Michelle and Christopher Erdt covered one wall in their daughter's playroom black with chalkboard paint about a week ago.
It was supposed to be a fun area. Now, with Lindbergh Elementary School in the Town of Tonawanda closed, it's a classroom for Phoebe, 5, and her brother, Christopher, 6.
The Erdts are among millions of parents across the globe faced with the unexpected task of educating their children while schools are closed because of Covid-19.
"Don't overdo it the first week," she suggested. "We've got a slow climb ahead of us."
After schools across the region abruptly shut down this week, parents have been left wondering what to do and how to do it. Some schools, like Buffalo Seminary, are conducting virtual classes at regularly scheduled times. But most area schools scrambled to send home packets to students to complete at home. Teachers also are checking in.
There are organizations trying to help fill the void, including Buffalo Toronto Public Media, which will broadcast a “Learn At Home” schedule, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays on WNED PBS Kids. Videos and activities for teachers and families will also be posted on the WNED website.
But parents who have been home schooling their children by choice are also ready to be a resource for others suddenly thrown into it.
"In our home school experience, it's not always been just direct teaching where you have to instruct and lecture a child on a topic," said Dan DiFrancesco, the regional representative for the state chapter of Loving Education at Home, a Christian-based home schooling support group. "There's a lot of things they can and should be able to do on their own."
He and his wife are home schooling their 15-year-old daughter in their North Tonawanda home, and also home-schooled their 23-year-old twins until college.
Ruth Marsh of Bemus Point has home-schooled all of her children, including four of the 12 who are still home. She belongs to Children of Mary Homeschoolers, a Western New York group of Catholic parents.
"The beauty of home schooling is the conversations that can occur," she said. "All age levels perk up and get involved."
In the Erdt household, the children work in short bursts and take a break.
"We are doing an hour or two of work in some aspect every day," said Erdt, who teaches English to children in China and South Korea online in the early mornings.
The family bakes, or plays chess or reads together.
Think structure with flexibility, Marsh said. Make a schedule and keep a routine, but take advantage of the flexibility.
"Education goes on all the time, not just between 8 and 3 during the weekday," DiFrancesco said.
Here are some other tips compiled from parents, including those who home school their children by choice:
- Find things to work on together, like cooking or projects around the house.
- Learn a new skill together.
- Take time to teach children things they don't learn in school.
- Get outside every day for a "social distancing" walk.
- Instead of snacking all day long, pack a lunch for everyone and eat together.
- Incorporate chores, like folding laundry and sweeping.
- Reach out to your child's teacher and other parents for advice and help.
- Try to keep children in contact with their friends.
- Tackle harder subjects in the morning when children are more alert.
- Work with younger children while older siblings do independent work.
- Embrace the fact that we’re all in this together.
- Keep a positive attitude.
"It will be over at some point. That's what the kids are going to remember," Erdt said. "The kids don't need to be worried. That's our job as parents."