FAQ For Parents Grappling With Kids Homebound By Coronavirus

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Portland, Ore. March 17, 2020 1 p.m.

The rapidly-moving coronavirus has closed schools across Oregon and Washington, meaning a lot of us will be spending a lot of time indoors with our children.


Parents, what questions do you have? I started with my own, but I’m happy to add more.

1. What if I have a younger child in a private preschool or daycare? Has Gov. Brown shut those down too? 

No. The Early Learning Division — the office within the Oregon Department of Education that supervises daycare centers and preschools — leaves opening and closing to individual providers and programs.

The division issued an update Friday March 13, entitled "childcare providers not required to close during state of emergency." In that statement, the ELD director Miriam Calderon said "Child care is a critical support for working families, their children, and businesses[.] We know that child care programs will experience similar operational issues to K-12 schools, and we should anticipate that closures will happen. As long as families are working, we will support child care businesses to stay open."

Washington officials have made a similar decision to allow preschools and daycare centers to remain open. As noted by the Seattle Times Monday March 16, child care is "one of just a few commercial industries allowed to do so."

Like much of what’s happening with coronavirus across the country, the situation is changing. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Monday that her office is concerned that if daycare centers closed, it could keep parents from doing critical jobs.

“We’re working on a plan for childcare at least for essential workers,” Brown told reporters at a press conference Monday, suggesting it could come out “in the next day or so.”

Bottom line: if you have a kid in daycare, check with that daycare to find out if they’re closing. If they’re still open, these things change quickly, so I’d make sure you know how they'll communicate a closure.

2. What about play dates? They saved my sanity during snow days and I’m only hearing rules against large gatherings, not small ones. 

Play dates are to be discouraged, actually. The whole point of social distancing (the public health concept of staying away from other people to reduce the spread of the virus) suggests staying at home, interacting with as few people as possible as the world rides out the virus. A recent article from Ariadne Labs (a public health think tank) is very clear saying "no kid play dates, parties, sleepovers, or families/friends visiting each other's houses and apartments."

3. It’s nice outside. Can I bring the kid outside? 

Um, well… France just banned walks outside among its ever-tighter regulations to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But in general, public health experts say that playing outside is relatively benign, and if you must have a play date with other children, outside is preferred.

"Outside play should be encouraged, such as walking, bike-riding, and hiking," Dr. Michelle Terry, a pediatrician and clinical professor at Seattle Children's Hospital told KUOW.

4. Can I bring my kid to the library? 


In short, no. The Multnomah County Library announced it closed all of its branches on Friday March 13. It's not the only library system to make that decision. The 14 members of the Washington County Cooperative Library Services have also closed. The Gladstone and Oak Lodge libraries in Clackamas County closed due to the coronavirus. Farther south, KEZI is reporting that libraries in Eugene and Springfield, as well as in Harrisburg, Cottage Grove and Roseburg have all closed as well. If you live elsewhere in Oregon, you might check, but chances are your branches are closed.

5. So I can’t even check stuff out of the library? 

Online stuff, yes. "Hoopla" is a free, online lending service for ebooks, music and movies offered in partnership with local libraries. If you're a card-carrying patron of Multnomah County libraries, the Chetco, Coos Bay, Newport or Tillamook libraries on the Oregon Coast, the Medford or Klamath Falls libraries in southern Oregon, the Bend library, or the Fort Vancouver library system in Washington — then you can use it.

Be forewarned – even though it’s all digital, Hoopla has limits on how much you can check out at one time and how long you can have it. Don’t be like me, who immediately checked out half my monthly allotment of music in a single afternoon, in one ill-advised binge. Or do it and hope that you still like those albums a few weeks from now.

6. Are my kids expected to keep studying while they’re out of school? 

In short, yes. How formal that is varies a lot.

If your kid is in private school, many of those schools closed with the expressed expectation that remote learning would continue. As OPB's Elizabeth Miller reported last week, "Catlin Gabel, Central Catholic, Oregon Episcopal School, Jesuit High School, St. Mary's Academy, and Jesuit High have all announced plans to transition to digital learning Friday, March 13 or next week."

If your kid is in public school, some teachers sent kids home on Friday March 13 with packets and specific assignments, so they could stay on track. Other teachers gave more general advice, like “read 30 minutes a day” or “use this app to stay on top of math.”

7. If my kid’s teacher didn’t give my kid a whole lot of guidance on what to do, what’s out there? 

One of the most respected online learning tools is Khan Academy, which has a wide variety of free offerings, from toddlers to teenagers — particularly when it comes to math and science. For foreign language, duolingo is highly regarded.

You could also dig into history through the rich array of documentaries you can find through PBS, and other filmmakers. For Oregon and the Northwest, there's lots of stuff produced by OPB.

8. How should I talk to my kids about coronavirus? I don't have all the answers and I don't want to freak them out. But what if they're asking me why schools and libraries are closed, and why they can't play with their friends or visit grandma?

It's going to depend on the kid's age, of course, but there's a pretty good guide that National Geographic put together. That article notes that with very young children, they might not be asking questions and for them, there might be more risk in alarming them than benefit from explaining coronavirus. For kids who are a little older, the emphasis is for parents to "stay calm," to emphasize that the risk to children is low (but for older folks like grandma it's be higher), and that lots of people are working to get through this. And the best way for families to help is to keep that "social distance."

If you'd rather have something that your kids can watch themselves – NPR has come out with a comic. A teacher even managed to turn the comic into a video with the help of some of his students. It has the benefit of being funny without shying away from what's important.

9. What if me and the kids have had it up to here with this coronavirus, and we just want to think about something else for a while?

You're in luck. OPB has been producing content that can take you far away from the confining confines of your home for decades. So if you've done about as much talking about coronavirus as your kid can bear, how about a bit of distraction, courtesy of Oregon Field Guide.

Not enough? Even more Field Guide goodies can be gotten at this playlist, especially compiled for the discerning younger viewer.

10. Anything else?

If you want more advice on how to talk to children about the health side of coronavirus, you should check out the FAQ that NPR's Anya Kamenetz and Cory Turner put together. I love the first question: "How do I get my kids to stop touching their faces?" For adults, I feel like the best suggestion is "stop talking about how hard it is to stop touching your face." (I'm not sold on my idea being the best for kids, but neither do I love Anya and Cory's answers of painting kids' faces or putting scratchy mittens on their hands, but I get it, we're all doing the best we can...)