Like many families, the COVID-19 quarantine has certainly pushed the Mitchell family, of Winfield, to try and create a new normal over the last few weeks. With seven children, ages 1 to 16, it’s been especially challenging to keep everyone entertained at home all day, every day.
“We are a very active family, so this left a very big hole in our daily life,” said mom, Heather.
While their academic schedule as a homeschool family has not changed, their many extra-curricular activities have been canceled. And with everyone home at the same time, for the entire day, none of them get very much time or space to themselves.
But Heather was up for the challenge, desiring to keep things positive and give her kids things to look forward to.
“It was important to me that we not focus on the things we weren’t doing, but the things that we were getting to do,” she said.
So she got creative, implementing a different theme each week, and goals for each day. One week was spirit week, with the kids dressing up according to the theme for each day, such as “crazy hair,” “dress up,” “favorite color” and “camp wear.” They even posted their photos on social media for friends and family to vote on their favorites.
The Mitchells have also had fun with theme movie nights, dressing up as characters from films such as “Toy Story” and “Anne of Green Gables.” They decorated and ate food as well as did activities based on the stories.
During one week of school, Heather focused on a topic for each day. For example, one day was all science, another math and another art.
They have also played about 50 different games as a family, taken lots of walks and hikes, read books and worked on puzzles. One week, the kids took turns planning and making dinner. They also helped Heather plan a surprise date night with their dad in the garage, complete with music and Christmas lights.
An especially meaningful activity has been creating a coronavirus time capsule together, with some of the children writing about their experiences during this time.
“My 10-year-old was asked about a time she felt scared during this quarantine,” Heather said. “She couldn’t think of a time that she has felt scared. To me that was a big win. While she had things that were disappointments or things she missed, she has good memories of this time as well.”
Focusing on creating these positive activities and good memories is something that Valley families can employ during this time.
Jackie Dziadosz, marketing coordinator for the Union County Library System, reminds patrons that, “While the library’s physical spaces may be temporarily closed due to COVID-19, the public can discover eBooks, movies and much more — all from home.” They encourage members of each household to sign up for a library card online so they can maximize this eResource platform.
“It’s important to stay engaged in learning and entertained in this time because it allows us to stay connected and take a momentary escape from today’s uncertainty,” said Rachael Waugh, MLIS, assistant director of Public Library for Union County. “We are all aware of our current situation, so reading and exploring online resources offer a way to explore ideas and stories that can engage and inspire.”
This may be especially important for children, according to Mary Harrison, head of the library’s children’s department. “Children have had to deal with a new lifestyle,” she said, from loss of a daily routine, to isolation from friends, and stress they might be experiencing through a parents’ loss of a job or paycheck.
“Any situations during this pandemic can lead to anxiety, fear, depression and loneliness,” she said. “Children can feel out of control and not know what to do.”
She encourages parents to engage their children with “social-emotional learning,” and books can be a great way to encourage conversation about what they might be feeling.
“When our children talk about the book, we can hear what our children are thinking about, what they are concerned about,” Harrison said.
Also for adults, accessing the library edition of Ancestry.com from home may be of interest. According to Dziadosz, “Our reference librarian Linda Homa took some time to locate the ship her grandfather came to American on in 1903.”
For kids, Bookflix can be accessed through Power Library. The resource pairs favorite scholastic books with nonfiction books, Dziadosz said, “to help kids learn about whatever topics interest them.”
In addition, for “May the 4th Be With You” celebration on Monday, the library system offers a large collection of Star Wars eBooks and comics for all ages through HOOPLA Digital; activity packs can be downloaded via the website at UnionCountyLibraries.org, “online resources.”
Some local children’s museums are also offering fun activities for families to do at home during this time of quarantine:
In a recent press release, the Lewisburg Children’s Museum announced a new “Museum-at-Home initiative.” Many of the programs are free, while others are by donation. Starting today, virtual experiences are being offered through Zoom, including “Virtual Preschool Art,” “Virtual Yoga,” “Virtual Sign Language for Kids,” “Virtual Spanish for Kids” and “Virtual Music’s the Balm with Music Together.” The museum is also organizing virtual parties to enable friends to hang out online by facilitating game and craft activities. At 10 a.m. Wednesdays, staff will also host “PopUp PlayDates” through Facebook live.
The Bloomsburg Children’s Museum is also offering www.stayplaylearn.org, a digital content website in partnership with Box of Light. This week, they partnered with Mysterious Writings to host a virtual treasure hunt, which involves participants traveling to Egypt, following clues, and getting a password they can use to enter to win a treasure chest full of prizes. According to Ginny Weibel, director of the museum, also offered are various options of entertainment and activity videos, “ranging from folk dance to kitchen chemistry to art projects to yoga.”
The museum has also produced about 400 STEM kits each week to distribute to area children through Little Free Libraries and N4Cs (Northern Columbia Community Center). The kits have included activities such as a build-it-yourself Easter basket, balloon-powered cars, and “Learn to be a Paleontologist.”
Weibel said the museum is also developing STEM kits with video-based instruction. They just rolled out this option, she said, featuring a light-up alien spaceship. More information is available at the-childrens-museum.org/things-to-do/.
“We’ve heard from families that they miss coming to the museum,” Weibel said, “and we are making every effort to still serve these families.”
“We also think it’s important to try to give children a sense of normalcy during this stressful time,” she added. “Getting a fun kit from the museum takes children’s minds off of the pandemic and provides an activity the whole family can take part in.”
For those who may be missing attending concerts and other performances, there are some options as well to stay entertained.
“Although it’s not the same as experiencing live performance, a number of companies, artists and other organizations are offering a plethora of online arts and cultural programming during this unprecedented and difficult time,” said Kathryn Maguet, executive director of the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University in Lewisburg.
“These include the Metropolitan Opera, the Joyce Theatre — which offers dance performances each week, most of the major symphony orchestras including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, among others,” she said.
“Plus, many musicians are live streaming performances from their homes. It’s a great time to check out new artists and performances, as well as visit old favorites.”