Week 4

Structure in an Unstructured Time

Most have never had a routine for spending time at home day after day. The closest experience might be a family vacation. A beach vacation dictates time on the beach and time in shops. And time at your favorite best pizza joint. Although you may not structure this time in a formal sense, you usually chose a location based on available activities.

If you look at what routine you’ve temporarily lost, you’ll find a long list.  No wonder you may feel a little adrift.

Our Formerly Imposed Routines

Before Covid, you scheduled your family life around your obligations and your choices. School districts told you when and where your kids would catch the bus. Your employer decided when you start work. Then you schedule yoga classes, hikes, or soccer practice. You bought groceries consistently. (But you also had the freedom to grab a few things at the store on your way home.) Your weekday getting-up time determined how early you went to bed. And planned weekend activities gave your life structure.

The Power of Routine

Your kids (and you!) operate better with routine and  predictability. Routines can reduce anxiety and overwhelm. So while you may have lost most of what the outside world imposed, regaining a sense of rhythm by structuring your time more succinctly will help greatly during this home-bound experience.

This week we’ve included activities and prompts to help rebuild structure into your lives in a way that’s helpful, fun, and engaging.

Activities to Help Establish a New Routine

We never could have anticipated that we would have whole nations be homebound in the way we currently are.

Activity #1: Bring a Sense of Order

Whether kids had chores to do before the pandemic or not, now is a great time to implement ways that everyone can contribute to the wellbeing of the household. 

Rather than the term “chores” it can be more inviting to use a term that has a connotation of doing our part, or of service to the family.  You might call them “Daily Contributions”.  Look for those that can be shared so the kid that has to take out the garbage one week gets to do something else the next week.

Many parents have found this concept is better received if you use a more inviting term, one that has a connotation of doing our part or of service to the family. You might call them “Jobs” or “Daily Contributions.” 

1. Young kids can wipe down the door handles and light switches. This serves a greater purpose than whether they did a thorough job. Even if you have to go back over them later, it is a great way for kids to become more aware of all the things we touch when we’re coming in from places where we’re less protected from COVID-19.

2. Making beds and tidying up helps more than one might think. Even if the kids didn’t have to make their beds before they ran to catch the school bus, having beds made first thing in the morning starts the day off in a good direction. Having a pick-up time before bedtime keeps a room from getting so messy it is overwhelming to make order of it.

3. Break the day into small chunks or separate little areas of focus. Sometimes it is easier to look at getting through one or two things rather than looking at the whole day. What works for your child?

4. As an art project, let the kids make graphs that have pictures rather than words for what needs to be done. Can you move every item to the “to do” side and let your kids move each item over to the “did it!” side? Or at least let kids mark off when they’ve completed something. It feels good to see it visually.

5. Scheduling music, dance, laughter and fun is really important, and perhaps several shorter times each day would be helpful. 

6. A bouquet each week. Now that spring is arriving, do you have flowers in your yard that could provide a little bouquet indoors each week? 

7. Plan and plant a garden. Even if it is three tomato plants on a tiny balcony, is there a way to raise any edibles?

8. Use meal prep for learning.  Parents who are working from home may not have the time, but if you have time to fill with your kids, look for longer cooking or baking projects. Homemade bread or hand made pasta require following directions and can occupy a tween or teen’s time for an afternoon. And the family’s delight when something turns out can boost everyone’s spirits.   

Activity #2: Create a Schedule

Each person will need 2 sheets of paper.

1. Draw a line down the center or your paper. On the left side, make the longest list you can of all the ways you had structure in your life, whether imposed by others (work schedule, school schedule) or those you chose.

2. On the right side, note whether the listed item on the left side is still in your schedule now or not. For instance, you may still do yoga at 6 pm, but now it is online instead of in-person.  This still counts as being on your schedule.

3. On a new sheet of paper, write the first thing that you named on your previous list that is no longer on your schedule. 

  • To whom does it apply? 
  • How many family members were involved in that particular thing? 
  • Talk about what purpose that specific activity held.  (E.g. going to school at a certain time)
  • Discuss ways you might put that thing into your new schedule. (E.g. likely your school is doing online learning, so you can now put that in a chart that shows times students are expected to be online with their teachers. 

4. Look at the next item. Talk about what purpose it served and whether there is a new way you can schedule it into your days. 

5. Once you have gone through the list, create a new schedule of activities that are healthy for you.  (Remember, not everything has to happen at the same time for each family member, like the time you’ll each exercise.) Be specific about some expectations, like “7:00, Rise, shine, and make our beds.”

6. Talk about ways you’d like to spend time together as a family that you rarely have time to do… jigsaw puzzles, board games, whatever.  Schedule these at times everyone can participate.

Activity 3: Turn Your Vision Outward

It is easy to look at ways we’re struggling, but the more we stay self-focused, the less our sense of agency.  Once you’ve mastered a daily routine and chores, think about turning your vision outward.  Who has a rougher time right now than you do?  What could you do that would make a difference for someone else?

