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Sarah Peterson has been keeping her daughters, Bree and Alli, busy with all kinds of projects and assignments to make sure their learning continues during the mandatory closure of schools. Cut Bank will resume “school” on March 30 using online instruction and the delivery of educational packets to those homes without digital or Internet access.

A little over a week ago, schools across the state were closed in hopes of limiting the exposure for staff and students to the Coronavirus. The closure was scheduled for two weeks and even little towns like Cut Bank were asked to seal up the doors of their schools. With hallways and classrooms empty, one might think educators are taking a few moments to catch their breath. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

During what is hoped to be a brief hiatus, teachers have been busy discovering ways to keep their students engaged in learning. And the good news, they were happy to share some of those thoughts for the parents and guardians who have been interested in finding ways to keep those busy minds, well, busy.

The following are those thoughts. A point to remember, these ideas and suggestions are not assignments, homework or anything like that. They are simply ways for students to keep learning, keep focused on learning and do it all from home.

First, some ideas for the littlest of ones in school, the kindergarten students.

Julie Monroe, kindergarten teacher at H.C. Davis Elementary School, said, “I believe for our littles at the school, the very best thing you can do with them is read. If books aren’t available, there are many YouTube videos of people reading stories aloud,” she said. “YouTube has something on almost every topic you want. Other searches for YouTube could be for rhyming, CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words, adding to five and sight words. Jack Hartmann makes fun songs for all of these topics.”

Julie also suggested working on their sight words. “They can take a magazine or newspaper and circle or highlight any sight words they can find. For math, they can play card games, dice games and dominoes. They can practice counting, sorting and adding by using cereal or macaroni. And for the little engineers, they can build towers using plastic cups and think of ways to make it strong and tall.”

And lastly, Julie suggested gonoodle.com as a “great website to let them get their wiggles out by dancing.”

Renee Lowery is also a kindergarten teacher and suggested parents could use the website freckle.com. “We have been using it at school so the kids already know it. It is an online learning program that has math and ELA (English language acquisition) and it is based on standardized test scores. It also gives me daily feedback so I can see who is working on it. The only downside is that students have to have the code from their teachers.” Those codes are available by contacting the teachers.

 Again, these are not assignments the teachers are demanding the students complete. These are just ways to help keep the kids involved in learning and pass the time until school doors open again. 

Hapi Seewald is a first-grade teacher at H.C. Davis Elementary School and she suggested parents and guardians “spend quality time with your child. Read, play games, go for a walk, spend time together or as my mom always said to me, ‘makin’ memories.’”

Hapi continued, “I have posted numerous free educational websites on my class Dojo for the students in my class to work on, if they would like. I have found numerous activities that I have also posted on class Dojo including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, indoor and outdoor scavenger hunts, ideas for things that parents can do for breaks, five, 15 or 30 minutes breaks, like jump rope, Play-Doh, go for a walk or paint.”

She has provided her kids, while in the classroom, with some websites from Class Dojo on school topics of scholastic, math, social studies and science. She also suggested writing notes or coloring pictures for the elderly in the nursing homes that can’t have visitors.

“Some things that parents can do at home to support learning include art lessons, virtual Field Trips, 33 National Parks, audible stories, NASA, aquarium tours, yoga videos, reading and math activities and using the first grade sight words video,” she added. 

Hapi stated there is a teacher meeting today (March 25) and they are all hoping to “have a better understanding of what we need to do for our students. This situation has so many unknowns and we, teachers, are being understanding and patient as we move forward. Many of us are using this ‘time off’ as time to research and look for ideas and different tools that would help us to teach our students online, if that is what we are required to do. So many unanswered questions at this time and hopefully at our teacher meeting we will be developing a plan and see what we are going to need to do.”

Amber Malinak is a second-grade teacher at H.C. Davis Elementary School. She offered a number of online resources to keep students occupied, many of them “we are using with students already,” she said.

