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Seven activities that are keeping my family sane during isolation

Kim Chetney holds her dog Ruckus while Dr. Michelle Oakley massages some ear drops in in an episode of "Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet."
Kim Chetney holds her dog Ruckus while Dr. Michelle Oakley massages some ear drops in in an episode of "Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet."Miranda Langevin/Lucky Dog Films

Here we are, deep into self-isolation, with who knows how much longer to go. I’ve worked from home for years, but now that I have two “co-workers” to manage, things have gotten more hectic. Homeschooling? Let’s just say my parachute isn’t that color. While my remarkably organized 7-year-old blocks her days into half-hour chunks of activities (including lunch and recess, of course), she frequently needs help. That kind of rigidity makes the 13-year-old cringe, however; he’d rather sneak off to a screen every time I turn my back — against house rules before 4 p.m. To reduce stress, stay organized, and still have a little fun, we’ve instituted some new standards — and relaxed a few rules. Have there been parenting fails? Yep. Do I still suck at housekeeping? Uh-huh. Is wine now allowed at weekday dinners? Oh yes. But my kids aren’t fighting (much) and they’re still learning (a little), so that’s a win. Here are seven things we’re doing together to stay relatively sane.

Art for Kids Hub This family-oriented You Tube Channel is hosted by a friendly dad named Rob. As he conjures cartoon-y figures, one of his four school-age kids sits by his side, creating the picture, too. Seeing the variation in results on screen is encouraging, and, unlike some other art or crafting channels, viewers can actively participate as they watch. While the lessons are geared for younger kids, my teenager loves to take part, too, as do my husband and I. It’s fun to see the incredible artwork that kids (and adults, who, like me, have zero skills) can turn out.


Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet Camera-ready and whip smart, Dr. Michelle Oakley travels throughout the rugged Yukon wilderness to care for livestock, zoo animals, and pets in the National Geographic series (also available on Disney+). Pulling porcupine spikes from a dog’s snout, administering anesthesia to a bison via blow dart, and delivering reindeer babies are all in a day’s work. With eight binge-worthy seasons of adventure, it’s one show that actually gets us on the couch together.


Playing music is a great way to let a child's imagination blossom.
Playing music is a great way to let a child's imagination blossom.Adobe Stock

Evening “concerts” With some nagging from me (OK, a lot of nagging) to stay off screens, my kids have been practicing their musical instruments daily. A couple times a week after dinner, we’re holding low-key “performances.” (They’re still beginners.) Sometimes these mock concert-hall events have a parental emcee; others are intimate events (think NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts) where the “stars” work on their “new material.” It’s a great way to let their imaginations blossom.

Time timers My work-from-home game is solid, but my kids are still working out some kinks. To keep their distractions to a minimum, we use Time Timer countdown clocks. The red disks on these make time less abstract and depict minutes remaining till they can ask mom for help (excepting emergencies). A kitchen timer or your phone works great too; the key is keeping everyone working in synchronized, uninterrupted bursts. Thirty-minute intervals suit us; adjust based on your kids’ attention spans.

Relabeling “chores” as “helping Mom and Dad” Taking out the trash, wiping down the table (again), feeding the cats — boring! Now that each kid has a daily calendar, not just a loose after-school to-do list, chore time is clearly blocked out. Labeling it “Help out Mom and Dad” seems to have changed my kids’ perspective on the work. It’s no longer just dumb stuff we’re making them do, it’s about taking responsibility and being part of a team.


Jigsaw puzzles It seems like we never can agree on a board game to play — someone says Monopoly is boring, Memoir 44 is too hard, or Ticket to Ride takes too long. Jigsaw puzzles, however, require very little agreement among participants to get started, and everyone can contribute when they feel like it. Pro tip: Don’t be the jerk that puts in the final piece late at night — I’m speaking from experience here — let the kids do that. Bonus points if the puzzle takes a few days to complete and is educational, like a world map.

Heads Up! Ellen DeGeneres’ fun Head’s Up! free app is similar to charades for your mobile device. One person holds a phone to their forehead, hiding a word or phrase from herself, while the others try to describe or act it out. Choose from categories like celebrities, food, animals, and more. It’s simple and silly, but it cracks us up; plus, you can play for just a few minutes or as long as you like.