My COVID-19 Diary: Goldilocks Tasks

In this time of quarantine, when we are trapped in the house with our kids, everyone is looking for another way to keep their kids occupied;  that is after they’ve completed all the school assigned art projects made with items found around the home, Flipgrids, Nearpods, watched every Slideshare, responded to the Google Forms, joined all the live streams, Google hangouts, virtual museum tours, and then blown kisses to their teachers as they drove through the neighborhood.  


I’ve got an idea. 

When I was younger, there was a toothbrush that somehow got into the drain in the bathroom sink at our house. Outside it was the kind of cold and rainy day that characterizes certain memories from one’s youth, so I wasn’t leaving the house.  My dad was at work, there were wire hangers and his tools in a closet. My mom challenged me to get that toothbrush out of the drain. It took me all day, and I cannot say if my mother actually shoved it down the pipe in the first place, but I still take pride in the accomplishment of having wrested that toothbrush from the jaws of the drain and saving my family an expensive plumber’s bill.

What kinds of obscure tasks have been sitting around your house waiting to be tackled?  Don’t choose the most odious chore that you don’t want to undertake. I cleaned the fridge yesterday, it was hard not to dwell on the fact that this task took me long enough to miss an entire Liverpool match, if only they were still playing.   In educational terms, think of what Psychologist Lev Vygotsky called the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD) to describe the sweet spot where instruction is most beneficial for each student – just beyond his or her current level of independent capability.  In layman’s terms, this is often referred to as the Goldilocks Principle, not too hard, not too soft.  Your nine-year-old is clearly not excited about cleaning that nasty area behind the toilet in your basement, a burden you’ve been putting off for months, and with good reason. The task should have a finite goal and be sufficiently challenging to take at minimum one hour and ideally an entire day, yes 24 hours!

My wife noticed that there were more than a few socks in the small gap between our washer/dryer and the glass wall that separates it from the rest of the bathroom, something that one would only notice if they were stuck in their house due to the outbreak of a pandemic of historic proportions.  We challenged Juliet, our 9-year-old daughter, to retrieve those socks. To sweeten the pot, we told her we’d give her one dollar for each one she rescued. When she asked for help, we told her she needed to do it on her own, she would receive no assistance or advice from us. She was welcome to refer to YouTube videos or search the internet (advantages I did NOT have when I worked to free the toothbrush),  but neither of us or her siblings, would assist her. Two hours later, some wire hangers, needle nose pliers, and the flashlight on her iPad, Juliet had retrieved seven socks from that three-quarter inch wide space next to the washer/dryer. She was genuinely excited. My slightly obsessive wife didn’t have to look at misplaced hosiery in the bathroom anymore, and we had seven bachelor socks to use for dusting around the house (a task that Juliet has no interest in by the way).

I’m not recommending anything Dickensian. Charles Dickens, according to history, spent his middle school years applying labels to “shoe black” in a dank workhouse.  Please don’t have your children crawling into any water mains on my advice.  Just find something that benefits you and your family and safely requires a degree of ingenuity and perseverance… and a wire hanger.   

I’m eager to hear what your kids are doing to fill their time during the quarantine.  If they’re not busy enough, consider my idea. If you can’t think of anything, there’s always the “toothbrush down the drain” — ”What?  There’s no toothbrush down there, check again 🙂 “


Juliet NOT forced into this tight spot 🙂


About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in adolescence, Best Practice, Educational Focus, Leadership, Parenting, Personal Best, Random Thoughts, Reflections, relationships, Teaching/Learning, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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