When school’s not in session, our regular routines go out the window. It’s luxurious to be able to switch off morning alarms, let family board game sessions continue well past bedtime, and turn a blind eye to little readers devouring novels by flashlight under the covers late at night. For a while, anyway. When it goes on too long, the days and weeks begin to blur, and I find everyone starts to feel at loose ends.
When household chores aren’t getting done, the kids are complaining they’re bored all the time, the day is becoming unbalanced with too much screen or sedentary time, or the kids aren’t making time to practice sports, music, or academic skills, it often helps us as a family to establish a routine to lend some structure to our day.
This doesn’t have to be a rigid hourly schedule (I find it’s easier to stick to if it’s not!). Think of it as a roadmap to outline your day, to make sure the must-dos get done, and make sure kids have something to turn to when they run out of ideas for ways to play.
In my family, I’ve found it helpful to get my kids (six, 10, and 12) involved in this. When school was abruptly cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging them to plan their own days (with help from me) helped reduce the number of interruptions in my workday due to boredom, and got them excited about the opportunity to take on new projects and learn about the things they cared about. This might benefit your family as well.
Related read: Simple tips to help parents cope during the pandemic
If your children are old enough to write, you can sit down with them in the morning or the night before and have them write down their own plans for the day or week, including what skills they’ll work on, what chores they’ll do, what they’d like to learn, or what kinds of games they want to play. If you have a toddler or preschooler, try asking them to draw pictures to illustrate what they would like do during the day. For very young children, you can try making little pictures representing their answers for them to colour in.
Here are some questions I use to help my kids plan their days:
- What will you do for your body today? Encourage kids to identify ideas for active or outdoor play and healthy foods they want to eat. This is a good opportunity to remind kids when to expect bedtime or naptime, or tell them about any plans to be active as a family.
- What will you do for your brain? If there is schoolwork to be done, this is the time to talk about it. But also ask what your kids would like to learn. Would they like to catch bugs to observe in the garden? Read books about the solar system? Practice saying names of dinosaurs? Maybe they want to see what lives in the creek by your home, or measure how much rain will fall that day?
- What will you do for your family? See what ideas your kids have on how they can be helpful, and how to care for family members. Organizing a messy cupboard? Helping Dad make a batch of muffins? FaceTiming Grandma or Grandpa? Or maybe teaching a younger sibling how to play a new game?
- What will you do for your home? What chores does your child need or want to do? Even toddlers can help dust baseboards, wipe fingerprints from kitchen cabinets, push a Swiffer or broom around, or match socks. You may be surprised what your kids are willing to take on—mine have volunteered to clean toilets, help siblings tidy rooms, and pull weeds!
- What will you do for fun? Last but definitely not least, what are some fun activities your child would like to do today? Many children who have access to a TV or tablet will want to watch videos or play games. With a little nudge, you can also help them identify other fun things to do too, like build a fort or obstacle course in the backyard, play an active video game, collect pinecones or rocks to paint, or blow up balloons to bop around the living room.
We’ve created this printable [PDF] as an example of one way you could help kids plan their days. Use it not only to let your kids know what must be done, but also as a tool to empower your kids to decide how they want to be active, curious, helpful, and playful every day.