A child and his mother work on algebra at the kitchen table. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

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With many schools closed for the foreseeable future due to the spread of COVID-19, parents are faced with what to do with and for kids who are unexpectedly home.

Though it can be easy to let the next few weeks go by without structure, setting a schedule for the days at home will help life feel more normal — and make sure your children are not behind once they finally go back to school.

Here are the basic steps to setting your own “homeschooling” schedule for the next few weeks of social distancing, self-quarantine and self-isolation.

Know what your school wants

Some Maine schools are offering remote earning opportunities for the duration of the closures. Others are handing out work packets. Your district should notify you what opportunities are available and requirements are expected. If you haven’t heard from them, reach out.

Once you know what your kids should be doing while they are home, you need to plan for it by setting specific times during the day to get that work done.

It could be best to have the day mimic your child’s regular school day. Or, you could consider trying something new. Maybe your child does not learn best by sitting down for hours listening to lessons, even if that is the way that school is usually structured. Short-term bursts of learning may work better for them than hours at the desk or kitchen table.

Talk to your children

Keeping an open dialogue with your kids about what schoolwork they are expected to complete over the next few weeks will help you keep them on track. At the same time, getting their input on when the best time is to work on their studies will help keep them engaged with the process.

Also, transitioning from the classroom to schooling at home will be an adjustment for everyone. Letting them have a voice in the process will help alleviate some of the nerves or tension around it.

Ask them how they would like to structure the day and how many breaks they normally take in school. Then factor that into your schedule making.

Make time for breaks

School days have breaks — snack time, recess, bathroom breaks, reading time, etc. Without breaks, your children will get restless, whether they are kindergarteners or seniors in high school. So don’t forget as you are planning to include time for stretching, meals, video games, reading or just playing outside to blow off a little steam. The rest of the day will be much more productive with the brief respite.

And consider taking some of those breaks outside. According to some experts, children should spend at least three hours outside every day. While that might not be doable for some parents, especially during the winter, try to plan at least one hourlong or three twenty minute-long breaks throughout the course of the day.

Don’t forget gym

Studies show that children and adolescents should get at least one hour of physical activity every day. Some schools might have specific things they want kids to do to make up for missed gym classes — others may leave it up to you.

One way to make sure active time gets done is to plan a “gym class” for your kids to get active in a structured way. It can be as simple as running around the block or doing a silly workout video together. If you are able, you should participate, too, to help relieve some of the cabin fever.

Post your schedule

Once you have decided on a schedule, post it on a whiteboard, poster board or even on a calendar on the refrigerator so everyone can see and remember it.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can even consider making a planner. Websites like A Plan In Place offer printable planners and organizational tips for families looking to structure their days for the long term, but they might also be helpful for the next few weeks.