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How to Deal with Unexpected School Closures

A woman sitting next to a little girl who is writing on a piece of paper with a marker.
Flamingo Images/Shutterstock

Dealing with an unexpected school closure can be hard for everyone—both kids and adults! Here are some practical ways to survive the days (or weeks) ahead.

Obviously, there’s no way of knowing when school might be canceled. Parents are usually caught off guard, with only a night (or even a few hours) to prepare. That’s why it’s ideal to create a plan beforehand, so you’re all set with supplies, books, or emergency snacks.

However, if you have absolutely no prep-time, don’t panic! You can still survive any unexpected quarantine at home. The most important thing is to create a schedule for the day, which you can do at a moment’s notice. Then, just make do with whatever you have on hand. Creativity goes a long way here!

Lastly, don’t be afraid to see if you can work from home. Not having to figure out last-minute childcare can definitely alleviate some stress, but we can help you with that, too!

Establish a Schedule

Just because your kids are suddenly trapped at home doesn’t mean you can’t follow a routine. It might seem odd to set up a regimented schedule right away. However, your kids are used to structure—at school, they have designated times for math, writing, gym class, and so on. This is why setting up a concrete schedule will not only keep things orderly, but, also, it’ll help your kids stay calm.

Remind them this isn’t summer vacation. Normally, they’d be at school right now, so the focus of the day should still be learning.

Divide the day into blocks that allow time for snacks, outdoor play, free time, and chores (hey, why not get a clean house out of this?). This is also a great opportunity for them to brush up on any rusty academic skills—drill them on those multiplication tables. You can also encourage them to get ahead by reading the next chapter of their history book.

How your schedule will look depends on your family, your kids, and what you want to accomplish with your day. We’ve included a sample schedule below—feel free to modify it as needed:

  • Morning routine (7:00 a.m.): Wake up, get dressed, and have breakfast.
  • Circle time (8:00 a.m.): Talk about the day’s agenda, goals, and give everyone a printed copy of the schedule.
  • Exercise (8:30 a.m.): Rotate each morning’s activity, such as dance, yoga, taking a walk, or playing tag. Keep it interesting and fun!
  • Math (9:00 a.m.): They can use their school book or play free online math games.
  • Writing (9:30 a.m.): Assign them some different writing prompts every day. This is a great project to continue, even when school’s back in session.
  • Other subjects (10:00 a.m.): Whether it’s science, social studies, or geography, explore a different topic each day to prevent boredom.
  • Morning snack (10:30 a.m.): Something simple the kids can prepare on their own is best.
  • Chores (11:00 a.m.): Here are some tips on how to get your kids to clean their rooms.
  • Outdoor time (11:30 a.m.): It’s time to run outside, build a fort, jump in puddles, or build a snowman. There are plenty of ways to enjoy some outdoor fun! If the weather prevents it, use this as free time to do another fitness activity, play a board game, or read.
  • Lunch prep (12:00 p.m.): Make sure everyone pitches in, including cleaning up afterward.
  • Lunch (12:30 p.m.): Eat outside if you can—the fresh air will keep everyone from going stir crazy.
  • Quiet time (1:15 p.m.): Your kids can do anything during this time, as long as they’re quiet (try to save screen time for later, though).
  • New skills (2:00 p.m.): You can use this time for arts and crafts, learning a new language, or anything you all want to try.
  • Electronics (3:00 p.m.): Try to keep it educationally focused, if possible. Have an afternoon snack, if needed.
  • Outdoor time (4:00 p.m.): Let them run free!
  • Dinner prep (5:00 p.m.): Make it a group effort.
  • Dinner (5:30 p.m.): Yay, you’ve survived another day!

Stock up on Snacks and Food

It’s a good idea to always have emergency supplies on hand because, well, life is unpredictable. If it’s not a crazy coronavirus or an impending snowstorm, it’s something else!

Think of things that have a longer shelf life, like peanut butter, rice, pasta, beans, canned soup, and so on. Keep them stocked, especially whenever you see a sale. If you have an extra freezer, you can store essential frozen items, like chicken nuggets, veggies, and pizza.

Stock up on snacks and easy-to-prep meals, like peanut butter and jelly, your kids can make by themselves or with minimal supervision. Check out these 30 easy recipes for ideas. Just make sure you limit snacks and meals to designated times—otherwise, the day will turn into a big gorge fest (boredom eating is real).

Lastly, don’t be afraid to have a few fun treats on hand, such as the makings for s’mores. You can roast those marshmallows over the stove or fire up the grill outside (all with adult supervision, of course). Or, set aside candy sprinkles and fudge to whip up some delish sundaes when everyone’s getting cabin fever.

These little surprises will break up the monotony.

Explore New Skills

Being stuck at home day after day can lead to complete and utter boredom (even for adults!). Your children might turn into TV zombies, unable to take their eyes off the screen.

Prepare for any future apocalypse by thinking about new activities everyone can do that will excite, stimulate, and entertain your child.

Anything is possible, given your level of patience (do you have time to help them with it?). If you still have to work, make sure you pick projects your kids can do independently.

Here are a few ideas to explore:

Read, Read, Read

A little boy lying on the floor and looking at a book.
Patryk Kosmider/Shutterstock

Oodles of unexpected time at home is a great excuse to go on a reading binge! You can prepare for this in advance by storing a stack of books in the closet. Get them out the next time you’re stuck at home. Take turns reading them aloud. Don’t be afraid to reread favorites, like Harry Potter.

Consider delving deeper into what they’re already studying at school. If they’re currently researching ancient Egypt, go ahead and let them do some online research. Then, have them write a summary or draw pictures about what they’ve learned.

In a pinch, there are also plenty of children’s books and stories available for free online.

Use Screen Time Wisely

Ah, the savior of the day! It’s so easy to fall back on screen time, and just plug your kids in for the day so you can get on with work (or have a moment to breathe). We all do this, so no judgement here.

However, if you’re determined to maintain some structure, try to avoid screen time as long as possible. Then, when it’s time to whip out the screens, it’ll feel more special—like they’re being rewarded for doing everything else first.

Want to keep screen time educational? Check out 10 free math apps or HippoCampus, which has over 7,000 free videos on 13 different subjects.

You can also opt for shows on Netflix that have an educational component.

If your kids rebel or complain, remind them that it’s still a school day, it’s just happening at home. Plenty of kids homeschool and now, they can, too!

What to Do About Childcare

If you still have to work (at home or elsewhere) and have young children that need constant supervision, then it’s crucial that you have a backup childcare plan.

Connect with neighbors and see if anyone is able to watch your kids while you go work. Perhaps an older kid or teen who’s also home from school can play with your kiddos while you work in the next room. Join local homeschool groups to find even more daytime babysitters.

Reach out to other parents or coworkers and see if you can swap out time to watch each other’s kids. For example, you could do the morning shift, and they could take the kids for the afternoon.

If you’re going to be trapped at home for days on end, ask your boss if you can work from home to more easily deal with childcare issues.

Lastly, there might be camps or other drop-in childcare options in your area. Definitely do some research to see what’s available.

Dealing with an unexpected school closure is never easy—especially if you can’t afford to miss work. Try to work from home, if possible, and stick to a schedule to keep your kids on track.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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