Creative ways to cope and learn

Al Brown painted a mural on the wall at school at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year (courtesy photo)

The Brown family’s Easter celebration looked a little different this year. Instead of family gatherings, the foursome had to get creative with their festivities. 

Katie Brown and her husband, Al, decided to put a twist on their usual Easter egg hunt by sewing two T-shirts together and having their children, Gwen and Eddie, try to find eggs as a single unit. 

“We have been trying to have fun activities as a family that we can do at home,” Katie said. “Trying to make things a little easier.”

Finding creative ways to cope amid the unusual circumstances has been a common theme for the Brown family since Michigan schools were ordered closed in March to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Both Brown children attend East Elementary: Gwen is in fourth grade, and Eddie is a second grader.

In the first weeks of the stay-at-home order, Al decided to take some vacation time from his job with Gordon Food Service while Katie worked from home for her job at an RV center. Deemed an essential worker, Al was able to return to his job. 

“I took some time off to help find out what our new normal is as a family,” Al said. “It has been quite a shift for all of us. We are still figuring things out every day, keeping up as things continue to change.”

Both Brown children are social students, said their mom. Normally at this time Eddie would be playing soccer on a team Katie had planned to coach. Gwen would be taking part in Girls on the Run. Missing out on experiences like those has been difficult for the Browns, Katie said, but they are doing their best to find alternative activities, such as walking and biking around the block and more time playing outdoors. 

The shift to staying home has been easiest on the family’s pets, their two dogs and a cat, Katie joked.

This year’s Easter celebration included an egg hunt made more challenging via two hunters made one (courtesy photo)

Learning at Home

Now that Katie is back at work, childcare is split between two family friends, who do their best to keep them on track with their schooling, Katie said. 

“My son is doing amazing. He wakes up and knocks out all his work right away for the day.”

Gwen, however, is “overwhelmed,” her mother said. Katie and Al spend time in the evenings helping her finish assignments. 

“I am hoping she will get better at being more accountable for her work and learn that looking at assignments is often more intimidating than the actual assignment itself,” Katie said. 

Grandville Public Schools launched its distance learning on April 15. Gwen and Eddie use Google Classroom, Google Hangouts and Seesaw to complete classwork. Both of their teachers send them classroom assignments via email for the week that they work on together. 

“I get to talk to my teachers,” Gwen said. “They give us work to do at home through the computer.”

Katie Brown said online lesson plans have been very helpful. Before April 15, she had been organizing daily lessons for half the day. 

Gwen, left, and Al Brown paint the front door of their home for Easter (courtesy photo)

“We were trying to stick to a schedule by focusing on different subjects throughout the day, starting with math in the morning and then moving to social studies or creative time.”

The challenge was trying to create lesson plans and a schedule while also working from home. Now, she said, she and the family friends who watch Eddie and Gwen can lead them through lessons to ensure they are staying up to date on schoolwork.

When schoolwork is taken care of, the family has been watching movies Katie and Al enjoyed when they were their children’s age such as The Baby-Sitters Club series. They have also been learning how to cook together.

“This is giving us some family time, that’s for sure,” Katie said. “Facing each day as it comes as a family.” 

Both Brown parents are heavily involved at East Elementary. Katie volunteers on the “Vote Yes” committee for the district’s November 2019 bond election, while Al has created a mural at the school and assisted with several school art projects. 

“I am kind of the person they come to when they need something artistic for the school,” Al said. “People saw art that I was posting on Facebook, and now I help out in that way.”

The Browns from left to right: Gwen, Al, Katie and Eddie (courtesy photo)
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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio or email Hannah.

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