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MICRO — When Johnston County schools said they would close for at least two weeks, Donna Talton delivered the news to her sons, Joshua, 7, and Jacob, 10.
“I also told them there was a chance they might not be returning to school this year,” she said.
Schools, of course, aren’t alone in shutting down because of the coronavirus, and Talton had to deliver that news too.
“I had to tell them the baseball season, Boy Scouts and family camping trips would be canceled,” she said.
With school and activities halted, the Talton boys suddenly have a lot of time on their hands, so Talton and her husband, Rob, hatched a plan to keep their sons busy with a mix of work and play.
“My main objective is to keep them occupied and engaged in a routine,” Talton said.
That routine includes school work, and Talton, a teaching assistant at Pine Level Elementary School, knows she has a leg up there. “I realize I am fortunate to be working in the school system and was able to get together with some teacher friends who helped me put together a list of educational websites,” she said.
March 16 was the first day her sons were out of school. That day, Talton and Jacob ran errands, which included shopping for groceries at the Town Market in Pine Level.
“When we got home, we sanitized everything and washed our hands,” Talton said.
Later, Jacob helped vacuum the house, while Joshua gave his mom a hand with dinner and cleaned up the dishes afterward.
“I like washing dishes” Joshua said.
Both boys also helped with the laundry, pulling clothes from the hamper and putting things away when they were dry.
Early on, the boys’ days have been varied, Talton said. The family walks or rides bikes in the evenings, often accompanied by Trevor, the family’s 9-year-old chocolate Lab. On March 18, their third day home from school, the boys helped mom clean and straighten the garage. On another day, kids in the neighborhood come over for play in the backyard, and her sons have said they want to keep planting a garden, which they did last year, using plastic swimming pools as planters.
The boys also have their separate interests. Jacob said he plans to color in a digital coloring book during the break. Joshua said his favorite reads are “The Book with No Pictures” and selections from the Magic Treehouse series.
By day four of what might be an extended break from school, things were going well, Talton said. “So far, so good” she said, adding that whenever she thinks her sons are getting bored, she quickly changes the routine.
Still, Jacob misses Micro Elementary School, where he is on the Battle of the Books team. “I wish I could go to school seven days a week,” he said.
The Taltons, of course, have plenty of company when it comes to adjusting to life without school.
At Four Oaks Elementary last Wednesday, teachers Sarah Lewis and Elizabeth Raynor were among the staff serving grab-and-go meals to students. Both are also parents of children in the Johnston County schools.
“For the last few days, they have been on electronics until their eyes crossed,” Lewis said of her three kids, ages 7, 11 and 15.
That changed on Wednesday. “Today, they got to do whatever they wanted until 10, and then at 10, they had to read,” she said.
After reading came outdoor play, then lunch, which her children were making themselves, Lewis said. “Then they’re back on a math program,” she said. After that, “it’s craft time and then devotional time.”
Her children’s “school day” ended with a snack and then free time, which for her kids is time on their internet-connected devices, Lewis said.
With her two children, Raynor said she had taken a different approach to first week of the school shutdown. Outside of daily devotions, the teacher mom said she had not mandated much for her children, preferring to wait to see what steps the schools take to offer online learning.
Raynor did say her daughter had made her own daily schedule but quickly abandoned it. “I don’t know what happened with that,” she said.
Scott Bolejack contributed reporting for this story.