.
Bosco, an AI-powered parenting app, said in a press statement that since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, Israeli youth doubled their average usage of smartphones to 8:40 hours per day. The time included distance-learning lessons, phone calls, Whatsapp, and social media.
I’m not sure we’ve hit that mark yet, as the kids share a computer and iPads and need to figure out who gets what when. Fortunately, the kids are also voracious readers.
But with distance learning, digital classes, online activities and playing games or watching shows all on tap and just a click away, “limited screen time” has come to an end. It is what it is.
Of course, we, parents, are also turning to social media feeds to unload “life in the time of coronavirus” and frustrations of trying to be teacher, parent, chef and entertainer 24/7. Israeli mom Shiri Kenigsberg Levi went viral with a hilarious rant on the new role parents find themselves in.
You can’t do it all, all the time.
Abram says including the kids in decision-making and giving them a role to play will make family time during this pandemic much easier.
“Just as our control of our lives has been taken from us, so too for our kids. It is important for them to feel they have a part in their routine,” she says. “It is also key for the kids to know their role in the family whether helping take out the garbage or help cooking or folding laundry.”
“With younger kids, they can choose what they will eat for breakfast or what game they’ll play. They have a choice, even if it is limited. With older kids, over 10, we can decide together which things they should do — read a book, do lessons, do art, play a game with the family, watch TV, etc., and they can choose when to do it during the day,” Abram says.
Our schedule includes at least one fun thing together every day. This family time is the best part of the day.
Here are seven ideas for family fun during isolation:
Social distancing or not, our family loves board games. And we’re not the only ones. Israel is a mecca for board games – in terms of manufacturing them and playing them.
Israeli game designers participate in the annual Spielwarenmesse International Toy Fair Nürnberg, the largest international trade fair for toys and games. Among the best-known games made in Israel are Rummikub, Taki, and Guess Who?.
Researchers have found all sorts of good reasons why we should play board games – boost memory, increased brain speed, learn cause and effect, and so on.
For us, it’s always been about family time. Perhaps the one good thing about the stay-at-home routine, is knowing that if we don’t finish our game of Catan or Monopoly in one evening, we can do so the next day. After all, we’ll still be in lockdown.
Our kids will not choose to do an art project given the choice. But augmented reality apps and 3D apps make coloring in so much more fun. The Quiver 3D Augmented Reality coloring apps turn drawings into 3D avatars.
Artivive is another app that brings art to life.
While the kids were skeptical at first, the moment they realized they could convert the 3D art into social media videos, coloring as a family activity was accepted. And they even recommended it to their friends.
Yoga and Mindfulness
We are a pretty sporty family. We partake in volleyball, cachibol, basketball, running, walking, swimming and athletics. So, being homebound is not our natural choice.
Fortunately, virtual exercise classes are being streamed the world over. So far, we’ve done online yoga together and tried online mindfulness. The kids most enjoy giving us tips on how to stretch or do an aerobic activity.
The coronavirus pandemic has made it easier to find time to cook together. While the kids used to pitch in here and there pre-isolation, there is a lot more time for them to help in the kitchen now that they’re not running to an after-school activity. We’re not whipping up anything fancy. But they’ve become quite the experts at homemade vegetable soup, oven-roasted veggies, stuffed omelets, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Most of all, they’re proud of their accomplishments in the kitchen.
Virtual museum tours
Pre-coronavirus pandemic, we visited museums around Israel on a semi-regular basis. In a race against time, I had hoped to take the kids to American artist Jeff Koons’ exhibit at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art this month but isolation policies shuttered us out. The museum now runs online virtual tours for those who can no longer visit in person.
In fact, Google partnered with over 500 museums and galleries around the world to feature virtual tours and online exhibits. While online, and easily accessible, we prefer to virtually visit a museum as a family – to talk about the art and which paintings the kids think they could do better.
Weird science fun
Our kitchen cupboards are filled with ingredients needed for easy, weird science fun. The Davidson Institute of Science Education, part of the Weizmann Institute of Science, has a channel dedicated to Science at Home fun.
National Geographic runs a Try This! video series. The experiments are easy to do and fun for all ages.
As two of our kids are already in middle school, we take the experiments one step further. In the standing egg experiment, for example, it was cool to balance them on a plate. It was more fun to balance raw eggs on our heads. There were failures.
Go to a show
Going to the theater or a concert is always fun. From local theater companies to Broadway, theater-lovers don’t have to worry about social distancing while streaming online. Symphony orchestras and opera companies are also offering free viewing to many of their best productions, all with a click of the mouse.
The Israeli Opera recently uploaded to YouTube Puccini’s popular Madama Butterfly. We saw the live performance in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park. Now we can see it again.
Viva Sarah Press is a journalist and speaker. She writes and talks about the creativity and innovation taking place in Israel and beyond. www.vivaspress.com