Creative Escapes – Scheduling

The isolation madness has set in and as a family who thrives on routine, we are all struggling with losing them. All our sports have been cancelled indefinitely. My husband is working from home. School holidays are in the second week and the weather hasn’t been particularly supportive of outdoor activity. That, my friends, is a recipe for unrest in this household! The lack of structure to our days is a big source of anxiety that is only magnified by the great unknown about how long this will last. A week is forever when you are 12 or under, so the idea that these restrictions might last until June, or beyond, is hugely unsettling for all of us.

Did I mention we thrive of routine? My oldest’s favourite question from the time he could talk is ‘what I going today?’ which was an economical contraction of where am I going and what am I doing today. Ten years later it’s still his favourite daily question, he just phrases it better now. His younger brother is much more able to go with the flow, although he does struggle with empty time and will fill it with sensory seeking activities like whistling, rolling all over the place and random squealing. Like I said, a recipe for unrest.

The elephant in the family here is gaming, tablets and screens in general. If my boys are left to manage their own time they would simply game all day. Trouble brews when their frustration gets to be more than they can handle, or the cooperative play dries up. When that happens we just end up with arguments that can get physical and most certainly require parental intervention. Knowing that this is inevitable at the start of the day means that gaming has become the kid Vs parent battle ground, which just contributes to the household unrest.

I’m an analyst by nature, training and occupation. I can see patterns of behaviour in my boys a mile off, which only serves to cause me frustration and may or may not have been the cause of the level in my Gin falling substantially. I can see it coming but am powerless to divert it, despite my best efforts. I knew we needed an isolation routine – STAT! Having said that I don’t want to have to drive everyone’s day and nor do I want everyone clock watching. That would only bring angst of a different nature. Instead what we need is an order of events for the day, a way to chunk the time up so the day has some landmarks between breakfast and bedtime.

After a lot of Googling and listening to TED Talks this is what I came up with. There are two types of day, a busy day and a slow day. We all need down time, especially given the current circumstances, so I don’t want to over do the scheduling. The rule is no more than two slow days in a row and no more than three slow days a week. Given that all our days look the same (we call every day ‘Blursday‘ now because they all blur together), this plan runs Monday to Sunday. Weekends aren’t so special any more in isolation!

A busy day is chunked into:

    • Early Morning
    • Late Morning
    • LUNCH
    • Early Afternoon
    • Late Afternoon
    • DINNER
    • Quiet Time
    • BED TIME

A slow day is chunked into:

    • Morning
    • LUNCH
    • Afternoon
    • DINNER
    • Quiet Time
    • BED TIME

The next challenge is what to fill all this time with. During school term time this is a much easier thing, but the holidays have left us with a LOT of empty hours. This is what I came up with:

The boys are missing their friends – heck, so am I! It’s important to help them keep in touch and we have lots of technology to help them do that. This is especially important for teens as their social circle plays such an important role in their mental and emotional development. the idea that their friends are in touch without them can make teens very anxious. I have to say since we started this as a regular activity thier moods have been vastly improved. Suggested activities for connection are:

    • Driveway drawing – visit a friends house and draw kind messages on their driveway.
    • Make card – and send it to someone. Grandparents especially love this one.
    • Send happy mail – draw a picture or make a small gift and send it to someone you miss.
    • Plan and send a parcel – we have made a few care parcels for friends and family that include things like favourite games, baked goods, toys, colouring books etc
    • Video chat – oh my am I forever grateful for Zoom! We have had many tours of the house conducted over Zoom and friends have eaten lunch with us or played games.
    • Phone call – its so old fashioned in these modern times! A phone call can really satisfy that connection itch. Hearing people’s voices is very comforting.

Both of my children and school aged, so reading is a bit part of their school activities. It is also a very good brain stimulant and both of them need busy brains or they are not easy to live with! I think it’s important for adults to read too or we can use this time to read the news, limiting how long you look at that a day is important to keep overwhelm in check. Suggested activities for reading are:

    • Read a book – my youngest sets a timer for 20 minutes and sits on our bed to read. The time is often ignored, I think he just likes the sense of time and accomplishment it gives him.
    • Research – use this time to look something up. Learn about an art technique you want to try. How to do something technical, or training exercises for something.
    • Word Games – we all love the Wordscapes app for word puzzles. Board games like Scrabble are good too. Anything that encourages expanding vocabulary is acceptable.
    • Lexile Quiz – my youngest uses the Scolastic Lexile program at school for tracking reading progress. It offers the opportunity to do comprehension quizzes on completed books and is a great tool for measuring progress and knowing when to cheer him on.

I have long known that both my boys need busy minds. School usually fills that need, so during the holidays they need to find alternatives. Good options for learning activities are:

    • Times Table Games, or any other maths based game.
    • Online Classes – we use Udemy for online classes and right now a lot of sites are offering discounts. Find something of interest and dive in!
    • Cooking / Baking- this is a double win as it feeds us too. Cooking involves a lot of planning, reading and maths. Its a great stimulation activity.
    • Journal – I have encouraged both of my boys to write about this historic experience. Nothing overwhelming, just their thoughts, feelings and activities during isolation. There is a brilliant ‘Time Capsule’ template you can use for this task available here.

