A plan of action to keep your family sane in a time of crisis
Doll on beach by Portuguese man o' war', Tracey Williams / Lego Lost At Sea
School and nursery closures are upon us and in addition to the serious health crisis unfolding beyond our control, I thought I’d better come up with a plan of action to keep my family sane for when we’re all thrown together indefinitely – I have two children who are nearly 3 and 6. I’m feeling a little better already.
A little bit of structure goes a long way – for adults and children alike – so I have created a timetable (see below), with blocks of time set aside for the day-to-day necessaries (cooking, exercise, TV respite) but also activities that centre around resourcefulness, imaginary play and community mindedness that, crucially, should bring a sense of higher purpose in these challenging times. A gentle reminder of how we can all be doing so much more to take care of our world.
The timetable is geared towards younger kids and is available as a free printable on my website – it includes links to various resources promoting environmental awareness, including those that support educational outcomes, as well as science, art, numeracy and literacy activities. Don’t forget to keep a scrapbook of all that you achieve over the coming weeks and include rewards for progress made to keep your child motivated.
Teaching resourcefulness and wasting less
Explore your garden, the recycling bin, the dried goods cupboard – and you’ll find plenty to craft, build and learn with. Build a den, make your own play dough, rediscover paper mache, and do some simple home science experiments with baking soda, food colouring and lemon. Making rather than buying things reaches parts of the brain that shop-bought kits and crafts don’t.
Rummage for those under-used or forgotten about food items at the back of you cupboards, explore the versatility of peanut butter, mackerel and marmite, and Ecosia some recipes for that medley of seemingly incompatible items in the fridge. Plant some herbs, pickle some vegetables, learn how to store fresh produce properly so it lasts the longest. And when the kids demand their firm favourites, try making your own pizza dough, nachos, baked beans and energy balls. Get your child to help out and explain the importance of not wasting food.
Review what single-use items you could swap out to replace with reusables, for some easy-win ‘Very Resourceful’ family points. Just for fun you could investigate where all your disposables come from – mostly very far away! Feel fabulously self-sufficient about your washable wipes, sanitary products or sandwich wraps. And if you run out of loo roll, this might just be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for, to try family cloth. (Pretty please don’t flush anything other than toilet paper down the loo – no kitchen roll, no hankies, no wipes – because blocked sewers are the last thing we need).
Try making your own cleaning products – some involve only natural ingredients so your child can help out, whatever their age. You’re likely to have what you need in your cupboard already. And on a more serious note, make your own hand sanitizer.
Cuidado’ Outfit created by Marina DeBris from ocean pollution for her collection ‘Beach Couture: A Haute Mess’. Photo by Kelly Fajack, modelled by Nana Ghana. washedup.us
Cultivating imaginations to raise change-makers
Nourishing our imaginations is also a vital life skill. And it comes alive in the unlikely, oft-dreaded state of being bored. So when you hear the B word, jump at the chance to suggest something completely different, perhaps even slightly bonkers. Put your pyjamas back on, dress up as woodland creatures and have a picnic in the garden, swap roles for an hour and do whatever your child tells you to. This stuff really counts – it’s not just play to pass the time.
'White and sunbleached objects found on the beach', Tracey Williams / Lego Lost At Sea
There are a number of online activities for children around the impact we’re having on our natural world including videos, infographics and stories. Now’s the time to fire up your child’s imagination and role play as an ‘ocean rescue’ reporter, invent a world-saving super power, get stuck into some powerful and visionary storytelling.
People with imagination are the ones not just living life, they are rewriting the rule book. I call this a superpower – and all children have it: the ability to imagine things to be different. To be better. So when a child wants to change something, they just go ahead and try to do it! Being able to imagine things to be different, to be better, means you have hope. Hoping the world can be a cleaner, safer place, which it can be, makes us determined and fearless and in difficult times, such as these, it makes us press onwards.
Taking stock and building cooperative relationships
It is Spring after all, though I must admit I’ve hardly noticed. Declutter, repair, reorganize, sift out toys, clothes and anything else that you think somebody else might enjoy more than you do. And there has never been a better time to get swapping (well-cleaned) toys, games, activity books and tools with other families (swap skills too!), to teach your child about the sharing economy, and nicely spice up your lives at the same time. Talk to them about guardianship rather than ownership of stuff, and that sharing skills leaves everyone better off.
Reflect on the importance of family, friend and community networks for both emotional and practical support. Video call family and friends, host playdates where possible (and free up other parents to get an hour or two to themselves or to work) and join in, if you can, with any neighbourhood support for isolated elderly residents in need of essentials, a phone call, a child’s drawing. Helping others is a powerful antidote to materialism too.
And remember the smaller businesses that are really going to suffer. Buy from them where possible, send them a note of support and reassurance that if they are forced to close you’ll be back with a vengeance when they re-open, continue to pay for after-school extracurricular classes if you can and coordinate with neighbours for bulk buys from local producers.
Good luck to you all and stay well.
Anya Hart Dyke is author of ‘Our throwaway society – raising children to consume wisely’, February 2020