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Kids Club director offers ideas to keep kids engaged at home and comments on the effect of COVID-19 on families.

COURTESY PHOTO - Caren Smith's son, Jaxson Kwiecien, a first grader at Metolius Elementary, wrote a letter to his friend from school and drew a picture of the pair playing basketball, while at home during school closures. The letter reads: 
Der scott slider
Scott im sorry that yue had to kcasid yure birthday. I miss playing basckball. mayBe I can play with you at my haws or your house. can you please send my a letter Back. 
JaxsonWith social distancing in effect and school canceled until the end of April, families may be looking for creative ways to help their children learn and provide them with something besides screen time to fill their days at home.

"In my house, we are doing different things that we normally wouldn't do," said Caren Smith, the director of operations for the Kids Club of Jefferson County.

She said that doing different and fun things, even little things, can help keep kids' minds off the scariness of the situation happening around them.

"It comes down to the household," she said.

For example, one thing they did in Simth's house this week was let their kids stay up past bedtime, which is usually 7:45 p.m., until about 9:30 p.m. so they could all watch a movie and eat ice cream as a family.

"We don't allow running the house," she said, however, another different thing she is having her kids do to get some exercise is run. She said they have two sets of stairs in their house, and the whole family is taking turns running up one set of stairs and looping to the other set to come down and across their living room. The family members take turns timing each other to see who has the best time.

 She said there are a lot of ways to get creative and engage your kids -- jumping rope, going for a walk at the "M" hill, while still practicing social distancing and utilizing homework packets sent out by the schools.

She said that for one of her younger kids, they are practicing counting using everyday household items and seeing how many they have.

Helping kids stay connected with their friends in the midst of social distancing is something that Smith said is important. She has been letting her kids FaceTime with some friends, and she also came up with a way to work on writing skills while keeping in touch -- good old-fashioned letters.

On her Facebook page, Smith shared the idea with her friends, "Need a writing assignment during the school closure? I challenge you to get in touch with a friend from school and HAND write them a letter and drop it in the mailbox," the post said. "My kids have both picked a friend already they will write a letter to and the friends will write back."

As an extra incentive, the post said, "If your child does this and attends Kids Club, comment below and we will get them a prize when we return."

Despite Kids Club being closed, as well as schools, Smith said the club is also planning some ways to engage kids at home. Smith said in the coming weeks, staff is planning to provide craft hours and power hours on a digital platform for kids and families to tune into and participate in from home.

During the power hours, one of the Kids Club staff members will lead exercises that anyone can do from home to help kids get some exercise, which Smith said is really important.

The craft hours will offer simple projects made from materials most people have around the house already. However, Smith said if a project requires other supplies, Kids Club will make kits ahead of the online event and provide information to families about how to come and pick the kits up.

The details for the online interactive meetups are still in the works and will be announced in the coming days.

"We are encouraging kids and families to utilize the (school) meal programs," Smith said. The programs won't run during spring break; however, they will continue to run during the remainder of the school closures in April.

Jefferson County School District 509-J is providing meals outside the cafeteria doors at Madras High School, Bridges High School, Metolius Elementary and Warm Springs K-8 Academy, from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and 11 to 11:45 a.m. for lunch Monday through Friday.

Culver has been running its regular morning bus routes, stopping at all scheduled stops, carrying brown bag breakfast/lunch packages. Students, parents and caretakers can meet the bus at the normally scheduled time at their bus stop, or the bus stop that would be theirs if they did ride the bus but normally don't, to grab their meals. The student does not have to be a regular bus rider to go to the bus stop and grab a meal.

Also, the Culver school cafeteria will be open from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. each day of the closure, and students, parents or caretakers can pick up a brown bag meal to take home.

Bus route information can be found on the district website at culver.k12.or.us.

Smith said taking kids with you to pick up their meals also gets them out of the house for a little bit as well.

"One thing I really encourage is to step back and think about the little guys as well," Smith said.

 She stressed that adults are not the only ones with a new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 "We will all get through it together because we live in a very, very strong community," Smith said. "We will work with a new normal until we get back to normal."

 She said that this pandemic is affecting everyone.

On Facebook, on March 17, Smith wrote about an experience she had this week going into work to take care of some administrative things.

"It was dark being it was nearly 11 p.m.," the post said. "I pulled in the parking lot and my stomach started to get an odd feeling. I parked, got to the door and unlocked it. I walked inside and I saw kids' backpacks, jackets, beanies and other items that were left last Friday, the smell of kids and staff crossed my nose, I didn't hear a sound."

"I broke down sobbing like a baby," it said. "What I would give to sit at the desk and have all the kiddos run from the bus and come inside and give me the biggest hugs with the biggest smiles on their faces. What I would give to see my staff all together."

"I know this is for the best and it will pass. I know everyone needs to stay safe but man it hit me hard. It's only been two work days and I'm feeling it. I will take this time and love my kids extra and just know I will be waiting for you all once we can open back up."


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