New Brunswick

After one week of closed schools, parents are relying on online tools

When Michelle Haines first heard that schools would close, she worried about how she would keep her three children entertained and engaged academically. One week in, she said that things are going relatively well — thanks to some online resources that have helped keep her kids learning and connected.

Ironically, parents are turning to the Internet to keep children socially connected

Michelle Haines's children show off the artwork they created during a daily, live-streamed painting class. From left, four-year-old Kennedy, Jake, 10, and seven-year-old Charlee Kate. (Submitted by Michelle Haines)

When Michelle Haines first heard that schools would close, she worried about how she would keep her three children entertained and engaged academically. 

One week in, she said that things are going relatively well — thanks to some online resources that have helped her kids continue learning — and ironically, it's also helped them feel socially connected.

"I'm so grateful that we have the Internet. I don't know what we would do without it," said the Quispamsis mother. 

Quispamsis artist Fabiola Martinez, pictured here with her husband Jacob and sons Isaiah and Elijah, is offering group painting lessons through Facebook Live as a way to keep children engaged and connected. (Submitted by Fabiola Martinez)

She said her children have particularly enjoyed a live online painting class they've been taking. 

"It makes them feel like things are almost normal. And it keeps them connected," said Haines. "They do miss that social part." 

She said it's difficult on them to see their friends while on walks through the neighbourhood and not be able to get together to play. 

That's why joining other children for the daily, live-streamed art class has been such a great addition to week one of COVID-19 isolation, said Haines. 

The Quispamsis artist behind the Facebook Live event said that was part of her original goal. 

Fabiola Martinez had to cancel her private classes and was looking for a way to stay connected with her students. Her daily hour-long, live-streaming event began on Monday and runs every weekday from 11 a.m.

She said she's joined by an average of 200 families from as far away as her native Mexico. 

Quispamsis artist Fabiola Martinez began a live painting event on Facebook this week to keep children entertained and connected. (Facebook)

As we go into the first weekend under a provincial state of emergency, Martinez said she realizes that it's been "a gift" to be able to spend time with her children. 

Haines, too, is trying to make the most of the time she has with her children at home. There have been lots of walks and fun family activities. But Haines is also concerned about making sure her children don't fall behind academically. 

"The resources can be hard to find," said Haines, "And French resources are even harder to find, so it's been a challenge." 

And with bookstores and libraries closed, online resources are about all that's left. 

A lot of online businesses that usually sell their products and services are now offering them for free. 

(Facebook)

Amazon, for example, is offering free streaming of books through Audible. Its website says, "For as long as schools are closed, we're open" and children can now stream a variety of books for free.

And BrainPOP, which some teachers use as a classroom tool, is also being offered for free. Other teacher-endorsed online educational resources include Raz-KidsProdigy, Khan Academy and Sesame Street.

A brand new site, Teach From Home, just launched on Friday. It's from Google and describes itself as a "temporary hub of information and tools to help teachers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis." It includes information on how to teach online, make lessons accessible to students, and collaborate with other educators.

For those who want to stick to the curriculum, most school districts in the province have a detailed list on their websites. But not all at-home learning has to be curriculum related. 

Here are a few activities compiled with a little help from our friends: 

Fun and educational resources

PBS Kids has lots of activities — both fun and educational — for younger children. National Geographic Kids also has all kinds of interesting information that is geared toward children. 

While it doesn't all have to be rocket science, some of it can be. NASA Kids' Club provides an A to Z list of information about space travel.

Virtual tours of zoos — near and far

Cherry Brook Zoo wants to bring the zoo to you. Starting on Monday, the Saint John zoo will provide daily virtual field trips. The tours will be offered every weekday at 10:30 a.m., through the zoo's Facebook page

And thanks to the beauty of the Internet, home-bound children can explore any number of other closed zoos that are trying to infuse a little fun and education into the school hiatus. 

The Cincinnati Zoo, for example, began a live Home Safari which it hosts every weekday at 4 p.m. AT.

A different animal will be highlighted each day and children will be given a related activity to do from home. The first week of Home Safaris can be found on the zoo's website.

Cherry Brook Zoo is inviting people to daily virtual field trip at the zoo, starting on Monday. (Facebook)

Music

A free online music lesson will teach kids the basics of music production. 

Fitness

YouTube is full of fitness videos for all tastes and fitness levels, but if you'd prefer to see your gym's regular instructors, several local gyms are running live classes on Facebook. Check out their Facebook pages for more information. 

More virtual tours

Since travelling isn't possible, now is a good time to take a virtual tour of some places near and far, including: 

Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Canyon by visiting the National Park Services website

Tour a farm and learn about food production. Tours include everything from minks and pigs to apples and eggs.

A view shows the deserted area in front of the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease in France, March 18, 2020. (Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

Many museums and art galleries, including the Louvre, offer virtual field trips that include some of the world's most famous works of art.

Explore all of the Wonders of the World, including a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China.

Plus, there are great documentaries on a variety of streaming services that are educational and entertaining. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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