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KINDA HACK #35

Celebrate Good Times

There’s a lot on everyone’s minds this back-to-school season. As a family, make a plan for a simple celebration to mark the end of the first week back.

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connecting

Favorite dinner? Ice cream in the park? Family movie night? Whatever floats your boats! It doesn’t have to be fancy, but get something on the calendar now so everyone has something to look forward to. When they’re dragging their feet on day two (after that day one novelty has worn off), you’ll have a motivational tool handy.

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KINDA HACK #34

Step Away From This Screen

Sure, there’s plenty more to read, do, watch. More Zoom calls to make. Virtual lessons and meetings to attend. For a minute, though, how about shutting down and stepping outside?

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work-school-life balance

Okay, this isn’t really a hack. It’s just a reminder: There’s life out there. It’s coming back, slowly but surely, familiar in some ways and forever changed in others. Shut the computer or phone or tablet off and go soak it all in for a minute. (And when you’re back, make sure your kids are signed up for Camp Kinda so you can take a breather this summer.)

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KINDA HACK #33

Use the Library to Make Summer Reading Easy

Okay, this isn’t so much a hack as it is just a good, old-fashioned suggestion. Your local library might not be open for business as usual this summer. But they probably still have some kind of summer reading program going on. What’s the suggestion, you ask? Sign up for it. ASAP.

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work-school-life balance

Often, summer reading programs offer fun incentives to encourage kids to read as much as possible. The earlier your kids get in on it, the more time they’ll have to get competitive and devour books. (And yes, of course, we want them to read for the love of reading. But a little healthy competition never hurt anyone, did it? Did it??)

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KINDA HACK #32

Freshen Up Your Teenager

If you have older kids, you’re familiar with this moment: You’re out and about, when you notice that someone near you smells. Then you realize—omg, it’s your child. They’re old enough to have BO. And it isn’t cute.

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staying healthy

Parents-of-teens the world over can confirm: You don’t want to be deodorant-less on the go, and it’s virtually guaranteed that your kid forgot to roll any on this morning The answer? Throw a deodorant in every bag—yours and theirs—plus the glove compartment, and you’ll always be ready to help them freshen up. (Bonus: More companies are offering plastic-free packaging so you can help the planet while also helping your nose. Check out this one from old-school brand Old Spice.)

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KINDA HACK #31

Mask Away Your Seasonal Allergies

Aaaa-choo! ‘Tis the season, right? The one with all the sneezing, runny noses, and itchy eyes. The good news is, those masks you’ve already gotten used to wearing might offer some relief.

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staying healthy

Surgical masks block particles as small as 3 micrometers, so they do a great job catching those pesky pollen grains that make you sneeze (which are around 10 micrometers). Even cloth masks will help. So grab your mask when you’re going to do yard work, hang out in the garden, or go for a walk outdoors, and you might find yourself considerably less sneezy. (Of course, the CDC wants you to keep wearing your mask in public anyway, allergies aside.)

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KINDA HACK #30

Wash the Day Off Before Dinner

Is anyone else’s evening a mad rush from dinner through bedtime, between cleaning up, getting everyone in jammies, brushing teeth, and maybe reading a book or two? Here’s a hack to buy yourself 15 minutes.

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work-school-life balance

Especially on warm days when the kids get all sweaty playing outside, we love to shift some of the bedtime routine earlier in the day by doing baths before dinner. As soon as they come in from school or extracurriculars or just generally being feral around the neighborhood, turn on the shower or bath and toss ‘em in. (Gently, please.) You’ll win some quiet time, they’ll get clean, and the evening won’t feel so crunched.

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KINDA HACK #29

Take a Book Everywhere

Ever found yourself waiting for an unexpectedly long time somewhere...with children? Grocery check-out? Traffic? The dentist? It’s not fun, especially when you have nothing for the kids to do while you wait. You never have to be That Person again.

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remote learning

Collect a bunch of books your kids haven’t read yet—these could be off your shelves or from the library—and stash them in various places: the bags you use daily, the car, the stroller, the kids’ backpacks. When you need something for the kids to do, poof—they’ve got reading material! Now they’re not only not whining at you; they’re reading instead of whining. Good deal.

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KINDA HACK #28

How to Brush an Alligator’s Teeth

Okay, a three-year-old’s. Similar, right? The American Dental Association wants you to brush your child’s teeth twice a day for two minutes. Have they ever met a child? But seriously, here’s our favorite, pediatrician-approved trick.