  • Sew masks.  One grandmother and grandson are working together to make masks.  The grandma does the sewing, and the grandson uses markers to draw hilarious mouths and noses on them.  They’re a total hit with the neighbors!  They’re using scraps of fabric and giving them away.
  • Send a card or handwritten letter to a different person each day.  Everyone in the family could contribute to something for someone you all know, or each person could do their own.
  • Create fun family videos to send to people
  • Start a fundraising effort to send snacks to a hospital in one of the hot spots where staff are so overwhelmed.  Do lots of research to find out what you can send that they can have and that will be safe for them to open…   Energy bars from REI shipped directly to the hospital?  (I’m trying to reach corporate at REI to see if we could set something up…). This way, if a kid just donates a couple of dollars, it is enough to send something to a very tired worker.  (Amy, I’m thinking we need to try to have something set up so they all go through someone that can make sure we’re not a burden on the system… just a thought on this…)
  • If you have some old flowerpots, clean them up, maybe paint a design on them and plant something in each one.  Drop them off for neighbors, maybe as a surprise – and maybe anonymously!
  • What can you do that people will notice in the neighborhood?
    • o Bear hunts for the little ones who might be out for a walk
    • o Rainbows painted in the windows
    • o Make signs with uplifting messages for the windows
    • o Make the longest list you can of things you could do for others!
    • Walk through a local park and pick up litter safely – just like you’d pick up doggie poo.. is there something you can safely clean up in the neighborhood?
    • What can you plant to beautify an area either in your own yard or in a common area that could use a facelift. 

Prompts for Meaningful Discussion

The following three prompts can be spread out over the week. Plan for at least 15 minutes to have these conversations.

Consider the following model:

  • Have one person read the prompt.
  • Let each person respond to the prompt, speaking uninterrupted as long as needed. (Younger children may need encouragement and questions to keep sharing.)
  • Remind each person to respond to the question, not what anyone else has said.
  • After everyone has spoken, talk about what you learned from each other and about each other. What did you have in common?
  • Make a plan as a family to keep practicing the things you’ve each learned through your family discussion.
Prompt #1: What Helps the Most

“The thing that helps me most while we have to be home-bound is…”

Let each person share their thoughts. 

Concluding Your Conversation: When we’re aware of one another’s needs, we have an opportunity to help meet those needs. End your conversation by finding ways to actively help one another get they need during this unique time. 

Prompt #2: If I Had More Time...

“Most of us have a mental list of things that we would do if we had more time. What were some of those things?”

Affirm your children’s ideas! Post everyone’s list on the refrigerator and keep adding to them as you think of new ones.

Concluding Your Conversation: Encourage each person to schedule a time each day to pursue something on their list. Even if it’s 5 minutes, this intentional time can help everyone in the household grow in creativity and increase personal satisfaction.

Prompt #3: Building Character

“Our character makes us the people we are… whether we’re dependable, understanding, generous, patient, etc. What are some admirable character traits?”

Let each person share their thoughts.

“We gain little character when things are easy. Instead, we typically build character when we are challenged. As much as this is a really difficult time (being homebound), what are some character traits this might help you build?”

Concluding Your Conversation: Now is a great opportunity for families to grow more character. As a family, choose one trait you can all focus on building this week.

Prompt #4: Appreciating What We've Lost

“We have temporarily lost the freedom to do many things we took for granted just weeks ago. Sometimes when we lose something, we realize how much it meant. When you think of all of the things you can’t do right now, which of those matter most? Which are not as important as you might have expected?”

Let each person share their thoughts.

Concluding Your Conversation: Often, a new perspective changes how we value thing. Keep a running conversation this week about what is truly valuable to your family as a whole and to each of you as individuals. Express gratitude for what you have now, and what you had before.

Prompt #5: Anticipating Empathy

“When school and work start up again, there will be people who had it easier than you and people who had greater losses than you. What will be important for you to remember in order to be considerate of those whose experience was much more difficult than yours?”

Let each person share their thoughts.

Concluding Your Conversation: It’s important to understand how important empathy will be as we move forward as a community, both locally and globally. Choose one or two scenarios you might face and discuss as a family various ways you each could handle them that show gentleness and empathy. 

Prompt #6: Adaptability

“This is interesting to ponder… dinosaurs were very well adapted to the climate in which they lived but they weren’t very adaptable. When conditions on the earth changed, they died out because they couldn’t adapt. The species that survived were those that were able to adapt.  What has helped you adapt to changes in your life in the past? What were some changes that were by choice and which were not?”

Let each person share their thoughts.

Concluding Your Conversation: Encourage one another to remain flexible this week, and to adapt even in small ways. Also, remind everyone to be patient with one another!

Rehearse Affirmations

Affirmations can help us focus most of our thoughts on positive things. Try these and then make some with your children!

  • “I am what I repeatedly do. I choose to do my best in this moment.”
  • “I am gaining more and more control over my habits every day.”
  • “I am completely responsible for my thoughts and actions.”
  • “By taking care of small things well, I will be ready for bigger things.”


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