The 'new normal': Extension educator offers tips to help families stay on track

April 10, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With stay-at-home orders in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, many families are wrestling with how to adjust to being at home all day, every day — together.

“People are facing so many challenges all at once,” said Cynthia Pollich, a Penn State Extension educator based in Lancaster County. “Many parents are working remotely and have children at home who need help with school lessons. On top of that, they are worried about the health of their families and their finances. It’s a lot to process.”

One suggestion to help families adapt to what she describes as a “new normal” is to maintain a daily schedule. “Everyone benefits from knowing what to expect,” said Pollich, who is part of extension’s Food, Family and Health program team. “We don’t have to fear this time but embrace it for what it is.”

She shared the following tips for parents on how to establish routines:

— Wake up at the same time every day. After having time to yourself, organize your workday. You may want to make a task list and check off the tasks as you go.

— Wake the children at the same time every day. Maintain their schedule for clean-up and breakfast that they would follow for a typical school day. Give the children time to transition from the morning routine to schoolwork by allowing them 30 minutes of screen time after breakfast. Just like your work, organize theirs by setting goals for the morning and the afternoon.

— Take breaks. Adults should take two-to-three-minute breaks every 30 minutes to stand and move around the room. Children will need more time — allow them at least 10-15 minutes of physical activity every 30-60 minutes, depending on the children’s ages.

— Keep yourself and your children hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and be sure everyone washes their hands after transitions.

— Include snacks during break time. Research shows that small, energy-rich snacks, such as fresh fruit, veggies or a yogurt smoothie, can help children and adults work more efficiently during cognitive tasks.

— Make sure children have quiet reading time. While they are reading, you can devote that time to completing another task on your work list.

— After lunch, provide quiet or nap time, allowing the children to transition to the afternoon schedule. Having a break will reenergize the children to complete any unfinished schoolwork before playtime. Playtime is learning for children so organize a variety of activities for music, art and dramatic play.

— At the end of the day, plan and create a meal together as a family. Make conversation starters and put them in a jar. During each dinner time, pull one out and use it to have a fun conversation. Ask the children about something nice that they did for someone or share their favorite part of the day.

— While cleaning up after dinner or getting ready for bed, start a conversation about everyone’s accomplishments of the day. Take a few minutes to plan for the next day, including ideas from the children.

Additional information on food, family and health programs provided by Penn State Extension is available online at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 10, 2020