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staying healthy

Let them brush other things first. Stuffed animals’ teeth? Yes. Trucks’ teeth? Sure. Your teeth? If they must. Put everyone in a circle and let them go around brushing until it’s their turn. Then they brush themselves! (And then you get a turn, of course.)


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KINDA HACK #27

Berries on paper towel

A Berry Good Hack for Keeping Berries Fresh

Berry season is coming back! Here’s a handy trick for keeping them fresher for a few extra days—so you can buy them when they’re on sale and not have to devour them all in the first 24 hours. (Your kids might want to, but that’s a separate problem.)

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feeding the humans

Straight from the store, swirl your berries in a diluted vinegar bath (1 cup white vinegar + 3 cups water), then rinse in cold water. Let them dry very thoroughly by laying them on the counter on paper towels. Once they’re fully dried, line their original containers or resealable ones with paper towels and put them in the fridge. (If you use a resealable container, leave the top ajar so they get some air.) That’s it. Now just try to keep the kids from eating them all in one sitting. (No vinegar in the house? Very hot water gets the job done, too.)

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KINDA HACK #26

Egg timer

Prep an Eggs-tra Easy Meal

If you’re in the midst of Passover or Easter celebrations, you might find yourself with extra eggs lying around. That’s great news for you, because those eggs are about to make your meal-preparation-life very easy.

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feeding the humans

When you have 10 minutes to spare, hard-boil all your extra eggs, label the carton with a big old “HB,” and put them back in the fridge. Now you’ve got protein for the whole week. Grab them for breakfast on the go, to add to your lunch, or for a quick snack. Bonus if your kids don’t like hard-boiled eggs—more for you! (Pro tip: When you grocery shop, grab a whole extra carton of eggs for this purpose, so you always have fresh and hard-boiled eggs at the ready.)


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KINDA HACK #25

Sparkling dinner fork

Spark a Dinner Conversation

Dinners getting a little...quiet? There’s nothing wrong with some peace and quiet, of course, but if you feel like conversation has gotten a bit stale, or the whole family is turning to screens instead of each other during meals, here’s a fun way to give things a reboot.

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connecting

Reach into our bank of Dinner Questions and pull out something that will get the whole family talking. You might end up debating the merits of ice cream in winter or imagining a meal with favorite historical figures. Give every family member a chance to pick a question and let the discussions begin.

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KINDA HACK #24

Celebrate the Small Things

Parents could use some extra appreciation for everything we do, right? (You deserve it.) And it’s no surprise that kids like to feel celebrated, too. So this week’s hack is all about showing some love for the little things.

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connecting

Add a dry erase board to your kitchen wall or clip one to the fridge with magnets (check out our “DIY white board” hack to make an easy and cheap one at home). Divide it up into a section for each family member, and then encourage everyone to write something they appreciated about each person, every day. Little things or big ones—it doesn’t matter! Just try to make a habit out of it, and share the week’s worth of appreciation during a family dinner. You’ll be surprised how much it means to hear someone say “thanks for picking my gross, sweaty socks off the floor...again.”

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KINDA HACK #23

image of a timer

Help Your Kid Focus With an App

Having a hard time keeping your kids—or yourself—on-task for remote learning or work when it’s so easy to be distracted by other things to read, watch, or play on the internet? These apps can help.

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remote learning

Whether you need help blocking social media distractions, focusing on just the one screen in front of you, or organizing your work into short bursts with breaks in-between...there’s an app for that. There’s even one that inspires you to stay off your phone by planting (imaginary) trees. If that doesn’t help you see the forest through the trees, well...nothing will.

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KINDA HACK #22

Basket of masks labeled "dirty"

Mask In, Mask Out

How do you organize your face masks? There’s a question we didn’t expect to be asking a year ago. But let’s face it, masks aren’t going away anytime soon, so we may as well keep them tidy.

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staying healthy

We favor a simple incoming/outgoing system for this problem: Right by the front door, stash two small baskets, bins, or cardboard boxes—one for clean masks, ready to go, and the other for dirty masks, ready for the wash. (Add a third bin if you want to separate your clean ones by kid-sized and adult-sized.) If you’re reusing surgical or high-filtration masks like N95s or KF94s, consider adding stick-on hooks to the wall or back of the front door so you can hang them to air out when they’re not in use.

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KINDA HACK #21

A laundry basket full of random objects—headphones, hat, extension cord

Make a Clutter Box

You know how random things just seem to...accumulate? All over your home? We’re talking about children’s socks. Legos. Someone’s cup from breakfast. A used mask. But do you really want to spend your evening picking everything up? No, you do not. So don’t!

