Parents, let’s be real: You’re exhausted. While the stay-at-home order seems like it’s going on forever, parents across the region are having to find ways to keep their children entertained—all while keeping up with their classwork.
Feel like you’re falling short on creative ideas on fun, educational things to do with your kids? We’ve spoken to multiple experts in the region on parenting during a pandemic, and this week, we spoke with Crystal Bowyer, the CEO of DC’s National Children’s Museum. See highlights from our conversation below.
This can be a hard time for parents trying to take care of their kids and work from home at the same time. What is your biggest tip to keep the home structured?
It is definitely a new juggle for working parents. Our son, Preston, is 6 years old, so we are teaching his kindergarten lessons along with working. First, I should say that I have an amazing partner co-parenting with me every day. My husband is a director at Capital One and is also remarkably busy, but he makes time for Preston. We have been very good about sticking to our standard routines—waking up early, getting dressed, having a schedule, etc. I think having designated spaces for your activities is important. My son knows when he sits down at the little desk we set up for him, it is time to focus. Each day we are trying to accomplish a lot. I always like to set high goals to see what we can achieve, but if we don’t check every box, that’s OK too. We are doing our best!
With playtime, do you think it is better for it to be structured or to give children free play right now? What are your favorite educational yet fun activities for kids?
Kids really need structure. It’s an important element of the school day that they are missing right now, so we try to keep some semblance of that at home too. When my son finishes a school activity, he gets free time just like he would at school—but the activities are educational as they would be at school. We’ve always limited screen time, so he has never had his own iPad, but during quarantine we have reset the settings on our iPad to allow him to use it safely on his own. The apps we have loaded for him are Khan Academy, DreamBox, Spotify Kids, and ABCmouse. He loves to put on his headphones and listen to his own Spotify Kids music while he plays the educational games. The songs available are curated by actual people with backgrounds in music therapy and education, so you know they are age appropriate.
Instead of sitting kids in front of the TV or their tablets, what’s a great self-play game, toy or method that parents could use to “distract” their child as they get some work done?
Our son loves LEGOS, building marble runs or drawing. We adore the learn-to-draw books by Ed Emberley. He was an amazing children’s book illustrator in the ’60s to the ’80s, and my son feels so accomplished when he can make an amazing picture by following the steps laid out in the books.
Cabin fever is ramping up for all ages. How can parents help to combat those feelings with their kids to get the jitters out?
We try to get our son outside every day to practice a sport. He likes bike riding, scooting, playing soccer, practicing baseball and basketball. Some days he joins me and we stream yoga for a little exercise and meditation. His favorite thing though is a 5 p.m. dance party to celebrate the end of the day. That always gets the jitters out for both of us!
What have you been implementing at your own home to entertain your kids right now? How are you able to get work done remotely while parenting?
My family and I have been home together since March 13. I find that between parenting and meetings during the day, I spend more nights working after my son goes to bed. It is difficult because my son has school obligations, but he is too young to do the work on his own. Sometimes his kindergarten Zoom calls run over and then I am late for my next call, but that’s where we are right now. I don’t expect anyone to apologize if their child pops on-screen or needs them during a meeting. This is the new reality, and we need to be supportive of the children in our lives that are dealing with so much change and anxiety already.
Do you have any other tips for parents right now during this unprecedented time?
I think being patient with children and talking to them about how they are feeling is so important right now. In the mornings, I sometimes ask my son if he remembers what he dreamt about, and two times last week he dreamt about outings with his friends. It was so sweet, but it also broke my heart. This is such a hard time for children, being away from school, friends, parks, sports, etc. Being kind and acknowledging their feelings is the first step, and then extra hugs and support always makes things better.
How is the National Children’s Museum handling the pandemic right now?
National Children’s Museum is navigating this challenging time by doubling down on our mission. For all the reasons I’ve just talked about, we know it’s more important than ever to inspire children and ignite curiosity. To continue supporting families, we’ve quickly pivoted to launching several digital resources, including a daily STEAMwork series, as well as developing at-home curriculum and a virtual field trip for educators and students, which are all available on our website. I truly believe that one thing that will come out of this crisis will be a generation of innovators that turn to science to solve the world’s problems. We owe it to these children to provide that guidance, spark curiosity and hopefully bring them a little joy.
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