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Local families adapt to working from home together through fun and structure

Local families adapt to working from home together through fun and structure

reporter photo

Perfecting their strawberry banana smoothies at lunchtime, having dance class through a video chat, getting outside everyday to play in the park— these are some of the ways local parents are trying to bond with their kids while the coronavirus keeps people at home for the foreseeable future. 

With many local students now entering the second week of distance learning due to the coronavirus, parents and guardians are starting to adjust to this new way of life.

A new way of life that will last for at least another month, since Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that schools would remain closed through April 20. 

“I think as the weeks come ... we’re more prepared to understand what's going on and to be able to help as much as we can,” said Meriden mother and elementary school teacher Jeanna Anastasio. 

Anastasio teaches at Casimir Pulaski Elementary School and is responsible for answering questions and sending assignments to her class while schools are physically closed. Her two daughters, in sixth and ninth grades, are home as well, distance learning through their school-provided Chromebooks. 

The longtime teacher said she knows parents are overwhelmed and wants to assure them things will start to feel better now that more is figured out and settled. 

“I’m a parent too, so I totally understand where they’re coming from,” she said. “We as educators thank the parents tremendously (for) helping us continue to educate their children while they’re at home.” 

Meriden Public Schools give students Chromebooks when they enter sixth grade so the switch to home learning for older students was fairly smooth in that respect. 

“For them the part that's missing is the actual teacher interaction and student interaction,” she said. 

Technology has been a huge aid for many families interacting with educators, families and friends during this time of isolation. 

Alicia Berntsen’s kids in Wallingford recently started Facetiming with neighborhood friends for that reason. 

“The kids are sad that they can’t play with their friends in the neighborhood,” she said.

Berntsen said they’ve gotten out regularly to draw with chalk on the driveway, take a bike ride, or take the dog for a walk. Inside, they’ve been working on puzzles and various arts and crafts. 

For one class assignment Berntsen’s youngest daughter, Gianna, 6, had asked her to find objects around the house to make a “color wheel,” which she sent a picture of back to her art teacher. 

Berntsen also shared the photo in a parents’ Facebook group, telling other parents about the assignment idea and asking them to share their own. 

“The community forums have been wonderful! A lot of people have been sharing ideas, resources and links such as ABCMouse. Teachers have also been really engaging and have been keeping parents informed and providing links via Google Classroom,” she said.

Anastasio’s kids have been staying active through familiar means with online dance and karate classes from Apogee Dance Academy and Valentin Karate.

She said the owners have gotten creative in engaging people, like giving the girls a challenge to videotape themselves teaching their parents a dance and sharing it with the rest of the class online. Anastasio said the karate studio has offered to hold belt tests and will drive to the student’s house to drop off a newly earned belt, while practicing social distancing. 

Outside those activities, Anastasio said its been nice spending more time with her kids playing board games and eating meals together. 

“Some of the things that maybe you couldn’t do before because of schedules and things … it gives you the opportunity to get closer as a family and do those,” she said. 

Meriden resident Joe Gagne said he’s been getting his five kids out to a different park every day after lunch to play. On Tuesday they played baseball after getting lunch from the school district. 

The kids, ages 1 through 14, do their school work for several hours in the morning before lunchtime. 

“They’re doing their best but it's kind of a mad house in the morning,” he said. “I always give teachers respect but they get even more after this.”

Since Meriden artist Apollo Maldonado’s studio had to be temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, he’s been home too, helping his fiance’s kids, who are 13 and 7, learn. 

Maldonado owns All Sketched Out LLC. and runs its Digital Paint Nights on Colony Street. He was able to bring some of the painting units home with him so the family plays a form of digital pictionary and paint nights. 

“Being an artist, I know how important it is to have a creative outlet especially among children and teens during this insane time in our lives,” he said. 

Across the country parents are sharing tips and tricks for these new times, often online-related. 

The Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence hosts virtual doodle classes during lunchtime, celebrities have posted videos of them reading children’s stories on Instagram, and many museums can be toured virtually

For many parents, helping their kids with schoolwork isn’t the only thing they’re doing all day. Many are working remotely still. 

Wallingford mother Victoria Keating is one of those people, still working full time in home care and spends the days running back and forth— literally— between work and schoolwork with her youngest kid.

Not only is it stressful, but Keating said she’s had to give up extra hours, and money, because of it. She said her mother and aunt have been able to help look after both her kids.

“I would say lean on whoever you can for extra help and take as many breaks from school as needed for the kids to get through it, cause they too are struggling with this whole situation as well as everyone else is,” Keating said. “Ask the kids how they are feeling from time to time.”

Other parents have found that keeping a daily routine helps their kids engage in what they need to do. 

“My best piece of advice would be to try to create and stick to some type of schedule. Add a snack break or two, and take a breather for lunch,” she said. “Eat together, get a little fresh air and then go back to work/schoolwork.”

They’ve been making lunchtime even more special by perfecting their smoothies everyday. 

bwright@record-journal.com203-317-2316Twitter: @baileyfaywright

"Some of the things that maybe you couldn’t do before because of schedules and things … it gives you the opportunity to get closer as a family and do those."

-Jeanna Anastasio