Those sites include: EPIC!, freckle.com, prodigy.com, abcya.com, Storyline Online, starfall.com, funbrain.com, brainpop.com, jr.brainpop.com and Art for Kids Hub, which is an online, directed drawing website. 

Others that she offered are: pbskids.org, scholastic.com/learnathome, 50+ Virtual Field Trips, Khan Academy Imagineering in a Box, Ranger Rick (which has free digital access), Kid’s Activities Blog List of Free Subscriptions, cincinnatizoo.org, National Geographic Kids, Best TED Talks for Kids and Teens and 30 iPad Apps for Special Needs Students.

Kelsey Brown, a third-grade teacher at H.C. Davis Elementary School, said, “The education of your students is very important to us and the school will be determining what path we are going to take. However, I have had many parents reach out and ask what they can do for their kids during this time. All of our online tools are still available. The kids can use “Freckle” for reading, math, science and social studies and I can assign assignments, if parents would like.”

She added, “The kids can also get on “STAR,” which like Freckle is based on their educational level. They can use STAR for reading and math. Typing club is active and the kids can logon to their typing club account. Our EPIC account is active and the kids can get on there to read any kind of book. That library has over 100,000 books. There are also quizzes and activities that can be done. BrainPOP and BrainPOPJR are also active, but only during school hours. It has tests, quizzes, games and activities.”

Listed below are the websites for the sites Kelsey listed and the class code she and her students use for access.

Freckle can be found at https://student.freckle.com/#/login. Use class code H2EEBF. STAR is at https://global-zone51.renaissance-go.com/welcomeportal/325495. “Kids should know their login. If they don’t, they can contact me.” Typing club can be found at https://cutbank.typingclub.com/. Use class code ERXGKWC. EPIC! is located at https://www.getepic.com/sign-in/educator. Class code for EPIC! is LDK2965. BrainPOP can be found at https://www.brainpop.com/ and BrainPOPJR at https://jr.brainpop.com/.

A real issue for many kids is not having Internet access or computers at home in which they could find these sites and use them. That issue will be addressed at the teacher’s meeting today (Wednesday) and staff will be deciding how best to deal with getting those students access that do not have any means or have limited means.

Shayle Ehlers is the Elementary Physical Education Teacher and she recognized that not all students have computers in which they can pull up websites. She has offered several ideas for students, whether they have computers or not. 

“Students can do a fitness test challenge where they time and record how many pushups, situps and jumping jacks they can do with good form. Time yourself for 30 seconds for pushups, one minute for situps and two minutes for jumping jacks. Test yourself every week and try to increase your numbers,” she suggested.

Shayle said students can also go for a walk, run or hike, remembering to keep their distance from anyone while outside. Kids can also play games and sports that do not require any equipment. Games like tag or running and wrestling or doing gymnastics. 

“If they have sports equipment, use that to play basketball, football, volleyball, jump roping, tennis, hula hooping, soccer, frisbee, bowling, etc. Use your imagination!” she offered. “Play volleyball or tennis with a balloon or make your own bowling alley with empty water bottles or aluminum cans and use an indoor ball as your bowling ball.” 

For those students with Internet access, there are some great workout posters online at Darebee.com for several exercises and some yoga poses the kids can work on. 

Another online site is sworkit.com where kids can create a login and create a workout and then access those workouts anytime. It allows kids to follow along with video clips of kids doing the exercises. YouTube also has some sites with Glenn Higgins and another called Fitness Blender. Cosmic Kids Yoga and Yoga with Adrienne are also available online. 

And for those kids that love to dance, Shayle suggested trying Just Dance Videos and Kidz Bop Kids Dance Along. Both of these can be found on YouTube.

Shayle did offer a warning. “During this time of quarantine, please only play and exercise with people who share a home with you.”

For the older students, two high school teachers weighed in with ideas for those students.

Bess Hjartarson, Science Teacher at Cut Bank High School, said, “As teachers we are missing our students and are working hard to get in place the means to connect with them.” 

