My Hack to Getting the Kids to Do Educational Things and Getting My Work Done With Everyone Home


I will make this post quick because I only have 29 minutes to write it before I’m interrupted. On the flip side, I have 29 minutes before I’m interrupted – and even then it will only be a three-minute interruption before I get myself another 29 minutes. 

I can hear you asking: “Wait, Maria, don’t you have three children, ages 5, 8 and 11? How on earth are you getting actual half-hour blocks of work done with them all at home?” I will let you in on my “COVID-19 Work + School Day-to-Day Survival Strategy.” If I had more than 28 minutes left to finish this post, I’d give it a wittier name…

[If you don’t want to hear the backstory on the activity (or you just don’t have time to read that part), you can skip down to where the big header is right after the picture!]

My Monday started probably like many parents, looking at the clock and asking myself, “How is it not yet noon? I’m pretty sure it’s been like 473 days…” I had already accepted that my productivity was going to be less than what it is without three kids from home, but I also needed it to be higher than – 45% for the next however long we’re in this.

I had worked over the weekend lining everything up for 7 Generation Games to make everything freely available for everyone, and we spent Monday rolling that out. The irony to that was the point of the move was to provide parents or schools at least some resources to keep their kids busy and not just watching stupid things on YouTube for the next month and yet my kids were basically doing exactly that – but it was Day 1 and left us nowhere to go but up.

The reality started to sink in on Tuesday. We are not super strict schedulers at our house, but it became clear there had to be some kind of structure or it was going to be complete chaos. 

“Think,” I urged myself between being interrupted every 5 minutes. My children seemed to have coordinated schedules as to interrupt me every 15 minutes, but had staggered it so each one came knocking on, or in some cases, bursting through, my office door every 5 minutes. 

“You make games,” I told myself. “Can’t you come up with something?” 

And so I did. 

One thing I do as part of my work with schools and building out new games and characters is game design workshops. As part of those workshops, we have cards that kids use to write their ideas on how we can improve or further develop the game. The cards are color-coded by topic and contain sentence prompts and a sentence stem or example. For example, “I’d improve the characters in this game by… “ or “A new challenge for the character would be…  (Example, find the right number of herbs.)” 

I opened the game design cards file – and whited out where the prompts had been. Each card still said “Game” at the top with a line after it – I debated swapping that out for “Name,” but I only had about 3 minutes and 12 seconds before my next interruption, so I left it as is. (It would actually work out in my favor – since they took it to mean those specific cards are “their game.”)

HERE IS THE ACTIVITY

 

STEP 1

Print out these cards: Cards For Activity

There’s four pages of cards. I have three kids, so each got their own color on Day 1. On Day 2, I added a group category. And for Day 3, I’m planning on printing out a second set of cards to add more activities to choose from, especially now that the school sent home all the kids’ schoolwork.

STEP 2

There’s 10 cards per color, so I put 10 different activities on each card. Each activity runs 30 minutes. I used a mix of activities that they have to do and that they might want to do. Ultimately, during the course of the day, they will do them all. (I’m listing what our activities looked like – but clearly, you can put whatever you want/works for you.)

STEP 3

I set the timer; and each half hour, they come to my office and draw a new card. That card determines what they will do for the next 30 minutes.

Here is the crazy thing: IT WORKED! 

Now, on a given night, I will tell my 11-year-old to go down and practice violin or my 8-year-old to read in Spanish (her school is immersion), then I’ll see them four minutes later, completely disregarding everything I said. My 5-year-old will cry that he needs someone to read to him when I tell him to go look at books (despite the fact that his preschool teachers say he does it all the time in school). But something about the cards seem to make it magically work.

I’m not sure if it’s knowing that maybe next time they’ll draw the “iPad time” card for 30 minutes or what, but right now I don’t even care because I am getting actual uninterrupted time to work  – and they’re actually doing things that I need them to do that are educational without arguing with me and without fighting with each other. In fact, the first thing my preschooler asked me this morning is if we were going to do the cards game again. We did – and again, it totally worked! 

Looking for ideas for your cards? Here are ours. We will definitely be mixing them up a bit to add more so it’s not the same exact thing every day.  Everything is in 30-minute increments. 

5-year-old 

  1. Time with Mom
  2. Time with Dad
  3. Time with Oldest Sister
  4. Time with Middle Sister
  5. Look at books 
  6. Art time
  7. Play with Your Toys
  8. Shows in English
  9. Shows in Spanish
  10. Practice letters or numbers 

During the “time with…” parts, it’s device free – including us parents – and he gets to choose what we do. (The exception being him and his middle sister have to find something they agree on.) Those cards have turned out to be his favorite part of the day.

8-year-old

  1. Read in Spanish
  2. Read in English
  3. Do math
  4. iPad (free time)
  5. Craft time
  6. Draw, color or paint
  7. Play with your toys 
  8. Watch TV in Spanish
  9. Free choice (no device)
  10. iPad (educational apps)

11-year-old

  1. Read 
  2. Read 
  3. Math
  4. Practice violin (15 minutes) and soccer footwork (15 minutes)
  5. Device time (free time)
  6. Device time (free time)
  7. Free choice (no device)
  8. Work on History Day project
  9. Pick up new skills (Currently: video editing)
  10. Play with little brother

Group 

  1. Talk a walk outside (with parent)
  2. Play in yard
  3. Baking/Cooking (e.g. they made brownies yesterday, rice krispy bars today)
  4. Daily picture (they’re all three drawing a picture a day that I rotate out on the front door windows)

(Open to suggestions for things to add to their “Group” activity items – especially group activities that don’t require adult involvement, since part of the point is trying to get work done.)

Once the cards have all be picked, then the “structured” part of our day ends, and they can do whatever while I do some more work. 

And lest you think, I’ve remotely gotten the hang of this kids at home during COVID-19 thing, the hand railing to the basement may have come out of the wall while I was posting this blog. I yelled down the stairs to my son if he had done it – and my 8-year-old yelled back, “You know that face I make when I look you in the eye, but am really lying? He’s making that face now…”

Good luck, my friends. We’re all going to need it. 

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