Being creative or engaging in imaginative play are so important for good mental health, especially during time of social isolation. Creating something out of nothing comes with a great big side of serve of accomplishment and happiness. Its well worth the effort. Creative activity options for us include:

    • Drawing – draw a picture, of anything! Just use pencils, crayons, textas anything you have to colour, draw or create. We have a good collection of colouring books and my oldest is participating in the Brooklyn Library Sketch Book Project, which is an awesome way to encourage creativity. You can read about it here.
    • Building – we have built a lot of things, forts, obstacle courses for people, remote control helicopters and cars and targets for Nerf wars.
    • Lego Challenge – I have a board on Pinterest we use as a source of inspiration for Lego challenges. It includes things like chair lifts for mini figures and self propelled cars. The Lego Masters TV series is excellent too.
    • Hot Wheels Cars – you would think we were past this at 9 and 12, but no! We have seen some epic Hot Wheels tracks and events held here recently.
    • Baking / Cooking – Creative cooking often includes decorating cakes and biscuits to share with friends and neighbours, its a great creative outlet.

My children are an excellent study in how exercise effects mood. If we go more than a day without some sort of high impact, joint compressing exercise we ALL suffer! That’s way this one is needed on busy and slow days.

    • Bike Ride – we are lucky enough to live close enough to Grandparents to visits there. We also ride to friends places for socially distant visiting or just around the block is good too.
    • Walking – I walk with the boys as far as this arthritic body can, often it’s enough to prompt them to find the next destination without me. A walk down to the servo to get a slushy is a favourite, as is visiting the park with the balls or remote control helicopters.
    • Soccer – any ball sport would do, in this house we are soccer devotees! We have a goal in the backyard and a park close by so this one is on the agenda often.
    • Online PE Class – there are lots of PE classes for kids offered online. Our favourite is ‘PE with Joe’, which you can find on You Tube.

It’s easy to value busy over not, so it’s important to plan for some rest. We all need down time and isolation is exhausting mentally, even it if leaves us sedentary a lot of the time.

    • TV/Tablet – oh boy are we avid consumers of You Tube! Its not my thing but the boys could kill hours there. For me it’s Netflix.
    • Quiet Alone Time – we are all needing to go hang out alone in our rooms and just be. Me especially 😉
    • TED Talk – if you haven’t discovered TED yet, now is the time! There are talks on any and every topic, check the talks out at here  or here for talks especially for kids.
    • Podcast – we all enjoy podcasts, they fill space in your brain while your body rests. Our favourites include Story Pirates and Wow In the World. Find them on Apple Podcast or any other podcast subscription app.
    • Cuddles/Heavy Blanket/Fort – everyone loves a cuddle and that heavy blanket is amazing for calming down! If you’ve never tried one read about them here.

It’s easy to feel helpless during isolation and I really wanted us to have something to show for our time in lock down and for the boys to have a sense of accomplishment when all this is over. Also, the human condition loves nothing more than something to look forward to, so having a big project to get back to is really helpful when empty days are all that’s ahead. These are the activities we chose for our big deal jobs:

    • To improve your space – both boys want to make radical changes to their bedrooms, including painting walls and moving furniture. That needs a plan!
    • Garden – we have an active veggie garden, and both boys have some ideas for improving our outdoor space, including adding a fire pit and ball nets.
    • Project / Large Art – tie dying is on the agenda as is acrylic pouring on canvases. What else have you always wanted to do?

So what are the ‘rules’? How do you use this idea? For us it looks like the below, changing it to suit you is highly recommended. The idea of all of this is to provide an order of events, or a structure for the day, rather than a clock based schedule. Sometimes it’s a challenge to get onto a task, other times they get so engrossed the first task lasts all day – and that’s ok! The whole point is to feel accomplished and happy and the end of the day and to have something to look forward to tomorrow. For us that means:

A busy day looks like this:

    • Breakfast must be eaten by 10pm
    • You must have a plan for the day by 10pm
    • Lunch must be eaten by 2pm
    • Only ONE slot is for Xbox / tablet

The plan for the day must include:

    • One of both of Reading and Learning
    • Jobs / Helping
    • Exercise
    • One or both of Connection and Creating
    • One slot must be for jobs and helping

A slow day looks like this:

    • Only ONE slot is for Xbox, unless more is agreed with Mum and Dad
    • The plan for the day must include:
    • Jobs / Helping
    • Exercise
    • Lunch must be eaten before 2pm.

Every day things that need to be done:

    • Make your bed
    • Get dressed (unless a PJ day is agreed)
    • Brush teeth in the morning
    • Open your curtains
    • Turn your lights and diffuser off
    • Empty or load the dishwasher

I hung the guidelines, some ideas for filling the plan and a plan for each boy in our dining room. There is a bit of Velcro on each slot so they can stick up their selections for the day.  You can download these sheets to make your own here.

To some of you this will seem like a ridiculous amount of over kill. For us it has been a life saver and a bringer of peace to our household. We followed this fairly closely for the first week and after that they got the hang of it. The boys were planning their days without prompting and were inventing landmarks in their days for themselves. When it falls apart and we have a day that requires the liberal application of chocolate or alcohol (or both!) we just go back to a week of being strict and they are back on track again. I hope sharing helps families find their own isolation peace. Let me know if you found anything here that works for you. 🙂

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