Navigating School or Daycare During the New Normal

Public health officials are continuing to require or encourage social distancing (also known as physical distancing) to help slow the spread of COVID-19. That means that schools, daycare centers, and other childcare arrangements either remain closed, are functioning remotely, or are operating at reduced capacity and under constraints. As a result, the availability of childcare and in-person learning will likely be impacted for some time. This guide contains helpful information about how to manage work, children, and daily family life during the pandemic.

Step 1: Talk to your manager and/or employer about caregiving responsibilities.

In these uncertain times, many employers have adjusted their policies around attendance, telecommuting, paid time off, and scheduling wherever it is feasible for them to do so.

It’s a good idea to talk to your manager on a regular basis to create a shared understanding of your caregiving responsibilities and how they are evolving over the course of the pandemic. Is your child attending school remotely either full- or part-time? Has your child’s daycare closed or reduced the number of available spots? The pandemic continues to create a childcare crisis for parents across the country; but, a candid conversation with your manager may lead to an arrangement that works better for all involved. As part of this discussion, consider exploring the following possibilities:

  •  If the nature of your job makes it possible and you have permission, prepare to work from home or continue to work from home if/when your child’s care is affected, or if your child or another loved one who lives with you is exposed to the coronavirus or becomes ill. Many employers have made working from home possible, as physical distancing is a highly encouraged strategy for slowing the spread of coronavirus; working remotely can also reduce the risk of workplace exposure.
  •  Flex-time arrangements. Whether you are working inside or outside of your home, you might consider staggering your hours in a way that makes it easier to care for your children or help them with remote learning. This could comprise starting and ending your workday earlier or later, working “split shifts,” working longer shifts on fewer days, shorter shifts on more days, or taking a day off during the workweek in exchange for completing work on a Saturday or Sunday. Your manager may be able to help you devise a plan that works well for both your employer and family.
  •  Back-up care. Some employers offer back-up childcare as part of their benefits package. Connect to your human resources, benefits, or work-life department to find out if this benefit is available to you. Be aware, however, that stay-at-home orders and recommendations from public health officials to continue social distancing may have made these options unavailable in your state, restricted for use by “essential employees” only, or simply difficult to find.
  •  Paid time off. Depending on individual childcare or employment circumstances, there may be days when going into work (or even working from home) simply isn’t feasible for you. It’s a good idea to talk to your manager in advance about this possibility so that you are aware of your employer’s policies and/or can ensure that the needs of your department or team will be met.
  •  If you or a family member has or does become ill, requiring a lengthy recovery, consider whether taking a family or medical leave is possible. Leave is required by federal law for companies of a certain size and covered under state law in a growing number of states. A growing number of companies are also offering paid leave. Check with your employer to find out what type(s) of leave applies to your particular circumstances. With the federal government and most states declaring a “state of emergency,” provisions are now or soon will be in place to help with paid leave and other work-related supports.

Step 2: Communicate with your child’s school or daycare.

If your child is currently learning remotely, either full- or part-time, be sure you understand what is expected of him or her while she is at home. For example:

  •  Does your child have a formal schedule where classes are held on Zoom or through Google Classroom at particular times of day? Or, are lessons more self-paced?
  •  What technology does your child need? Is the school providing technology (such as Chromebooks or hotspots) to students? If so, how/where can you access it?
  •  What are the school’s attendance policies for online learning?
  •  How often are assignments due, and how should your child submit them?
  •  How will teachers monitor your child’s progress?
  •  How can your child get extra help when s/he needs it?
  •  How will your child’s 504 Plan or Individualized Education Program be delivered this year?

If your child is attending school or daycare in person, be sure you understand current and evolving safety protocols and specific plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This includes asking what the school will do in the event of an outbreak (or even a single case) among students or staff. You’ll also want to find out about their attendance policies during or after infection, whether from COVID-19 or another illness.

The 2020-21 school year will be one for the record books: full of changes, innovations, new ways of learning and teaching, and likely some frustration. Having a firm understanding of what the year (both now and as the months pass by) will look like for your child and communicating regularly with the school or other care providers can help alleviate undue stress and confusion.


Step 3: Make fun and entertaining activities available for your child.

Sudden school or daycare closures due to a COVID-19 outbreak remain a possibility. In addition to creating stress for parents and caregivers, time away from the classroom can potentially lead to bored or anxious kids – especially if Mom or Dad is working from home and not readily available for entertainment.

In addition to tending to remote learning assignments, consider keeping plenty of fun activities on hand to help your child stay busy and entertained. Focused activities can also help manage a child’s anxiety during these uncertain times. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Age-appropriate craft projects
  • Art supplies, including crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paint, paint brushes, paper, coloring books, molding clay, etc.
  • Board games
  • Cooking/baking supplies and age-appropriate recipes
  • Educational and/or age-appropriate videos, movies, and television shows
  • Educational apps and games
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Sporting equipment or games to play outdoors

Step 4: Ensure both you and your child are able to remain productive.