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work-school-life balance

Instead, grab a box or basket and leave it in a key location in your home. If you live on two stories, this would be at the foot of the stairs. If you’re a single-floor dweller, leave one in the hallway, or in your main living space. Any random items that need to move up, down, or across your home go in the basket, and the next time you are heading in that direction, take it all with you.

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KINDA HACK #20

Pre-cut veggies in a container

Speed Up Lunch with Weekend Prep

Packing lunch is easy. But slicing fruits and veggies into lunch-sized portions is a pain. Instead of wasting money on pre-cut food or products like "baby carrots," DIY them at the start of the week so they're ready to go.

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feeding the humans

Here’s the key: Take care of this while you’re already dealing with groceries. As you’re putting away your food shopping, take the extra step of slicing veggies into sticks, washing and portioning out berries, and even throwing frozen fruits and veggies into small portion-sized containers to defrost in the fridge. (This is a great reuse for old plastic takeout containers.) Then, every time you go to pack lunch or fix a snack, you can just grab from your pre-portioned options. Really—prep now, thank us later.

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KINDA HACK #19

a backpack comes in for a landing on a helicopter pad

Devise a Landing Routine

Does the area near your front door look like chaos every day? You know, shoes, backpacks, coats, papers, snacks, etc.? Okay, this hack isn’t going to totally fix that. But we highly recommend a good end-of-school landing routine, so it isn’t a crash landing every time.

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returning to school

When kids get home—or log off—from school, establish a routine for where they should drop their backpacks, stash any important papers you need to see, deposit empty lunch boxes if they have them, plug in devices for charging, and whatever else needs to be done. Call it a landing routine. Call it a drop zone. Whatever you call it, call it not a big mess on your floor.

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KINDA HACK #18

A bowl with slips of paper in it

Shake Things Up With an Activity Lottery

Do you ever feel like you just need something—anything—different to shake up your daily routines? We do. Fortunately this trick from Kinda Guide reader Oksana B. in Toronto is just the ticket. Let’s call it the “Activity Lottery.”

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connecting

“We write out a bunch of shorter activities or games on pieces of paper, fold them up, and drop them in a bowl. Things like charades, a Netflix workout, a game of badminton, baking treats, etc. When we need some ideas to temper the technology lure or break up the day, we reach for the bowl.”

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KINDA HACK #17

a pair of mismatched socks

Take the Pairs Out of Socks

If there’s one thing that makes folding laundry exponentially more time-consuming than it needs to be, it’s socks. These wily little creatures never come out of the dryer anywhere near their matching counterpart. What if there were an easier way?

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work-school-life balance


We’re here to tell you that there is. From now on, whenever you need new socks, purchase them in only a single color. (We suggest white or black for convenience.) No matching required! In fact, you don’t even have to ball them up. Just toss them into drawers as singletons and get on with your life.

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KINDA HACK #16

a waffle with clock hands

Take a Break From Breakfast

Breakfast: Often called "the most important meal of the day," it should really be called "the most rushed meal of the day." Because if you're anything like us, you never have enough time in the morning. If there’s any place to streamline your life, it’s breakfast.

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feeding the humans

We recommend rethinking your breakfast menu so everything falls into one of two categories: 1) Can be prepared in advance; or 2) Can be eaten on the go. We’re fans of no-bake oatmeal balls, overnight oats, and these yummy citrus berry muffins (bake them on the weekend and freeze!). And we like to stock up on frozen waffles and cereal/granola bars (like these from the store or these easy homemade ones) to grab and go—even if “go” just means “to the remote school desk.” Seriously. Save the pancakes for the weekends, folks.

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KINDA HACK #15

A hand with tape on the index finger

Sticky Hands Make Light Work

Do your floors have a lot of small bits of debris on them? You know, crumbs from breakfasts past, dust bunnies, pet hair, maybe pine needles if you recently got rid of a Christmas tree, that kind of thing? If that’s you (and please tell us it’s not just us), this is your hack.

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work-school-life balance

Wrap your child’s hands in tape with the sticky side facing out (masking or painter’s tape works well for this), and put them to work. Really, that’s the hack. Just let them roam around like one of those robot vacuums, applying their sticky hands to everything they see. Young children will get a kick out of picking up anything and everything they can. When their hands are covered in junk, remove the tape and discard. You. Are. Welcome. (P.S. You never need to buy a lint brush again.)

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KINDA HACK #14

2021 calendar

Organize Your Year With a Family Calendar

Ah, January. The start of a fresh year, when you haven’t yet forgotten to be somewhere you were supposed to be, or do something you were supposed to do.

