With kids home from school, parents find creative ways to continue education

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, some community members have banded together to ensure young ones are kept mentally and physically active.

Many Southold and Riverhead parents stayed home from work to supervise their children Monday, a day after county executives announced that all Suffolk County schools would be closed for the next two weeks. 

“There is evidence that the virus is already present in many communities we serve, and our efforts now must be aimed at preventing its spread,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “As part of our larger social distancing efforts, we believe that closing schools is the right thing to do at this time. While kids are home from school we encourage parents to continue to follow County Health Department guidance and practice social distancing and to wash hands frequently to help contain the spread of the virus.”

The number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the county, where three deaths have now been confirmed. The school closure move was made in an effort to slow the spread. But it’s left some parents unsure of their next steps.

“I think a lot of parents are having angst about what they’re going to do with their kids,” Lauren Gilbert, mother of two boys at Cutchogue East Elementary School, said Monday. “But I also think parents are feeling pressured to have everything figured out and to fill their kids’ days with education and all kinds of activities.”

Ms. Gilbert, who created a Facebook page for Mattituck-Cutchogue parents in the district, has been posting free online educational resources for parents to use at home — like virtual field trips and livestream yoga tutorials.

As she works from home and does activities with her two boys, who are 8 and 11, she said she has been reminding concerned parents that information and resources will come to them when they are available. 

“Having confirmed cases in most of the school districts out here, everyone is kind of panicking,” Ms. Gilbert said. “We’re going to get information as we can, but I know that’s difficult as well.”

Mr. Bellone said last week in a press conference that he is working with Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and state officials to create meal programs for students during the closures, and expanding childcare options for students with parents who work.

Southold High School teacher Jason Wesnofske said he’s shifted into his teacher mentality to keep his kids, 3-year-old Thomas and 4-year-old Grace, busy during the shutdown. 

Since Grace is unable to attend daycare services at St. John Paul II Regional School, he said, he’s keeping her active with number and letter memory games and backyard scavenger hunts.

“We’re trying to keep the routine going,” Mr. Wesnofske said. “We’re trying to make them understand that, right now, it’s home learning.”

The shutdown also prompted the Southold Mothers’ Club, a nonprofit founded in 1996 that provides services for parents from Miller Place to Greenport, to supply free arts and craft supplies to parent members at home with their children. The idea came from former program director Julie Dantes, who filled a spare mailbox with arts and crafts kits she bought online. Kits are available for pickup at her Cutchogue home, at 500 Crown Land Lane. 

Program co-director Ildiko Rabinowitz of Riverhead said the group aims to provide support to other mothers — especially in times of need. 

“This is one of those instances I feel that we really need to be there for each other, and just for our community, and in general,” Ms. Rabinowitz said. 

Ms. Rabinowitz, who has a 2-year-old son, said the mailbox will be restocked with pre-packaged art supply kits based on how many kits are taken. Membership costs $35 per year. 

Similarly, Mattituck resident Tracy Foote, who has been working from home, is willing to distribute board games and sketchbooks to families in the community. 

Oddly enough, Ms. Foote said, social distancing also brings families and communities together through a desire to support others. 

“Schools are canceled, parents are home, kids need to do things,” Ms. Foote said. “Whether you’re a little kid or my mother’s age, there’s a connectivity between people sitting around a table doing something together.”

Ms. Foote can be contacted by phone at 631-401-4989.