Kids Out of Daycare? Tips from a Stay-at-Home Dad

A few hard-won insights from a bedraggled father.

The schools are shut down, the day cares are empty, and the kids are home. Welcome to my world: About half a year ago I scaled back my work to part-time so I could watch the kids, and I now have a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and a baby born in late November.

I can’t tell you how to keep your school-age kids up to date with their lessons, but I have some tips for the younger ones. If you’re an NRPLUS member, add your own advice in the comments; and if you’re not, sign up!

1. Don’t get too uptight about the academics.

When I started this, I envisioned making the kids do lots of workbooks and writing drills. That might fly with older kids, but younger ones get miserable and lose focus pretty quickly.

What’s working for me at the moment is to do a session at a whiteboard once a day where the kids practice identifying letters, sounding out words, writing their names, learning the months and days of the week, etc. Then later in the day I try to play a game that involves counting and adding. Try to repeat spellings and other concepts many days in a row; it will shock you how long it takes for things to truly sink in.

2. Arts-and-crafts projects are your friend.

To be honest, I kind of hate this junk and usually avoid it, preferring instead to find kids’ events and activities around town. Well, all that stuff is closed, so arts and crafts it is.

There’s no shortage of ideas online, but some of my kids’ favorites include making up their own board games, folding paper into origami flowers, simply coloring on blank paper, and of course making cool things out of tape and cardboard boxes:

Though this is not to say I recommend giving kids unfettered access to masking tape:

3. If you have a baby, wear a baby carrier.

I don’t care how you or Piers Morgan thinks it looks. You need to have your hands free, the weight will tire your arms after a while, and babies often sleep best when they’re cuddled up with a parent.

4. Enforce some quiet time if the kids don’t nap anymore.

Let me clarify: This is quiet time for you more than for the kids. I’ve found this is a lot easier to do when the kids are free to play with their Legos in the kitchen or what have you, so long as they don’t get out-of-control rambunctious. They don’t have to stay completely silent or try to go to sleep.

5. Read, read, read.

Kids like having stories read to them, and it kills time. With the libraries shut down, you might want to buy some new books — see my suggestions here — or swap some with a friend.

6. Get outside if it’s safe to do so.

It’s entirely possible to go outdoors while keeping your distance from other people. Play in the yard. Find a trail to hike. Maybe even just walk around the neighborhood on a nice day.

7. Screen time is magical.

Yeah, yeah, it’s bad for you, kids under two shouldn’t have it at all, whatever. If you need a break, or you just need them to stay the hell out of your hair while you sweep and mop, find something educational for them to watch for an hour and don’t feel bad about it. Sesame Street and Daniel Tiger (the modern Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) are on Amazon Prime, and Netflix has Octonauts, a cartoon that teaches about marine life. Both services have plenty of nature documentaries and the like. (Sharks and dinosaurs are always a hit.) If you’re really in a screw-it kind of mood, let them watch cartoons such as Dinotrux and PJ Masks. Whatever you choose, pause for a moment to watch in amazement as they sit still and focus for a change.

8. You might be surprised how much work you can do on a phone.

I haven’t said much about work in this piece because everyone’s situation will be different. You might be trading the kids back and forth while you and your spouse try to put in a full day each; you might not be working at all; I happen to be part-time. But if you have a job you can do remotely, you might be able to get at least some work done while supervising kids. When my own kids are playing nicely, I read articles and studies about things I’m writing about, keep up with the work conversation on Slack, and even draft pieces. Yes, I’m typing this on a phone right now. To speed things up, learn how to type by running your fingers over the letters on the keyboard rather than tapping each letter separately. (If your phone doesn’t come with this feature, grab an app such as Swype.)

9. If you’re sick of soggy takeout fries, stick them in an air fryer while you eat the rest of your food.

That’s not a parenting-specific tip, but it’s the most important thing I’ve figured out during this pandemic.


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