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Day to Day: Tips and tricks to keep your kids busy as classes go online

As schools across the First Coast move toward online learning experiences, working from home and keeping your kids occupied can be a challenge.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — With school districts across the First Coast shifting learning online, many parents are finding themselves more involved in their children's education than ever before. Keeping that in mind, we spoke with an expert to find out how to make the most of this time at home with the family.

Closures due to COVID-19 have not disrupted much of Lori Garrison's day to day life with her family.

"It's business as usual around here." 

Garrison, who holds a degree in education and years of teaching under her belt, made the decision years ago to homeschool her children.

More than 16 years later, Garrison teaches her two teenage boys, one a sophomore in high school and the other in 8th-grade, from home. Her husband also works from home full-time.

"We're home a lot, we know each other very well," she said. "Sometimes we get on each others nerves, but that's okay. We're a family, it's what we are."

As Duval County students begin their online education this week through the new 'Duval HomeRoom,' many parents may be juggling working from home with overseeing their child's education.

MORE: Virtual learning: 'Duval HomeRoom' starts Monday for DCPS students

While students are not technically being "homeschooled," it can feel that way. HomeRoom allows them to interact in real time with their teachers during normal school hours, and assignments can be completed at any time.

"It's kind of a really great opportunity to take the best parts of home school and try it out," Garrison said. "Take a deep breath, you are in control of this."

The most important hurdle to overcome is getting your children on a good sleep schedule, and making sure that sleep is interrupted as little as possible, Garrison said.

"Take away all devices and remotes and phones and lock them in a room away from the children," she said. "Eliminating the draw of a ping on his or her device allows for deeper sleep."

Garrison offered the following tips for parents facing the challenge of keeping their kids engaged while completing their own responsiblities:

  1. Learn what time of the day your children are the most focused, and don't feel like you have to recreate the entire school day schedule.
  2. Find the most comfortable place in your home for your kids to work, like the kitchen table, and designate that as the "study spot." 
  3. Exercise! Find ways to get the children active outside, whether it be setting up an obstacle course or playing family sports.
  4. Designate a "reading time" every day for the kids, and use that time to complete your own work. Take some time to read to them out loud to get them interested.
  5. Don't feel like you have to master every subject they are studying. If they have questions, do the research with them so they can learn to handle the questions on their own.

Outside of normal "school assignments," Garrison also suggests taking time out of the day to teach home economics. Skills like cooking, finance, or even fixing things around the house.

"Mom and dad, if you're working and you've got all your to-do list for providing income, why not let the kids start chipping in and helping you out?," she said. "It's a nice family partnership." 

Garrison has taught her own children how to cook, and said it became a bonding experience.

"In the end, you see them start to do these things on their own and they are proficient at it," she said. "Being able to cook on any level, and make your bed, change sheets."

MORE: Tips for working from home, from someone who works from home

Ultimately, the most important thing is to cherish this time with your family. Rather than just trying to pass the time, get creative and make memories.

"Life will return to normal, and you're going to be back to the busy lives that we all have," Garrison said. "Try to make some kind of memory from this. Maybe it's a video, or a cookbook, doing family recipes, just looking back and saying 'Oh it was great we had this little bit of time to spend. Even though it was stressful, we made the most of it.'"

Credit: WTLV
Lori Garrison, her husband and two children.