After spending a social distancing week at home trying to work a full-time job and act as primary caregiver for my two young daughters, I was exhausted. Despite my fatigue, catching my four-year-old, Addy, in a middle-of-the-night YouTube Kids binge watching session forced me to realize that I needed to do more. I’d spent the week relying on toys and screens to keep my girls occupied while I tried to work. As a former educator, my preschooler’s budding addiction to her device gnawed at me—I should be doing more to foster Addy’s learning and development during the day! However, I also felt profoundly guilty knowing that I’d neglected some of my work obligations and responsibilities throughout the week. I felt like I was in a daily battle trying to balance work and parenting only to find at the end of each day that I was—at best—barely mediocre at both. I needed something to change, and I knew I’d have to find some creative solutions.
I began my search for a solution. Over the last week, many of my coworkers had shared a variety of educational live-streams and a slew of available online resources. While grateful for the resources, I also felt overwhelmed looking at all of them. So many of them would require a significant amount of my own involvement and/or a screen to take advantage of. Instead, I knew that I needed to find Addy a variety of activities that were primarily self-directed and that didn’t require screen time. I also wanted to provide activities she could do with her fourteen-month-old sister Elie that would foster their friendship and to encourage cooperation and play.
That weekend I took a break from the house to get some essentials at the grocery store. Before checking out with my milk and toilet paper, I stopped in the book section, looking for some kind of… something… anything that would help me figure out how to better manage the coming week at home. I stumbled upon some pre-kindergarten workbooks and an idea started to form. I added a few workbooks to my cart and headed to checkout. I remember the distinct feeling of encouragement I felt on the drive back home.
Sunday night, I pulled out the workbooks and started planning. I prepped five days’ worth of worksheet activities, carefully paperclipping each stack to stay organized. Worksheets would only keep my Addy entertained for so long. And, let’s be honest, despite my equivocations to the contrary, the worksheets were busywork. What more could I do to keep Addy and Elie meaningfully engaged?
I went to the bookshelf and gathered a few books. Addy can read to her sister, I told myself.
I’d read somewhere that tape and pipe cleaners could occupy kids for hours. I didn’t have pipe cleaners, but I did have plenty of tape and some bendy straws!
I then went to Addy’s art supplies and selected a coloring sheet and collected her paints. She loves to paint, and we can mail the picture to her grandma.
My next stop was the toy bin, where I thoughtfully selected a toy that both Addy and Elie could enjoy together.
Finally, I grabbed the duster from among the cleaning supplies. Addy loves to dust! I bet Elie will enjoy this too!
I gathered everything in a box, all the necessary materials and supplies. I then created an index card checklist and clearly indicated that Addy’s reward for completing all of the activities would be screen time. Addy’s Adventure Box was born!
That Monday morning, I reviewed the activities with Addy over breakfast. She spent the morning happily painting and playing with her sister while I worked and had meetings. By lunchtime, Addy hadn’t asked for her screen. By nap time (for Elie), Addy was still working on her Adventure Box. By 2pm, Addy had completed Adventure Box items and earned screen time.
The Adventure Box has now become a whole thing at our house. For the past week, Addy wakes up and during breakfast she and I walk through the Adventure Box activities. She spends the morning working on her box activities. And, if she’s earned it after midday rest time, she gets screen time. Over the weekend I was even scolded for not prepping an Adventure Box for her. What did I expect her to do all day?!
Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t all been roses and unicorns. (See the 30-minute tantrum Addy threw on Thursday while I was in a team meeting.) I noticed some fatigue, and some of the activities are duds. The worksheets are more of a chore (and usually the last thing completed). But screen time is down, my children play well together, I can (sort of) focus on work, and I feel slightly more settled about how I’m managing my time at work and my time as a parent throughout the day.
As an added bonus, I spent some time last week researching educational apps and found a few apps that I downloaded onto Addy’s iPad. She loves the Reading Eggs Math Seeds game, as well as the DuoLingo ABC app. Often her afternoons are spent learning about numbers and practicing sight words in an app instead of watching inane cartoons and videos on YouTube, Netflix, or Disney+. (Though, there is still plenty of inane cartoon watching. It’s just significantly less these days.)
Through it all, I’ve shared my wins and misses with my wonderful work community. We ask one another questions, provide support, share ideas, set up kid Zoom meetings, and laugh (and sometimes cry) about how things are going in this new work-from-home and work-from-home-with-kids world.
If you’re like me, still adjusting to these crazy new circumstances, maybe even a work-from-home-with-kids parent, I hope you’re finding the encouragement you need to keep going. I’d also invite you to leave a comment below about your own at-home adventures, share your successes and/or failures, and contribute to the collaborative and supportive Community we enjoy here.