Unexpected free time creates challenges for parents, children

Families look for unique ways to fill void by closed schools

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CLAY COUNTY – With school out until at least April 15, parents are having to deal with essentially feels like an unplanned summer vacation.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week that all Florida schools will be closed to protect families from the threat of COVID-19. That left parents and students with a lot of unexpected time on their hands and an uncertainty of what the next few weeks will look like without classroom work to fill the void.

As the district determines a workable solution, parents must find ways to fill the time of their children now at home.

“I have two kiddos at home, one a third grader and one an 11th grader,” Tiffany Wagner said. “We have gone to our summer plan in that the boys and I have a daily schedule of learning, chores and entertainment.”

Wagner said she’s working from home on a modified work schedule and creating weekly projects that she can use to teach her children new schools in light of no school. She said communication has helped a lot.

“Lots of anxiety about what’s to come so we talk about it all,” Wagner said. “Social media and video platforms have been a great way to stay connected and engaged.”

Selena Gasbarro said her children are working through educational workbooks daily to make up for lost school time. For her, dropping everything, including work, isn’t an option.

Gasbarro works in the tax industry, which she said is in its busy season right now, and between her business and her two elementary-aged children at home, sleep is on the backburner.

“Who needs sleep anyway?”

Elsewhere in the county, Hickory Grove Early Learning in Green Cove Springs has its daycare doors open each day to help parents in need of supervision for their children.

“A lot of our parents are first responders, nurses, people that work in nursing homes,” Hickory Grove Early Learning director Erin Howard said. “Them not working or working from home is not an option so it’s very important that we’re here for them.”

Howard said the day care has children from infant ages all the way up to 11 years old. She said some of the older children understand what’s going on and understand why it’s important for them to help maintain cleanliness around the facility.

“We’re doing a lot more cleaning and really trying to teach our kids how important washing their hands is,” Howard said. “These are things they’re used to doing already but we’re really revving up how much of it we do.”

There are still things to do in Clay County. County parks, along with parks in Orange Park and Spring Park in Green Cove Springs remain open, but health officials ask residents to maintain social distancing to keep from spreading the virus.

Ronnie Van Zant Park in Green Cove Springs has seen a noticeable increase in visitors, too, as residents look for a way to get out of the house – and away from the news cycles.

If workbooks aren’t enough to keep your child educationally-engaged, there are a number of free online learning resources. The University of Florida has opened up its Math Nation digital courses for free during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Math nation provides a comprehensive digital textbook for Middle Grades Math, Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 courses as well as PSAT and SAT preparation,” UF said. “The platform includes more than 5,000 engaging instructional videos led by dynamic virtual co-teachers utilizing various strategies to meet a range of student learning styles and abilities.”

Code Academy is another online learning resource free for all during the outbreak and all it requires is an account sign up. After plugging in your email and making a password, you’ll have access to interactive lessons and daily practice courses about coding.

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