25 Apr Digital nomad kids in quarantine
On March 13, 2020 Costa Rica closed its international borders for tourists arriving to the country. Beaches closed, schools closed and people were asked to only go out for necessary shopping, to the supermarket or to the pharmacy. Like many people around the world, we are confined to a much smaller space than we normally are. No traveling for us. Not going to the beach anymore, no trips with the kids to explore Costa Rica wildlife. Fortunately, Costa Rica has reacted promptly to the virus, closed its borders and implemented rigid social distancing measures quickly. The result is that it has few cases and few deaths. The canton we are currently living, Limón, has five cases so far, several weeks into the outbreak. We live in a small Caribbean house at the end of a dead-end road in the area of Playa Negra in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the middle of the jungle. There is lots to see and do around the house, and we try to get some work done while the kids are home full-time. Luckily we have been organising our lives around the kids for the past years and have a structure in place that works very well for us.
So how do we take care of our kids, ourselves and our companies in quarantine?
Implement a day structure and some ‘rules‘
The first thing we did was designing a day-structure that applies to this situation. Every time we land in a new place or we have a period of travel, we create such a day-structure, which works very well. We divide tasks between us, mom and dad. We create blocks of time and divide that into activities led by one of us that we do with both kids. Sometimes we separate and each parents has an acitivity with one child. This way we give them 1-on-1 time and attention and are able to organise an activity fit to their specific age. After two weeks of Corona news, we got tired of being hooked to our phones all day, so we implemented a rule. Check the Dutch news in the morning and Costa Rica news in the afternoon at 14.00 (news announcement). Don’t pick up the phone when the children are awake, has been our ‘rule‘ since they were born. Also during quarantine, we kept up to this rule. Before the quarantine, we had implemented a no-screen policy with the kids, as Vesper reacted fiercely, with uncontrolled anger when the screen had to go off. We experienced it with Isa in this age (2,5 years old) as well so we decided to put away the screens with Vesper and tried to facilitate their playing together. Which as worked wonders and so we decided to continue the no-screen policy for him also during quarantine. It requires a lot more attention from mom and dad but as we also don’t have our phones during the day, it works out very well. We are all present, being with each other the entire day. It is tough but we love it! A result is that the kids play together. Just play. Eating imaginary ice cream, playing ‘car‘ or ‘airplane‘. Lovely to see.
Digital Nomad kids who don’t travel
Right before the Corona virus reached Costa Rica, we returned from a two-month trip to Mexico as a digital nomad family. Every three or four days we visited a new destination, slept in a new bed and experienced new things. Our kids are quite used to traveling and change of routine, so in that respect, we feel well prepared for the change of routine that brings a quarantine. How to explain a quarantine to kids? What do we want to tell them? I guess step by step, as it is happening, we explain the situation. At their level, not complicating things too much and, most importantly: on a need-to-know basis. Often we want to tell them too much because we feel like we need to tell them everything. We experienced that if we ourselves keep calm, ok with the situation and explain new restrictions as they occur, kids will find peace in that and will follow us. They will take our calm and easily find joy in those new situations. We experience that every time when we travel. The calmer and relaxed we are, the better the kids thrive. Instead of traveling, we play at home. Surprisingly, a calm mind and an acceptance of this new restricted life, leads to creative bursts. Like inventing a game to learn to count and distract, like the one below.
This year the kids have visited their Costa Rican school, Las Semillas, which has been doing great work supporting the kids at home by organising Zoom sessions and bringing the kids together online. We joined several times, but found it a challenge for kids so young. Our kids got itchy and angry after the sessions would be over. Longing back to the screen, back to the kids and the teachers. After a few times like this, we decided to skip the Zoom sessions. School also provided the families with activity videos that are lovely to have. We can show the videos to the kids in their own time when they are ready for it.
A typical quarantine day
We get up at 5.30. One of us takes the kids down and offers them something small to eat, usually a mango or pineapple. The other sleeps in for another hour or has me-time: running, yoga, meditating until 07.00. We have breakfast and coffee together at 07.00. The kids help us to prepare breakfast: take things from the fridge and cabinets we need to prepare the food and the table. At 08.00 teacher Angie arrives to the house or we bring the kids to her house to play. We leave for a few working hours. At 10.00 the fruit and vegetable car passes by the house and the kids choose a fruit. We return home at 11.00. We eat together from a lunch we prepared the evening before. At 12.00 we all go for a siësta until 13.30. From 13.30 to 14.00 Isa has screen-time and plays a game to learn English (Lingo Kids). Vesper wakes up at 14.00. We all hang around, have fruit, a biscuit, coffee and sometimes a bit of chips. The kids play in and around the house, collect wood to make a fire later in the evening, or just have un-planned play together. We sit around to wait for the sun to get less ferocious.
