COVID-Style: 19 Ways To Pass The Time

Each Monday I meet with my advisory group – a dozen students in ninth through twelfth grades. Advisory is intended to be students’ safe place at school. It’s a mix of academic guidance, group bonding, and personal support and cheerleading. 

This week was our last official meeting before the end of the semester and Winter Break, and it was also the first time I had seen my students since San Francisco’s new Stay Home Order went into effect. I expected the following to be true:

  1. They are really frustrated about the Stay Home Order and skeptical about its need.
  2. They are excited about the upcoming break from school and completely sick of the monotony of distance learning.

Here’s the lesson of this week’s post: Never underestimate the wisdom, grace, and creativity of others, especially teenagers!

Every week after we settle into our Zoom call, I start our advisory meeting with a few rounds of questions that go something like this:

“On a scale of 1-10, how has your week started? One means it has been terrible and you already wish it were over. Ten means it’s been amazing and you are loving every single minute. Put your fingers up.”

Then I read all the numbers out loud, look for trends and outliers, and ask questions to dig a little deeper into the mystery of teenage existence and into the psyches of my students. 

This week, I asked my students the following question: “On a scale of 1-10, how upset are you about the new Stay Home Order? One means you honestly don’t care at all. Ten means you are extremely bummed and angry and tired of this whole thing.”

When my students put their fingers up, I was shocked by the numbers: 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3, 1, and so on. 

On a personal note: I am struggling with the Stay Home Order. My number is more like a 7 or 8. Selfishly, I am sad that we won’t be able to gather with friends and family till January. I am disappointed that parks are closed. Some of the restrictions feel arbitrary to me. And, I am extremely worried about the impact on many small businesses that I love and that are essential to San Francisco’s distinct culture and flavors.

With great wisdom and kindness, my students reminded me to have greater perspective: “Yes, we get all that you are saying, Ms Olken, and those are important points. But, if staying at home for the next month is what it takes to beat this virus, then the personal sacrifice really doesn’t feel that bad.” 

Then I moved on to my next question: “On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you for the end of the semester and for two weeks off? One means I really wish school would continue because who wants a break. Ten means I CAN’T WAIT!”

Their answers: 2, 3, 2, 4, 3, 3…

Wait, what??? 

Here’s what my students said: They appreciate the structure that school provides in their days. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, they like the hours accounted for by distance learning. They are really worried about being bored over break. “How many hours of video games can I play?”

Together, we created a list of things to do over Winter Break that would pass the time while following the Stay Home Order. For the record, they reminded me that we do not actually have to stay home; in fact, we are encouraged to go outside as long as we do not gather with people outside our household. 

Here’s the list we came up with. 

COVID-Style: 19 Ways to Pass the Time

  1. Go for a bike ride or take an urban hike
  2. If you have an instrument in your house like a set of drums or a guitar or even a kazoo, you could try to learn a song on it
  3. Listen to music – the more eclectic the better!  
  4. Walk around neighborhoods that you don’t usually visit. Example: Go to North Beach and grab a slice of pizza to go
  5. Get ready for spring planting. Buy some seeds and grow them. Or if you already own plants, you could try to propagate them
  6. Learn to cook or bake something new. Ask someone you know to teach you via Zoom
  7. Make a photo collage wall like you see on TikTok
  8. Move all the furniture around in your room to create a new vibe
  9. Meditate
  10. Watch all 23 Marvel movies
  11. Read a few books that you’ve been putting off for awhile
  12. Donate clothes, female hygiene products, toiletries etc to St Anthony’s 
  13. Do something artistic: Draw something, paint, act out a play in your room
  14. Watch The Nutcracker online
  15. Read or write poetry
  16. Write a story in your notes app
  17. Actually talk to your parents
  18. Do science-y things like paper rockets outside or DIY petri dishes or at-home chemistry like baking soda and vinegar together or try to make your own sourdough starter
  19. Make a mood board on Pinterest and a playlist on Spotify that corresponds with it.

Not a bad list! Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from simply asking questions. I’m often surprised by what I learn. 

How are you going to pass the time, COVID-Style? What is on your list?


  1. I keep saying young people are going to save us all and your students’ responses reinforce that perspective. Yes, it’s hard for all of us and I love that they’re on board for the greater good. The ways to pass time list is a great one and I’ll try some of them myself. Thanks Sharon!

    • I totally agree, Dawn – we will be in great hands when this new generation takes over! My students inspire me and give me hope every single day! Thank you for reading and replying. Makes me so happy!

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