First-grader Bode Duggan and his classmate Luciana Pickering have fun exploring in the woods Monday on Little Cranberry Island. The island’s K-8th grade Ashley Bryan School has closed for two weeks due to the coronavirus. It was the students’ first day being home-schooled. KAITLYN DUGGAN PHOTO

Parental challenges: Keeping kids busy during school closures

ELLSWORTH – Normally, the Longs are going every which way daily from before dawn to long after dark. Aaron directs a nursery school and coaches high school track and field while his wife, Alisa Long, teaches high school science and their 15-year-old daughter Azaria and son Tyson, 12, have demanding school and sports schedules.

But the Somesville family’s daily life changed dramatically Monday when Mount Desert Island High School, Mount Desert Elementary School and Mount Desert Nursery School all shut their doors for at least two weeks.

For the Longs, like many Maine families on the go, leisure time together is scarce, so Aaron, Alisa, Azaria and Tyson seized the moment to play fittingly the board game “Pandemic.” Players work as teams to combat virulent diseases and find cures around the globe.

Alisa and Azaria also went for a run, took their rescue Lab mix Murphy for a walk, made cookies and started a puzzle. The kids had a designated “reading time” while their mom had digital meetings. Keeping a routine helps transition from a highly scheduled life to an abrupt change and many unknowns.

As Maine’s confirmed coronavirus cases continue to climb — the number totaled 32 as of Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported — Alisa sees the sudden mass closure of nearly all the state’s schools as essential to slow the disease’s spread. The action upended thousands of students’ lives — of all ages.

“We are in uncharted waters, but I am proud to be in a community that is willing to put public health in front of convenience,” said the educator, who previously taught science at Sumner Memorial High School. “When the consequences of acting or not are literally life and death for the vulnerable amongst us, I think we can all understand the decision.”

As educators, Alisa and Aaron are expert at engaging their students and are used to having fallback plans when projects or activities don’t pan out. However, some of Hancock County’s working parents, who are able to stay home with their children, are grappling with how to occupy them when most of eastern Maine’s entertainment venues — from the Orono Trampoline Park to the Maine Discovery Museum — have shut down. Bangor Mall Cinemas 10 and Playland Adventures remain open, having instituted stringent cleaning and sanitizing practices, but interacting in public is exactly what health officials are warning against.

A go-to place for families, the Ellsworth, Blue Hill, Buck Memorial, Dorcas, Henry D. Moore, Witherle Memorial and other libraries have closed to the public, but the librarians have posted online programming such as a live story time “How to Trap a Leprechaun” and Maine author Chris Van Dusen’s interactive reading of his “If I Built a School.” Or, the Georgia Aquarium’s live underwater cameras capturing its marine creatures.

At Steuben’s Henry D. Moore Library, librarian Jeanne Benedict and her assistant Amy Hall are offering curbside delivery of books, but borrowers must peruse the online catalog and call ahead. They will bring the orders outside.

“This morning, I had a vision of lowering a rope outside the window,” the librarian chuckled.

Castine’s Witherle Memorial Library also is offering to round up books, movies, games and craft materials. The staff can arrange a delivery or drop-off.

At the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, a nonprofit organization, Zoe Weil writes a blog for Psychology Today. In her March 10 post, she urged parents to explore nature with their children. She suggested letting kids record their observations and questions in a notebook with colored pencils. When they get home, they can research curiosities online or in books.

“Time in nature nurtures the best in our children,” she wrote. “Their wonder, curiosity, sense of place and belonging, love of the natural world, commitment to sustainability, patience and groundedness.”

With the snow gone and ice rapidly receding, conditions are decent for outdoor activities such as researching ahead a trail in Acadia National Park or within Frenchman Bay Conservancy, Schoodic Institute, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Island Heritage Trust and Blue Hill Heritage Trust. Or, pay a visit to the owls at Birdsacre. Acadia’s “Mud Season” carriage road-closures are in effect and there are no “in-person” services.

“Nature offers a respite for the soul, and a literal breath of fresh air,” Frenchman Bay Conservancy Director Aaron Dority wrote in a March 16 letter, noting the group’s office and facilities are closed, but its 22 preserves are open to the public ( “While we will not host group walks in the near future, we want all of you individually to feel free to explore our 30 miles of trails from Mariaville to Corea Heath.”

In Winter Harbor, stay-at-home mom Carrie Faulkingham, 2-year-old Harper and 6-year-old Carter had plans to possibly bake/cook, sow seeds, tap maple trees and paint some old tires as planters.

Earlier this week, the Faulkinghams went on a road trip to deliver bleach, Lysol and hand sanitizer to a family friend who had undergone a double lung transplant several years ago.

“We completely support the social distancing,” she said. “The sooner we can get this under control in community and country.”

Letitia Baldwin

Letitia Baldwin

Arts Editor at The Ellsworth American
In addition to editing the Arts & Leisure section, Letitia edits special sections including Out & About, Overview, Health Quarterly, Your Maine Home, House & Garden and Get Ready for Winter. She comes from Chicago, Ill, but has deep family ties to the Cranberry Isles. [email protected]
Letitia Baldwin

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