At 15.30 we take the kids for a bike ride along the beautiful beaches. We go to the local playground. Sometimes we swim in the pool of a local hotel nearby. Another little trip we take is to the supermarket in the village of Cocles, about 6 kilometers away from the house. The kids stay outside, eat ice cream, while one of us does a bit of grocery shopping we can take home by bike. The day ends with a family dinner and bed around 19.30. What they love do to most in the evenings is put the collected wood on a pile, make a fire and eat their dinner in front of it…
We use our imagination to create cool stuff for the kids in and around the house. We made a ‘swimmingpool‘ from an old watertank and protected the rims so they can safely play in the pool. It has been quite dry in Costa Rica for the time of year, so unfortunately there has been a lack of rain. As we have a well that relies on rain, we could not fill the swimming pool with water from the tap. We showered at the beach in front of a local hotel and waited until it rained again to fill up the pool (and shower again in the house). You can imagine the joy when they woke up to a full pool!
There are a lot of insects and animals around the house. Cows for example. The kids love to sit in the window to watch the cows. We name the cows and talk about a day in the life of a cow: how they look, if they give milk, what they eat, we count the cows, put them in groups by color. Practice this in different languages. Lots of nice games to invent involving the cows. Isa and Vesper rescue insects that got lost in our house: mainly (flying) beetles and sometimes a centipede. They put a piece of paper on the floor and put the beetle on top of it to carry it outside.
Of course there is lots of drawing and painting activity going on during quarantine. Isa loves numbers and letters and started writing them in a small ‘first letters‘ book. Vesper loves to wildly put color on himself. Isa also loves this and we do it often. They shower themselves afterwards and clean the bathroom with a spunge. Everything is an activity!
In the first weeks of the quarantine, we created all sorts of activities, crafts and arts in and around the house. Isa is learning the alphabet and loves to count everything she sees. So we create counting games for her in Dutch, Spanish and English. She seems to enjoy that a lot. We wrote before about how Isa and Vesper grow up bilingually and it is great to hear them sing songs in three languages. We read them books in Dutch and Spanish. All in all there we spend of a lot of time reading, playing with words, draw letters, pronounce letters and play games with words. They love to play with the interactive books called TipToi, like this one for kids between 4 and 7 to learn English. We often play together learning to read words. We use a Dutch book for that called Rom Pom Pom Woordenmaker. Isa uses an app called LingoKids on the phone to learn English, we have seen great progress with that and we love to see her progress and learn about the things that still cost her in the ‘parent section‘ of this app.
Sneak to the beach
We go out on the bike as far down the jungle road we can to go to the beach. It is unpolished out here and the kids play with driftwood on the beach, do balance games on tree trunks they find on the beach, and they swim. They learn how to manage the currents and the ocean waves. Great to see, although your heart skips a beat when a wave takes them back to the beach a bit more roughly than they anticipated :-).
Work and ‘us-time’
In quarantine time we mostly work when the kids are with their teacher in the house. Usually between 08.00 and 11.00. We go to Banana Azul hotel close by that is still open en offers free WiFi when we order a drink. It is a great place to sit, relax a bit and get behind the computer for a call, to write a blog or to do client work. In these hours we come up with new plans as we find the peace of mind to think and hold a conversation longer than two sentences ;-). We both have been practicing breathing techniques and Diana relaxes with Yoga Nidra before going to sleep at night. We take ‘siëstas‘ with the kids and go to bed early, sometimes even before 21.00 to rise (and shine) around 05.30. Steven picked up juggling and still goes for a run occasionally.
So, quarantine here in Costa Rica is not bad at all… It is not much different from our normal lives, except for the schools being closed, beaches closed and not being able to hang out with friends. We experience it still like a holiday, which is very weird to write down, knowing that for many people everywhere quarantine is a real hardship. If we manage to stay calm ourselves, not to be distracted by the news every ten seconds and have structured days, it is all fine. It does not really matter whére you are if you manage to keep calm and present.
According to our own original, pre-Corona plan we fly back to the Netherlands beginning of June probably. If the airline is able to depart, the next update will be from Holland. If not, all fine. We stay in Costa Rica for a while longer! We are always keen to learn from other families with young kids at home, so if you have ideas, suggestions for things to do in and around the house, email us! We’d like that.