Swing, batta, swing

Zadkiel Agosto swings at a pitch thrown by his father, retired Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Agosto, at the A Avenue baseball field March 19. The youngster attended Prince George County’s Harrison Elementary School up until March 16 when children were sent home to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. While Zadkiel has kept busy with school take-home lessons, he and his father took advantage of warm temperatures and an empty field to play hit and catch. “I don’t want him close to that Playstation stuff,” said his chuckling dad. Parents need to be creative and resourceful in finding activities for children while school is suspended, Agosto noted, and they should not hesitate to lean on one another to get by. “We’re Americans, we know how to overcome.”

The implementation of social distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 has left most Americans working from home and looking after children who have been idled by school closures – now for the remainder of the school year in Virginia.

Many are already experiencing anxiety-ridden cabin fever from the safety measures, and parents on social media have been outspoken about the difficulties of keeping children entertained and their education on track.

“Under these circumstances, we’re not going to entirely replace all of the structure that happens in a school environment,” advised Chaundra Taswell, Fort Lee Child and Youth Services school liaison officer. “However, there are some things parents can do to make kids feel more secure, and at the same time, feel like they are making the most of this situation. The following are some suggestions on how to do just that.”

Make a schedule

Have a schedule and display it so family members know what’s coming and the duration of the activity. Most kids work from a schedule in their classrooms, Taswell noted, so recreating something similar at home can ease the transition to a different learning environment. Include lessons, chores, each parents’ work schedule, meal times, family projects and things children like to do. Some families might also set aside time for educational games accessed by computer or a mobile device.

Parents who need help dealing with the pandemic or homeschooling can visit www.facebook.com/VaHomeschoolers where they will find a free daily talk show called, “Coming Home: Equipping Parents to Survive the Crisis.” The program’s guest speakers and moderators cover education, parenting, working and homeschooling, stress, how to talk with children about the pandemic and more.

Acknowledge kids are different

Schools, in general, are equipped to teach a variety of children with different learning abilities and needs. In a homeschool environment, parents must run the show. The most important thing to remember is that it’s not a “one size fits all” activity. Some kids enjoy reading while others struggle with sitting still.  Some are social butterflies while others are introverts. Figuring out who is whom requires individualized attention.

PBS is just one organization offering numerous education resources for different types of kids at different learning levels. Distance learning resources at www.pbslearningmedia.org are searchable by grade level, curriculum area, and state and national standards.

There are tons of FMWR library resources that can be accessed at militaryonesource.mil – click on “MENU” and then the “MWR Digital Library” link. First-time users will need to set up a username and password. Another resource is the New York City Department of Education, www.schools.nyc.gov/learning-at-home/activities-for-students, which has compiled study schedules, guides and materials for activities that can help parents maintain a learning environment during this situation.

Build in recess

All traditional school programs incorporate some sort of recess or outdoor activity, and a homeschool schedule should be no different. It doesn’t matter if this time is structured or unstructured, as long as individuals move away from computers and books and do something that lifts everyone’s spirits.

Go for a walk, play family board games or hide and seek, move furniture back and do half-an-hour of exercise with children – just be creative. Web resources for ideas include www.Gonoodle.com that offers free movement and mindfulness activities for children.

How about a family trip without leaving the living room? The Cincinnatti Zoo invites guests to join them at cincinnatizoo.org/home-safari-resources each weekday at 3 p.m. for a Home Safari Facebook Live where they will highlight one of their amazing animals and offer a home activity for young viewers. Parents also can find their videos on YouTube.

Get creative

Art is an important part of education. It’s a fun way to engage a child’s mind and encourage imagination. Oftentimes, needed materials are already available in the home. It does not have to be an expensive activity. A2Z Homeschooling, a2zhomeschooling.com/explore/fine_arts_kids/art/art_projects_kids, is just one of many websites offering arts and crafts ideas for children.

Virginia’s BalletNova Center for Dance is offering free live-streamed classes hosted by Artistic Director Matthew Powell. The URL is bit.ly/3cZspAX#BalletNovaPride#VirtualBallet.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Ireland’s Blarney Castle and NASA's Houston Space Center also are among the museums, historic sites and organizations that offer free virtual tours and exhibits. The Metropolitan Opera, www.metopera.org, livestreams a different encore presentation each day from the company’s “Live in HD” series.”

Teach each other

Of course, there are resources that don’t require the internet or a computer. This is an ideal time for parents to share things they’ve learned such as cooking a dinner, playing an instrument, working on cars, baking cookies, fixing electronics, doing the laundry and more. Help youngsters see it as an opportunity to spend quality time together while gaining knowledge they will need in the future.

Incorporate some downtime

Children, like adults, need time to disconnect from each other, from parents, from technology and from the outside world. It helps provide balance to their day. Work with children to choose an independent activity that best suits their needs. Reading books, working on their own creative writing, building models, learning magic tricks, gardening, painting and drawing are examples of things children, and adults for that matter, can lose themselves in and express who they are at the same time.

Accept limitations

“Whether you’re a teacher, parent or working professional, you just do your best,” Taswell encouraged. “There is no road map for this journey. Try to remember that both you and your children are adjusting to something new and there will be some bumps along the way.”

In addition to community resources like the school websites, Fort Lee parents have access to family advocates, religious counselors, parent support groups, a chain of command and many others.  Nobody is expected to be a superhero, Taswell noted, and asking for help shows strength, not weakness.