Remaining productive when everyone is at home can be a challenge. If you have a young child, are homeschooling your child, or your child’s school has not provided a structured remote learning program, consider creating a schedule for your family’s daily or weekly activities in order to stay organized.

Your family schedule may include specific times that are blocked out for sleep, family meals together, chores to be completed, study or work, solitary activities (like crafts or reading), and family activities. Consider creating the schedule together, posting it somewhere where it will be highly visible to your child, and having him or her check off each item or activity block as it is completed.

If you have a young child or a child who is non-verbal, visual schedules may be preferable to written ones. A morning checklist, bedtime checklist, or “if, then” board can help you build more predictable routines.

Alternatively, if your child needs help with remote learning, and it is impacting your ability to get work done, consider talking to your manager to create a schedule that works better with that reality.


Step 5: Ask relatives, friends, neighbors, or other parents for help.

With many childcare centers still closed (either temporarily or permanently), continue to check your state’s website for updates; many states have opened emergency child-care centers, especially for medical personnel, critical staff, and other essential workers who are unable to perform their jobs from home.

If you can avoid using childcare during the pandemic, including the help of friends and family, do so. If this simply is not possible for you, however, sharing and/or trading childcare responsibilities with loved ones or other members of your community may be your only option. If you are sharing childcare responsibilities with another family – sometimes referred to as a “childcare bubble” – involve as few people as possible. To be safe, this strategy requires that all children and adults involved are currently healthy, symptom-free, and/or in a lower-risk category. Be diligent about taking the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of illness.

Most states are currently allowing families to use in-home childcare, such as a babysitter or nanny. If you consider this arrangement, be sure to ask a potential caregiver about the steps you expect both of you to take to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.

Finally, some employers provide back-up care to employees and their families as part of their benefits package. To find out if this is something your employer offers, talk to your manager and/or Human Resources department.

Be aware that no childcare arrangement with individuals outside of your own home is risk-free, even if your child’s caregiver(s) follow the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing.

Torchlight does not provide medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you read on Torchlight. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911.


Step 6: Look for free learning resources online.

If you are currently homeschooling your child or you are looking for learning opportunities beyond what his or her school is providing, consider some of the many resources available for kids to experience virtual visits to museums, learning support, and enrichment activities.


  •  Discovery Education– Provides 190,000 resources and ready-to-use digital lessons and activities for K-12 students in social studies, science, math, and technology.
  •  Khan Academy– Free online lessons and activities in a wide variety of subjects.
  •  Learn at Home by Scholastic– Provides online courses and day-to-day projects for students.
  •  HippoCampus– Offers over 7,000 videos in 13 subject areas for students in middle school, high school, and college.
  •  TED-Ed– Allows you to build a lesson around any TED talk, TED-Ed resource, or YouTube video. Access pre-existing lessons on a variety of topics.
  •  K12– Online curriculum and learning programs with teacher-led courses for grades pre-K–12.
  •  Clickschooling– Get one free, web-based curriculum idea every day, Monday through Saturday. The service covers math, science, language arts, social sciences, music, art, and foreign languages.
  •  The PBS Kids Newsletter– Sent out daily, every issue includes tips for parents and suggested projects or activities to help kids learn at home.
  •  XtraMath– Free videos, lessons, and activities that can be used for in-depth standalone work or homework supplements across age groups. Provides progress reports for parents and teachers.
  •  Google Arts & Culture– Makes it possible to view art collections from over 500 museums around the world.
  •  Mystery Science– Offers easy science projects that elementary school children can perform at home. Projects are broken down by grade level.
  •  Smithsonian– Offers a 3D look at some of the museum’s most fascinating treasures. Additionally, the Smithsonian Learning Lab is a free, interactive platform that gives children access to millions of digital resources and projects.


Step 7: Let go of perfection.

These are not typical times. Consequently, we can’t necessarily hang on to our usual expectations without causing ourselves and our children undue stress. Now is not the time to expect perfection in all areas of life.

The house might be messier than it usually is. Your child might use more screen time than you’d normally allow. You might struggle to balance parenting or the care of loved ones with your work; somedays you’ll feel more competent in one of these areas than you will in another. And the next day, the balance may skew in the opposite direction. That’s okay.

Like everyone else right now, you’re doing the best that you can. And the best that you can is good enough. These challenges are temporary.

If you find yourself running on empty sooner than usual, practicing mindfulness or scheduling a little restorative time daily may help.


Torchlight does not provide medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice because of something you read on Torchlight. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911.

Torchlight does not endorse the organizations or technologies mentioned in this document, but offers their information as a sample of the kinds of materials and services that are available.

Contact Torchlight at for more information.