Until then, Bess has some additional ideas parents can use. And once again, remember these are suggestions for spending time with your kids, they are not assignments directed to the students. They are meant to be fun, useful and educational, but not deemed as homework.

“First, take a deep breath and relax. Your kids aren’t going to ‘unlearn’ everything that they have learned in the past year,” Bess said. “This is an unprecedented situation and we all need to give ourselves a little bit of grace. We are learning, adults included. So, take a deep breath and be patient with yourself.”

Next, she suggested students read, read books, magazines, newspapers, cereal boxes, the electric bill and even the instructions that came with that tool that your grandpa bought. “It doesn’t matter. Just read!”

Bess suggested doing things as a family, like doing chores together. “Take this extra time and assign chores to the young people that are at home, Yes, this is learning time too. Older kids can supervise younger kids. Family togetherness is a good thing. I will admit that in the past week, our family has had more family movie nights than we have had in the past few years combined. And that is a good thing. Add to that family meals and have everyone cook together.”

She recommended playing, designing and building something too. “Bring out those LEGOS, puzzles, board games. You will be surprised at the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) skills that are required to do all of those activities.”

She continued, “Collect and recycle paper towel tubes, cardboard boxes, old spools, buttons, you name it, anything that you might normally throw away. Then see what you can build with it. Make it a contest between family members and designate someone to be the judge and then take turns with those responsibilities. Who can build the tallest, the strongest, what worked, what didn’t and then re-design and try again. Make a marble track and see whose can go the furthest.”

And do not forget to just get outside, remembering again to maintain social distancing. “Yes, it’s cold, but we live in Montana, so we are used to it!” she said. “Take the dog for a walk, take a walk on the Cut Bank Trail. Go tracking, see how many different animals you can identify. See how many different birds you can identify from their call. Collect weather data (precipitation, temperature, barometric pressure), graph it and then compare it to data collected from the local weather station.”

If you have Internet access, Bess proposed using Actively Learn, Bozeman Science, 4-H Activities Live (see the Pondera Extension Facebook page sponsored by the MSU-Extension office in Pondera County). And check out the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities for the whole family, there is a great list of those.

Angie Lehner teaches English at the high school level. She offered, “Not all learning has to be academic. Students can learn valuable life skills such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. If they help with cooking, reading and math skills are involved in following a recipe. And if parents want their kids to learn academics, there are some easy ways they can do this. Have your child pick up a book and read it. Or read a newspaper or even watch the news on the events happening in the world and decide whether the report is biased, unbiased, reliable or unreliable.”

Angie said she has many free websites students can use during this time, all of which offer valuable ways to keep kids learning.

“My social media feeds are filled with posts about free websites and resources that are available to parents and students across the country,” she said. “You can see a current list at https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/135609/list-of-education-companies-offering-free-subscriptions?fbclid=lwAR0fFyFqnzClyxy7tlGFCH95CvlKtm-9ShHXfLzB5gVYALQyfuVQCs6wifk. And if you want something for your child to read, Project Gutenberg has texts that are available for download for free. And remember, if you have a public library card, the MontanaLibrary2go has books you can download and read.”

Angie shared, “This break, especially with everything that is going on, will hopefully help our students decompress. I think everyone can say they are stressed about the uncertainties and unknowns of what is going on with this virus right now. As for teachers, this break is allowing us time to brainstorm, connect and have conversations with other educators all over the U.S. who are in the same position. We can plan and figure out how to best meet the needs of our students if this break continues and also how to best meet their needs when we are able to return to school.”

She concluded, “This situation is stressful for all involved. Take a deep breath and know that the staff at Cut Bank Schools is working hard to formulate a plan so that the education of your child will continue through the rest of the year whether we are physically together in the classroom or together in a virtual classroom.”

All the information shared by these teachers is valuable, important and clearly shows why Cut Bank is so proud of the teaching staff gracing the halls of Cut Bank Schools. They are nothing short of fantastic and amazing!

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