Cayman parents respond to school, work closures

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    When news broke that all Cayman schools would close for six weeks, from 16 March to 27 April, parents were immediately on alert. The measure, aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, meant drastic changes and extensive planning for many families.

    Parents worried about how to balance work schedules with the 24/7 needs of their children. Others have been stressed about childcare costs, often in addition to private school fees, and the feasibility of relying on outside help, when all islanders have been ordered to minimise contact.

    Kenita Thomas, mother of a 10-month-old and a 3-year-old, said balancing work from home with childcare has been a challenge. Her children aren’t yet old enough for school and they require constant attention.

    Her husband is a police officer and is considered an emergency worker, who must be out in the public right now to manage the extensive community-control measures put in place.

    While she supports the government decision to shut down schools, it is impossible to avoid questions over childcare and health.

    “Will I trust [a nanny] enough to watch my kids? I don’t want to hire anybody just because this is a dire situation. That process cannot be decided in a day to find someone to watch your child,” she said.

    “I am connected remotely to my office; however, it is challenging because I’m constantly having to stop to deal with one or deal with both.”

    Thomas is trying to take it day by day and keep her kids occupied with games and activities.

    Parent Tiyen Miller said he is working to keep his 4-year-old son busy with planned learning and exercise throughout the day.

    “Having Cal learn from home has certainly necessitated some real adaptability on everyone’s part, but with every challenge comes opportunities,” he said. “We are lucky that Island Montessori has been very supportive by sending us a weekly theme with activities to maintain a bit of continuity to his learning.

    “For example, it’s been rainforest week in his school programme, and we’ve been able to extend that by doing great projects like designing and building a rainstick out of recycled materials, reading about animals in the rainforest, as well as exploring nature along the Mastic Trail.”

    He said great resources that cater to children at home have also become available on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

    Karmen Bérubé, mother of three elementary school-age boys, said she is working to implement daily routines that include exercise and lessons around the house.

    “My husband and I are taking the time to assess both our kids’ needs and family needs. We will be in a situation we didn’t wish for or anticipate, as well as our kids, and we need to keep ourselves physically and mentally healthy to be our best for our kids,” she said. “Our plans include a change of schedule, physical activity, family meetings, education, downtime, and how to socially interact from a distance.”

    While she has had requests for play dates from other parents, she said she is not taking any risks. The family has been socially isolating, as advised by public health officials, to avoid exposure and spread of COVID-19. Instead, Bérubé has suggested virtual play dates.

    School, of course, is virtual as well these days. She said her boys, who attend Cayman International School, have been provided with technology, such as iPads or Chromebooks, to help with distance learning and families were familiarised in advance with the apps they would be using for classes.

    While families can also use their own computers if they wish, she said the benefit of the school-provided devices is that they only have educational items on them, so there is no risk of kids becoming distracted by gaming or watching shows instead of studying.

    During down time, she hopes to keep the children busy with activities like piano lessons, gardening and language learning.

    “We can’t control what is happening, but we CAN control how we respond and our attitudes,” she wrote in a WhatsApp message.

    “I never planned to teach my kids, zero desire at all. But it is what it is. So, I can moan about it or take a positive path and see an opportunity.”

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