On March 15, Premier Jason Kenney announced the suspension of all kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) classes and the decision to close all licensed childcare, out-of-school care programs and preschool programs in Alberta.
"These decisions are not made lightly, and I know they will have a tremendous impact on Albertans’ day-to-day lives, particularly parents, children and seniors," said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, in a statement. "But it is crucial we do everything possible to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19."
The closures have left parents uncertain, overwhelmed and searching for ways to keep their children busy.
"Daily life is completely different," said Sarah Surgeson, a local mom and day-home operator. "We have gone from both my husband and I working full time to me being home full time and him working from home – our roles have changed dramatically. Without day-home activities to fill my days, I have tons of time to cook (usually his chore) and clean (usually shared)."
Stacie Gaetz, who works from home while caring for her two children, said she is "an exception to the norm" as the closures have had little impact on daily life for her family. Still, she would like to address any resulting gaps in her daughter's education.
"Although my daughter is only in kindergarten, I would like to continue for her to learn the things that she should be learning at her grade level," Gaetz said. "I’m anxiously awaiting information from the school board and her teachers about RVS-recommended resources that I can use with her at home to help her continue to learn and grow."
The anxiety around continuing students' education is also felt by Surgeson.
"I have a child in Grade 11 that had a well laid-out plan to get herself into university and beyond," she said. "That is all a wash now. Even if they send her through to the next grade, she is going to be missing the knowledge she would have gained."
To address some of these concerns, RVS has created a COVID-19 Continuity Plan, available at rockyview.ab.ca/continuity-plan
"These are unprecedented times for RVS and all school boards across the province; we want to assure you that our jurisdiction will take a thoughtful and responsive approach to plan the continuity of learning for students and services to our families," read a statement on the webpage.
"Officials from Alberta Education, RVS and other school divisions are working together to ensure a common and consistent approach to learning continuity across Alberta. This will take some time to solidify; once in place, these plans will be communicated to parents."
Until a learning plan in place, RVS suggests parents utilize LearnAlberta.ca
"I think it is wonderful that companies are putting these educational resources online for free and that bloggers are sharing lists of their favourites," Gaetz said. "I also love the idea of virtual tours of museums and zoos and places like that and I can’t wait to check some of those out."
While learning is one component, caregivers also need to fill in the hours with activities.
"We have something that we like to call our Can Do List where we write down activities that we can do when we have some downtime (which there is now much more of)," Gaetz said.
Items on her list include fort building, blowing bubbles, puzzles, cards, crafts, board games, simple science experiments, painter's tape racetracks and word games.
"The activities that I find are the best for my very active two-year-old boy and more studious five-year-old girl are those that get both their bodies and minds working," she said. "An example would be Action Alphabet where we write letters (and/or colours, shapes, numbers) on pieces of paper and put them around the room, and then jump to the number two, skip to the letter B, twirl to green, crawl to the triangle, etc."
Surgeson recommends a family dance party, sensory play, yoga for kids (Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube), reading, dress-up and child-led crafts. She added, "Pinterest is your BFF!"
"Take the time to get to know your child and what he/she likes," she said.
Another result of closures is the impact on parents' ability to work.
"At this point, our future is uncertain," Surgeson, who has temporarily closed her day home, said on March 17. "We could hold on for a few months, maybe a few more if the government does indeed help self-employed people like me. But our lives are set up to run a day home, without the day home a lot of the income that goes to a larger house – extra stuff, more food, higher bills, etc. – is now going to waste."
The premier announced March 13, proposed changes to the Employment Standards Code would allow employees to take 14 days of paid, job-protected leave to cover the self-isolation period recommended by Dr. Hinshaw. However, the paid-leave component hinged on a federal government expansion to employment insurance during the pandemic.
On March 18, the federal government announced its economic measures to help stabilize the economy during the pandemic. The Emergency Care Benefit provides up to $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks and includes the self-employed who are quarantined or sick with COVID-19 but do not qualify for Employment Insurance sickness benefits.
Caregivers also have to contend with halted socializing activities during this time.
Though Gaetz said she's not currently worried social distancing will negatively impact her kids' socialization skills, "I do expect they will be going a bit stir-crazy and getting bored of the routine," and said technology could help them stay connected.
"Things like FaceTime and Skype allow people to come together and connect without being in the same room, and it doesn’t just have to be to say hi. You can read a book or do a craft together," she said.
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