As families ate breakfast Monday morning, the question for many was what they were going to do for the day. 

Children across Cape Ann and the North Shore are home for the foreseeable future as the spread of the novel coronavirus has closed down public schools until April 7.

"We have been pleasantly surprised to just slow down and be," said Meaghan Shelton of Rockport. "That has been huge for us."

With four kids ranging in ages from 2 to 10, members of Shelton family experienced a range of emotions when they found out school was going to be closed for the next three weeks.  

"My fifth-grader was thrilled school was closed and saw this as a vacation and my third-grader was devastated as he is very social and loves school," Shelton explained. 

With all the extra time, their family is planning to spend a majority of it outdoors. 

"We have made sure already to take opportunity of where we live and play on the beach and hike along the coast and explore the woods behind our house," Shelton  said. "That has been awesome."

While her husband still works as a nurse at Boston Medical Center — assisting those who are in need of medical attention during the pandemic — Shelton will homeschool their children for the time being. 

"My three boys pulled it together and transformed our laundry room into a classroom," she laughed. 

Finding a routine

For the Christensen family of Gloucester, the extra time at home means quality time together and with their dog, cat, guinea pig, two lizards and two fish. 

"We have several pets in the house and to have the kids home is a real benefit as the pets get a lot of love and attention," Genesia Christensen, mother of three, said. "The dog will be thrilled for us to be outside with her more."

All of the Christensen children attend the now-closed Rockport public schools and are finding a need for something resembling a routine.

"I learned finger knitting in art class so I might go and make some bracelets and necklaces," said Owen, 10, who attends Rockport Elementary. 

His sister, Madelyn, 16, just returned from the Dominican Republic and has started writing letters to those she met during her travels. 

While Aiden, 13, may have gotten the short end of the stick as his basketball season at Rockport Middle School was cut short, he has every intention of shooting some free throws in their driveway. 

His coach advised the players to "keep playing basketball," Aidan explained.

So that is what he will do, virus or no virus. 

Getting creative outside the classroom

As parents brainstorm creative ways to engage their children in new learning styles, two friends have created an online platform to diversify their children's educational experience.

Laura Range of South Hamilton and Sarah Bartley of Beverly have teamed up to create "Cool Vids for COVID."

"During this time when many find themselves unexpectedly homeschooling their kids, there is a need to safely close our proximity gap through social media," Range said.

Submitted by community members, each video is a 19-minute long educational lesson with the objective of teaching children something about the world, both academic and practical.  

For Range, the assistant director of New Hope Courses for Homeschoolers, attaining in-home educational resources is part of her job. 

"This is a part of my job but the average person doing their job, whatever their job is, doesn't have the luxury of doing some of the research that I have been doing," she said, explaining that at the same time she is co-creating this platform, her own job has gone online. 

The videos look to broaden the type of information children are receiving at home and promote social skills through watching videos made by familiar faces, creating videos themselves and engaging in dialogue — even while practicing proper "social distancing" protocol. 

"Our kids are about to need connection to their people. They're about to need homeschooling and we have to keep working our day jobs," Sarah Bartley posted on Facebook. "Kids learn best from people they love."

"If my kids were watching videos from people that they know from church or school that teach them something, No. 1, it is providing teaching that is not from me and it is also is creating social interaction spaces," Range explained. 

As Range explained the different types of lessons people have submitted, music could be heard from over the phone. 

"My mom is Skyping a music lesson with Evan right now and they are doing a recorder session," Range laughed. 

Range and Bartley have already seen an increase in participation from their community, with videos ranging from bird watching to crocheting to even counting in Spanish using eggs. 

While their group is private for safety reasons, Range sees the idea as possible for families across the Cape Ann and North Shore area.

"While there are limitations, I think there are opportunities that we shouldn't miss," Range said.

Staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com

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