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on the calendar

Before you spoil 2021’s perfect track record with a forgotten pediatrician’s appointment, take 15 minutes to get your family calendar ready for the year ahead. Your school or district should have sent home key dates, like holiday breaks, professional development days, and the end of the year. If you haven’t already, take the time to mark those in your family calendars now, and fill in any other important dates you don’t want to miss, too. It might feel like a pain, but you’ll be glad you did them all at once, and you’ll save yourself from middle-of-the-night wake-ups thinking, “Wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to do something...yesterday??”

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KINDA HACK #13

Gift-wrapped presents

Reuse Your Kid’s Artwork for Holiday Gifting

We’re not talking about the masterpieces. We’re talking about the other stuff...the stuff that just isn’t fridge or frame material. With the holiday season upon us, reuse those excess works of art as DIY gift wrap and note cards.

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on the calendar

Larger artwork can be used as-is to wrap packages. With smaller pieces of art, cut out the best parts and paste them onto butcher paper or recycled paper bags from the grocery store. Voila! You’re ready to wrap. And the reuse doesn’t have to stop there: Folded or cut up paintings make great gift tags, holiday cards, and thank-you notes, too. This is what we call a win-win-win, people: The art is out of your house. You don’t have to feel guilty about recycling it. And somewhere, someone is enjoying it. (Or they’re recycling it, but you don’t have to feel guilty about that, do you?)

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KINDA HACK #12

snacks served in an ice cube tray

Level-Up Snacktime with an Ice Cube Tray

Do your kids complain about getting the same old snack every day? (Just us?) Level-up your snacktime game with minimal extra effort by putting an ice cube tray to good use.

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feeding the humans

Use the tray to serve up tiny portions of multiple snack options: a few Goldfish, a few berries, a few nuts, a gummy treat or two. This is easy to prepare in advance and can serve multiple kids at once. (No ice cube tray handy? A muffin pan will work, too.)

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KINDA HACK #11

A calendar page reads "Fri-YAY!"

Break Up the Routine with “____ Fridays”

Before the pandemic, many workplaces embraced “Casual Fridays,” when you could dress comfortably. It was something small to look forward to. Now, many remote employees have Casual Everyday, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still switch things up at the end of the week.

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work-school-life balance

Ask your kids to pick one change-up to their usual routine for Fridays when they have done a great job Monday through Thursday. Maybe it’s Movie Night Fridays, where you have dinner in front of a movie. Maybe it’s working from an alternative location in the house (Couch Surfing Fridays?), eating something preferred for one meal (Breakfast for Dinner Fridays?), or whatever works in your home. And don’t be afraid to deploy this as a bribe (ahem, incentive) for doing the right thing during the rest of the week.

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KINDA HACK #10

image of an ID badge

Put the Kids In Charge (Kinda)

Look, the kids aren’t totally helpless, right? So let’s put them to work. A fun way to do this, rather than just assigning chores, is to make them “specialists” in a particular area.

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work-school-life balance

Have an older kid? They might be your tech specialist: Send the siblings to that one with tech problems. The littlest one can be in charge of supplies. You might want to assign a snack specialist, or someone to wield that egg timer and stay on top of the daily schedule. Above all, just remember: Your children are here to make your life easier. (Hey, we can dream, right?)

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KINDA HACK #9

image of a stoplight

Put an End to Workday Interruptions

There has to be a better way for your child to let you know help is needed than yelling "HEY CAN I GET A DRINK OF WATER?!" while you’re on a work call. Right?

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remote learning


Right. An agreed-upon system of visual cues will help you know when your kids need you, and let your kids know when you’re available (or not). This can be anything you like, but a stoplight-style system can work well. Here’s how it works: You each have three sheets of construction paper (one green, one yellow, and one red), and an obvious place to post them, like a door or the back of your desk chair. When your kid is working steadily, they leave their green paper visible to you. If they need help but it’s not urgent, they post the yellow paper so you can check in when you have a moment. And if they’re stuck and absolutely need help to continue, the red paper goes up. Likewise, use your own green paper to let them know they can bug you freely; yellow for when you’re busy but available if needed; and red for when you’re absolutely unavailable unless someone is injured.

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KINDA HACK #8

Dress for Success...In Advance

Does every morning feel like pulling teeth in your house? Same here. Hence this simple hack for simplifying the morning routine by removing one big variable: clothes.

