Families with children at home trying to find balance in everyday life

“Take it one day at a time”

By Katherine Nettles

School’s out, but in a whole new way. Since the Gunnison Watershed School District (GWSD) announced district-wide school closures on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, families and school staff have been working to create lesson plans and home routines for this an unprecedented situation.

For many parents in the community, having their children at home around the clock is posing a brand-new challenge: whether the child is normally in school or not, chances are there are several routines being interrupted. Young children can no longer visit the library, the Trailhead Children’s Museum, the Gunnison Recreation Center, the myriad children’s classes offered at locations throughout the valley, and they cannot take part in the treasured “playdates” that often provide both parents and children a social outlet.

For parents of school-age children, there is the additional task of managing schoolwork from home now. And for working parents who are continuing to work, there are additional circumstances to manage with the loss of childcare. 

Many people would agree; school days, or even scheduled outings and classes normally provide a scaffolding from which to build our daily lives. Now it is up to parents to improvise. GWSD has worked to make this as easy as possible on everyone, with distance learning that began this week. Each classroom teacher is creating personalized lessons and suggested schedules for his or her class, and lessons include “specials,” segments like physical education activities, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), art and music. Families have had the opportunity to check out electronic equipment if needed to participate in the online learning, and many parents have reported both relief at the familiar faces of their children’s teachers on videos, and concern over how to manage the new strain of overseeing extensive curriculum.

“We are 15 minutes in to our teacher guided learning online and I am overwhelmed with gratitude and love for what our amazing teachers and school have put together for these awesome first graders…to see their teacher’s face, hear their voice and learn with them during this closure is amazing!” wrote local parent Lara Fellows on her social media page. The icing on the cake, she added, was that her 3-year-old was enjoying the online learning too.

The school district food service is also providing free grab-and-go sack breakfasts and lunches for all students under 18 years old, Monday through Friday from 8 to 9 a.m. at the Crested Butte Community School and Crested Butte South Red Mountain Park.

Crested Butte Elementary math interventionist, Sarah Block says, as a parent and a teacher, “Right now it is a bit chaotic to be totally honest. I have also been sick (but not eligible to get tested for COVID-19) so getting a routine going has not really been an option thus far, but I am ready for some routine!” Block’s role at the school has been to support teachers and help them navigate the online learning systems, and she will also be providing some math instruction though video programs. Like many parents, she says mornings are starting off pretty well but there is a lot of multi-tasking throughout the day. Block has a third grader and sixth grader and says, “Their teachers are totally crushing it and so far my kiddos have been probably 90 percent independent. I do a lot of checking in and asking what they are doing.” Teachers have been responsive to her daughter’s questions, she says.

While her kids are working, so is Block; “I have my computer up and running all day and ready to respond to teachers and parents as quickly as possible to hopefully make their jobs and lives easier. While I am working, I am making lunch, answering a few questions, diffusing arguments, playing games, and trying to keep in touch with family and friends to see if they are doing okay. It’s chaos at times, but I am loving having some extra time with my family. We will use this time to play and love each other. I get overwhelmed by how much there is to do, and I need to step back and take it one day at a time.”

Block says she hopes parents aren’t feeling like this is too much work on their part, and she is happy to help. “I know we joke about how math is so different these days, but seriously it is! Parents, if you find yourself in a place where you or your students are frustrated. Stop, email me, and go do something that is not frustrating. We know that this is a hard time for you at home as well and we want this to be as stress free as possible,” she says. She can be reached at sblock@gunnisonschools.net.

Keeley Moran, STEM teacher at Crested Butte Elementary and mother of three ranging from second grade to sixth grades, echoes the same needs for structure and also patience: “I will say that day #2 is going more smoothly than day #1 and I expect day #3 to be even better.”  

Moran said she created a daily schedule and is trying hard to stick to it. “It’s definitely tricky helping my own kids while keeping up with my own work, sharing devices and managing the stress of the situation. There are frustrating moments during the day and we’re all feeling it. I’m doing a lot of my work as a teacher before the school day so that I can help my kids with their work during the school day, but I am also constantly checking in on my online classes to answer questions students, parents and teachers have,“ she writes via e-mail.

“Getting outside multiple times a day is helping with the stress. I also plan to reach out to my kids’ friends today so they can connect via FaceTime every couple of days.  I know connecting with my friends has been invaluable the last few days and I’m sure they need that connection as well.  Hopefully we can all give each other extra patience and understanding in the weeks to come. No matter how hard this is for our family I know there are others who are affected much more and my heart goes out to them.”  

School work aside, the community streets, trails, yards and parks continue to bustle with families spending time outdoors—bikes, skateboards, dog walks and general outdoor play can still be done safely while encouraging children to keep their distance from one another when they encounter acquaintances. 

Online, children are taking part in FaceTime with relatives and friends, doing Lego Masters competitions together, kids’ yoga classes and just enjoying some virtual company. But this time is not all fun and games, either.

For those parents of younger kids, social media groups like Facebook’s Parenting in the time of COVID-19 have popped up for people to share resources and commiserate—or trade jokes about—the art of handling simultaneous conference calls and toddler needs. Social media is rife with ideas to start pen pals, teach a new hobby, try new crafts or indulge in more home economics skills with children (chores, anyone?). There are also great resources for how to create schedules, and some even offer an author reading a children’s book. Many extracurricular classes have gone virtual as well.

For those whose kids are struggling with the loss of anticipated games, performances or other events, consider practicing and performing at home. Or make a video to share with loved ones. Actress Jennifer Garner wrote aptly, “This time of year has so many people, from preschoolers to professionals, working their tails off to perform. And now-the games, the meets, the recitals, the productions big and small—are shut down.” Garner and many others are encouraging submissions, and they can be directed to the (inter)national community using #heyjenlookatme, or personally to close friends and family.

Last, the importance of discussing the new way of life and the reasons for it with our children is paramount. Gunnison County has posted information on its COVID-19 web page offering information from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, titled Coping with the Stress of an Infectious Disease Outbreak. Advice includes: “Realize this will be temporary. Keep your family’s schedule consistent when it comes to bedtimes, meals, and exercise. Make time to do things at home that have made you and your family feel better in other stressful situations, such as reading, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, exercising, or engaging in religious activities. Recognize that feelings such as loneliness, boredom, fear of contracting disease, anxiety, stress, and panic are normal reactions.”

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends that parents provide factual, but age-appropriate information to children to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to model calm behavior. “Children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If parents seem overly worried, children’s anxiety may rise. Parents should reassure children that health and school officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy,” according the website, and teaching positive preventive measures, listening to them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.

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