Article / Published Mar 12

How Should Parents Prepare for Coronavirus, School Closures, and Getting Anything Done?

With information changing daily about the spread of coronavirus (officially known as COVID-19), there’s no shortage of confusion and anxiety to go around—especially for parents who are faced with big unknowns like “will my child’s school stay open?” and “will I still be able to go to work?”

Across the country, many school systems have already closed and it’s very likely that we’ll see more expansive closures beginning soon and lasting for weeks at a time. What does that mean for working parents? How can parents be as prepared as possible to keep children home? Here are the big things we think all families should do, starting now:

1: Put health and safety first, obviously.

Help your kids understand the importance of good hygiene and hand-washing. This StoryBots video is a good place to start for young children. And for all of us, here are some good tips on how to stop touching our faces.

Minimize your exposure to crowded places, especially for the sake of Grandma and Grandpa. Unless you hear otherwise from your local department of public health, playing outside and going for walks is fine (and fresh air is healthy!)—but now is a good time to skip the museums or indoor play spaces. While children seem to be spared the worst of coronavirus, they can still get the disease and spread it to others—so making smart choices about public outings is helpful for your whole community, especially neighbors who might be at higher risk.

Keep protecting your family against regular illnesses. It’s not too late to get a flu shot if you and your children haven’t already. It won’t protect you against coronavirus, but it will still help you stay healthy.

2: Make a plan for who will watch your kids if you can’t stay home.

Connect with your neighbors, especially those who also have young children at home. Unless anyone is under official quarantine (and should therefore not leave the house or be around others), consider creating a small shared childcare group. (“Small” is key—join forces with one or two other families, not the whole class, since bringing large groups of children back together will undermine the value of school closures in the first place.) Maybe your neighbor is able to stay home or take time off when you can’t, or maybe you can split the days to share the burden.

If your children are old enough to stay home alone, see if there is a low-risk neighbor who is working from home who can check in on them. Many companies are encouraging workers to stay home if their jobs allow it, so it’s very possible that someone across the street or next door will be available for an occasional check-in, even if they can’t help all day. Since older people and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for severe illness from coronavirus, be sure to take special precautions to keep those neighbors safe. (And of course, follow official recommendations for self-isolation and quarantine.)

3: Establish the systems and resources you need to keep your kids busy.

Make a trip to the library now, so you don’t have to go later. There’s a lot of advice out there about “social distancing,” the practice of avoiding crowds and public spaces to slow the spread of disease in your community. Just like it’s a good idea to keep some shelf-safe foods in stock and get prescriptions filled, planning ahead should also include a trip to the library for a fresh load of books, so you don’t have to go out later. Make sure every member of the family has enough reading material for a couple weeks.

Reach out to your child’s teachers (if you haven’t heard from them already) about how the school will handle remote learning. Some schools may send home work in hard copy, or ask students to get online from home. If you don’t have access to a computer with internet at home, make sure to let your child’s teachers know that you’ll need access to resources either offline or in a mobile format. (Many online learning tools can be accessed via mobile phone or tablet, so you won’t need a computer.) For those who need it, Comcast is offering 60 days of free internet connection during this epidemic, with a modem and Wi-Fi router, and without a contract.

Review login information for your school’s online portal. If you haven’t used your school’s online portal before, make sure you have access, and check in with the school office if you don’t.

If your child receives special education services, reach out to school to learn what supports will still be available in the event of a closure. If school is in session but your child is unable to attend, school is required to find a way to continue providing their services and make sure your child makes up any missed learning. If school closes altogether, your child likely won’t receive their services during the closure period. But remote learning is a gray area—so connect with your IEP team, 504 team, or your child’s teachers ahead of time to figure out a plan for making sure your child is able to continue their learning at home, in the event that school shifts to a virtual learning model. Understood.org offers some good advice.

4: If you’ve got items 1-3 under control and can take things one step further, make a plan for how your kids will learn something while they’re home.

Break up the day into a few different activities. Let’s be honest—most of us are not going to be home-schooling our kids while their schools are closed. But just like summer vacation, the goal is to make sure some learning happens, so the kids aren’t a) staring at screens all day and b) bouncing off the walls. Whether your kids are staying home with you or with another caretaker, we suggest chunking up the day into a few blocks: some spent on reading, some on educational apps or games, and some playing outside (weather and safety permitting, of course). If your children have specific assignments to get through for school, include a designated chunk of time for that, too. (For an example, here’s one parent’s plan for “Daddy School.”)

Set up accounts on educational apps and websites. These educational publications and online tools are offering free subscriptions during school closures. And check out some of our favorite apps and games, listed below.

Our Favorite Simple Educational Apps and Games:

Duck Duck Moose: Free award-winning educational apps for younger children on iTunes and Google Play Stores.

Bedtime Math: A daily (or nightly) math problem focused on a fun fact or topic.

Monkey Preschool Lunchbox: Simple puzzles and math problems for kids aged 3-5.

Dragonbox Numbers: Games designed to strengthen number sense in students aged 4-8.

Endless Alphabet : Really cute, simple, letter-learning app for early learners.

Storyline Online: Great kids' books read aloud by famous Hollywood actors.

And some further options if you want more structured online instruction:

Khan Academy: Free tutorials and lessons across all subjects and grade levels.

IXL: Online courses and practice by grade level (K-12).

BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr.: An animated educational site elementary and middle schoolers (also available in Spanish and French!).

iPracticeMath: This site provides free online math practice, help and worksheets.

XtraMath: This site allows students to practice basic math facts (for elementary and middle school aged students). As an added bonus, parents can track their students’ progress.

Prodigy: This site allows elementary and middle school students to practice math skills through engaging games. Parents can set up an account to track students’ progress.

Other places to get good information:

General information:

Centers for Disease Control

New York Times Coronavirus Live Updates

Additional resources for parents:

9 Questions Parents May Have About Coronavirus (New York Times Parenting Blog)

Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus (NPR)

Common Sense Provides Resources for Parents to Prepare for Coronavirus School Closures(Common Sense Media)

Local resources and updates:

Louisiana Department of Public Health

Massachusetts Department of Public Health