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work-school-life balance

No, we are not suggesting you send your child to school in their pajamas. (Although hold that thought.) On Sundays, work with your kids to pick their outfits for each day of the week, and make sure all the tops, bottoms, and accessories are clean and ready. No more last-minute “where’s my ____?” or arguments over what to wear. And here’s a bonus tip for parents of toddlers and preschoolers: Put them to bed in their clothes for the next day, because why not? Parents, you’ve just been given the gift of time for coffee. You’re welcome.

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KINDA HACK #7

Defrost Your Way to More Vegetables

Friendly reminder for anyone who needs it: Frozen vegetables are real vegetables, and they exist to make your life easier. Seriously.

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feeding the humans

The veggies in the frozen section are cheaper and just as good for you as the fresh kind. Best of all, they won't wilt in your fridge when you forget about them, because life.

Throw them in a stir fry, blend them in a smoothie, steam them in the microwave, or (masters of lazy food prep, right here!) let them defrost overnight in the fridge and give them to your kids cold or with dip.



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KINDA HACK #6

Make Over Your Marred Dry Erase Board

What happens if someone draws on their dry erase board with a permanent marker? (Asking for a friend.) Prepare to have your mind. Blown.

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remote learning

Contrary to popular belief, that board is not ruined! Just draw directly on top of the permanent marker with a dry erase marker, and then wipe it off while the dry erase ink is still wet. Seriously. It is that simple, people.

Bonus pro tip: If you’re not already familiar with Magic Erasers and their generic counterparts, they are super-handy for getting, say, crayon off the wall. (Just make sure to do a test patch before using these on painted or stained surfaces. Speaking from experience here.)

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KINDA HACK #5

image of a dry erase marker

Make Your Own Whiteboard

"You can make your own whiteboard by using a report folder with a clear cover (like this one, available for about $1 if you buy them individually).

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remote learning

Put a piece of white paper in it and draw on the cover with standard dry-erase markers, then wipe clean! When my kids were younger I would use them for mazes, trace-your-name writing pages, counting activities, handwriting worksheets, and other activities that the kids needed repeat practice on."

Shared by Kinda Guide reader Tracey T.

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    KINDA HACK #4

    School Supply Station

    After setting up your Snack Station (Hack #2), stick with the theme and try a School Supply Station, too. (We love stations around here.)

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    remote learning

    When they’re learning at home, the kids don’t each need their own set of basic supplies, so grab a few tupperware bins and make the crayons, glue, scissors, and other essentials easily accessible for everyone. The communal approach will save you money and make it easier to clean up—and your kids will always know where to find a pencil, so you won’t have to assist 50 times a day.

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    KINDA HACK #3

    Exit Slips: How to Leave School at School, Even When It’s at Home

    You’ve probably heard of teachers using exit slips: quick tasks students have to complete before they can leave class. You can adopt that idea for your school-at-home, too.

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    work-school-life balance

    Together with your child, make a list of steps to wrap up the school day. Get those devices safely stored away (and set to charge for tomorrow). Submit any offline assignments. Clean up supplies. You know, the works. Make a checklist with all the tasks on slips of paper, and ask your child to complete the list and sign it before transitioning from school to play. It’ll save you from spending 20 minutes negotiating the whole routine with your child every. Single. Day. Plus, it’ll help the whole family mentally transition from school to home, even when they’re technically one and the same.

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    KINDA HACK #2

    Set Up a Snack Station

    One of the challenges of kids learning from home is the constant, endless snacking. The kitchen is so close, and everyone is so tired of being in the same place.

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    feeding the humans

    In addition to causing messes, it can make for a lot of unhealthy eating. Take back control. Try creating a snack bin or drawer full of approved snacks like granola bars, crackers, or fruit. Put it in easy reach of your kids, and set some specific snack times that fit with their remote learning schedule. (Schools don’t let kids eat their way through class, so you can set limits at home, too.) Then, when they want something to eat, they can get it themselves—and not come begging for chips every time.

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    KINDA HACK #1

    Meet Your Learning-at-Home 
Secret Weapon: The Egg Timer

    I know, it sounds like we’re recommending a tea kettle or a nice butter dish, but hear us out. An egg timer can be one of your critical learning-at-tools. Why?

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    remote learning

    Think about it. “Read for 20 minutes.” “Work independently for 40 minutes and then get back on the Zoom call.” “You can have 30 minutes of screen time as a break.” Make all of this easy by buying a no-fuss timer that your kids can set themselves and that doesn’t require you to leave your phone on the table. You can find them for less than $10 at stores like Walmart, Target, and Amazon.com, and even cheaper at second-hand shops.

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