Schools are closed, kids are at home. Here are resources and advice for parents amid coronavirus

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A child lying on the floor, interacting with an activity book. Credit: Pixabay.

LAUSD has shut down its schools for at least two weeks. Hundreds of thousands of kids are home now. Health experts say there should be social distancing, which involves no play dates. So what should parents do? 

Here’s advice from Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School. 

Learn something new 

Rich says this is an opportunity for kids to learn something that they usually don’t have time for in their typical day-to-day. 

Keep a schedule 

Rich says a schedule is important in helping people stay calm and sane: “I would set it so that the kids are getting up at the same time they would get up for school; having a meal; and having not just a schedule, but a written schedule so that it doesn't get sloppy.” 

He adds, “And they can -- in that schedule -- do things like, ‘I'm going to write my scripts for my podcast now.’ Or they can go to Khan Academy and learn something that they've never had a chance to learn. And really build their day around it, along with meals with the family.”

Communicate regularly 

Rich says regular communication (not minute-to-minute) among family members is important as the news changes rapidly. 

“It's important to make sure that they're not hearing bits and pieces that are scaring them, worrying them,” he says. 

Use online tools effectively 

Rich says we’ve fallen into bad habits of using the internet as a playground, and not as a place for learning and communication. “Not snarky, nasty, gossipy communication. But truly being authentic with each other,” he says. 

He advises parents to give kids time to video chat with their friends 

He gives an example: “One of my kids and his friends have set up a time-limited Minecraft realm, and they are working on projects in that realm for a certain number of hours each day together.” 

He adds, “We have to remember that school is not just didactic learning. It's also social emotional growth.”

How much news should you allow into your house? 

Rich says the first and most important thing is to listen to kids rather than tell them what to do. 

“Listen to them, and hear what they are hearing, what they are thinking about, and keep the dialog open. I think that we have to be really honest with them in the sense of telling them what we know. Things like wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow,” he says. 

He advises people to learn from Fred Rogers, the host of “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,” who said, “In times that are tough, look to the helpers, look to the people who are there to help you, whether they be clinicians, doctors and nurses, teachers, parents.” 

Rich reminds everyone to maintain a “glass half full” perspective, and be confident that everyone is doing their best to make life safe, healthy, and frankly fun for kids as much as possible right now. 

One local mom shares her experience

Darci Rosenberg lives in Burbank, and she has a fifth grader, a high school senior, and a college freshman. 

She says her fifth grader invented a script for a podcast recently. “He would like the world to hear [what] a 10 year old's perspective is on the news going on right now.”

As for her high school senior, Rosenberg is allowing one or two friends to come over. The saddest part, she says: Her twelfth grader has been warned that prom, graduation, and senior activities will be canceled if coronavirus continues. 

Rosenberg’s college freshman has finals right now and is skeptical about coming home. She explains, “She became an adult there, and just made all new friends. And I think a lot of it is [a] shock factor: dealing with the fact that she's also still in finals, and all of a sudden, she can't go to class, she has group projects that have been disrupted.”

How is Rosenberg herself handling this? “We can handle two weeks. After two weeks, I think we're going to have to really start coming up with a regimented plan. Just kind of stay calm is really an important goal in our house. And making light of it.” 

Resources for parents

Free internet for low-income families and individuals

Individuals may qualify if they are eligible for public assistance programs, such as Medi-Cal, CalFresh, SSI, and others.

Enroll online here (en Español

Free internet for students due to school closures

Free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access is available for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who don’t already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. 

To enroll, call 1-844-488-8395. 

Installation fees are waived for new student households.

Free meals

LAUSD and the Red Cross are opening 60 Grab and Go Food Centers on Wednesday, March 18. They’ll be staffed weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Each child is allowed to take home two nutritions meals.

Here’s a map of centers.

Educational programs at home 

PBS At-Home Learning Programs: Free, daytime educational programs are available for kids in Pre-K through 12th grade starting today, via these channels: 

- Pre-K – 3rd grade on PBS SoCal

- Pre-K – 12th grade on KLCS

- 9th – 12th grade on KCET

PBSkids.org: Online videos, games, and activities for young kids.

Khan Academy Kids: A free app with thousands of activities and books for kids ages 2-7. These interactive activities cover math, reading, social skills, creative projects, and more.

Khan Academy: Online learning for kids in grades 2-12. 

Scholastic Learn At Home: Online learning for kids in Pre-K through 9th grade. 

Your gas service will continue 

The Southern California Gas Company won’t shut off service if you can’t pay your gas bill during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please contact So Cal Gas if you think you’ll struggle with paying your bill. 

More info here

Paid family leave and unemployment benefits

You may be eligible for paid family leave if you’re infected with coronavirus, you must quarantine, or you’re caring for an infected family member. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom has waived the one-week waiting period for benefits, you can earn an income during their first week out of work. 

Extra unemployment benefits may be available to part-time or non-staff workers who must stay at home to care for their kids while schools are closed, or if their hours are reduced, or they become unemployed because their company closed. 

More info here (Español

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Alex Tryggvadottir