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Keep a routine during unusual summertime
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Parents dealing with COVID-19 closings are working daily to find safe child care for young children when most of the traditional summer options are gone.
The Mississippi State Department of Health has updated requirements for summer camps and youth programs to protect the health and safety of participants from the virus.
But with the limited number of camps and day care options available this year, and those accepting fewer children, thousands of families are making hard decisions on how to care for their kids.
Ensley Howell, a family and consumer sciences agent in Pontotoc County with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said some parents can supervise their own children because they are able to work from home.
“Other parents are having to ask for help from family and friends to provide supervision for their children until day cares reopen, or they are seeking new options to replace day care, such as a retired person on a fixed income who is willing to care for a child to supplement their income,” Howell said.
Single-parent households and those with adults who work in restaurants or retail establishments often have the most difficult problems with child care this summer. Faith-based organizations sometimes offer assistance in these situations.
Howell said those who have to rely on a variety of people to babysit should try to limit the number of people they use and make sure groups of children are small.
Howell encouraged those caring adults who have stepped up to meet the child care need to ask parents if their children have food allergies and to take special precautions if they do. Also determine if the child has other medical problems, and know what symptoms to look for and what to do if the child exhibits symptoms.
“Make sure to have alternate phone numbers for the parent or guardian, as well as emergency numbers handy,” she said.
Christy King, Extension agent with 4-H responsibilities in Clarke County, said a consistent routine is a great tool for helping parents and children navigate these unusual times. She listed chores, education and physical activity as important components.
“Kids are staying inside more, not going out to play, and are on their devices, computers and television more,” King said. “They’re not getting the benefit of physical exercise, and there is research that shows you are happier and think more clearly when you get exercise, and there is research that shows when you get exercise, it produces chemicals in the brain that make you happier and think more clearly.”
King said social isolation is compounding this problem, and some children are dealing with depression and a loss of interest in normal activities. These feelings can lead to behavioral problems.
“In many cases, the only people kids see are the people they live with,” King said.
Assigning children chores gives them responsibility and shows their importance to the family unit. But making these chores fun is important, too.
“You may have your kids pull weeds in the garden, but you can do it as a family and put the sprinkler on to make it fun,” she said. “Or you can have everyone pitch in to clean the table and do the dishes after supper so when you are done you can go for a walk or scooter ride.”
One area not to be neglected is academics. King, a former teacher, said doing a few pages of a bridge book each day is an excellent way to keep learning active. These workbooks bridge one grade to the next, reviewing skills from the previous grade and introducing new skills for the upcoming one.
A variety of MSU Extension Service publications offer tips on keeping children healthy, safe and learning at home. Search by topic at http://extension.msstate.edu/publications, or call the local Extension office for more information on keeping children engaged this summer.