25 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: Keeping your children happy and healthy in isolation

4:21 pm on 25 March 2020

By Lucy Corry

Nine-year-old Hamilton twins Rielly and Isla Varga might be at home rather than at school, but they're all sorted for the month ahead.

The school bell - downloaded onto their dad Mike's phone - rings to let them know when it's time for a break or lunch, and they've turned a room in their family's home into a makeshift classroom.

Young students running through hallway of school.

Photo: 123RF

"They're pretty excited about it really," their mother Rebecca says. "Rielly came home and drew up a daily planner straight away for them. I was most impressed by that! He did all the hard work, then I typed it up for them and we colour-coded everything and printed it out. They got up this morning and wanted to get started straight away."

Rebecca, a personal assistant at a building and construction firm, is grateful that the twins' school already has online learning set up.

"They're still doing maths, reading, and writing, but we're also going to do some arts and crafts, and try to get outside and do something with nature or the environment. At lunchtime, the kids got on their bikes and scooters and we went around the block. We're just going to take it day by day."

While Rebecca's set up to work from home, her husband Mike is a firefighter who works shifts.

"I think that means we're used to being organised in terms of food and things like that," she says.

"We've got a vege garden but there's nothing in it, which is a bit gutting! We're just going to stay home, follow the rules and check in with our neighbours. I think the kids will be fine in all this. It's not them we have to worry about - I think the troublesome ones are our parents' generation, because they all think they're bulletproof."

Read more about the Covid-19 coronavirus:

While it's good to have a plan, Alison Pask, executive director of Activity and Nutrition Aotearoa (ANA), says you don't necessarily need to stick to a rigid schedule.

"The most important thing children need at this time is to feel comforted, loved and reassured," she says.

"Unlike a usual school holiday, self-isolation will bring new challenges where children won't be able to play with friends, visit grandparents or go to the playground."

49451379 - A photo of a sad son hugging his mother at home. concept of couple family is in sorrow.

Photo: altanaka/123RF

Pask warns that the novelty of isolation will wear off after a couple of weeks and creativity will be vital to maintain happy households.

"Take each day as a new experience and base activities around the weather," she says.

"If you've got a backyard, play outside, throw a ball or frisbee, weed the garden or play tag. Create games, like going on a nature hunt to find a list of things that can be in the house or garden."

Eating well is important in isolation - adults should model good choices where possible and include kids in meal preparation.

"There's no better time than the present to teach children to prepare vegetables, make pizza bases and enjoy being in the kitchen," Pask says.

"I love the idea of themed meals, and children of all ages can participate by decorating the table, making hats, choosing appropriate music as well as researching, planning, preparing and serving appropriate food. For example, a Mexican-themed dinner of nachos could include learning to greet each other in Spanish, playing Mexican music and making hats. Older children could research and develop a short quiz on Mexico - this type of learning in action is fun and serves a purpose."

Little girl with apron in kitchen cutting dough.

Photo: 123RF

Pask's own children are now adults living independently, but that doesn't stop her worrying about them.

"Hopefully the years of involving them in meal preparations when they were younger has created some resilience and creativity for them to thrive in their own living arrangements," she says.

"My son has been flatting for four years while studying for his Masters in Economics at Otago and the five young men in his flat make a conscious effort to shop together and have a cooking roster. Dinner for them is an important time to check in and connect with each other."

Pask says regular physical activity is vital for everyone in the family during lockdown, to relieve stress and help both brain and body function well.

"Even taking a short break to walk to the end of your street or around your garden can help.

"Children will remember this time for many years, so aim to make this period as stress-free as possible. When children are happy, the whole household is happy."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs