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Having fun with virtual education

Negaunee kindergarten teacher finds creative ways to teach kids

Ally Solander and her children, August and Margo, learn “Skittle science” at home during the statewide school closure. Solander is a teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee. (Photo courtesy of Ally Solander)

NEGAUNEE — It might be easy for kids to think that staying at home during the COVID-19 crisis would be an excuse to just have fun and not learn.

They actually can accomplish both.

Ally Solander, a kindergarten teacher at Lakeview Elementary School, is teaching her two children, August, 5, and Margo, 2, at home because of the order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to close schools throughout the state until the crisis lets up, whenever that will be.

Some structure was needed, Solander said, because her kids are so young.

“We wanted to keep them on a schedule, and it helps us not to just sit around all day,” Solander said.

The day, she said, is broken into playtime with no television.

“We try to get outside every day,” Solander said.

However, that’s not possible all the time. Friday’s blustery, snow day was one example.

Solander, of course, focuses on actual learning.

“There’s two chunks of it,” she said. “Because my kids are so little, there’s a 45-minute chunk and then we have about an hour-chunk.”

Solander brought her iPad home from school, which comes in handy for educational games.

Several activities were “fireworks in a jar” and “Skittle science” that dealt with mixing colors — activities that likely were fun whether they be in a classroom or at home.

As shown on her own Facebook page, jar fireworks can be accomplished by mixing oil and food coloring in glass, and pouring that mixture into a jar of water.

“Thanks for the entertainment! You guys rock!” one Facebook user posted.

Traditional subjects, of course, are part of the Solander at-home curriculum.

“We’re doing math and letters and reading every day,” Solander said.

There are some diversions too.

Solander said she works in “chore time” when those tasks are worked into the day, but there’s also “screen time” since her son is big into Super Mario Brothers racing on the Nintendo Wii.

It helps that Solander’s a professional teacher, although she still has to communicate with her regular students.

So, on Facebook she uploads links about topics relevant to the situation, such as links to businesses who are giving free time on their apps throughout the crisis.

Solander also shares videos from home — and gives encouragement.

Her Wednesday post read: “While you are homeschooling/remotely/digitally educating your kids, if you need assistance with understanding something that has been assigned for your child, or if you need more resources, or how to navigate these learning platforms, just give me a shout.

“I am a kindergarten teacher. I’ll be happy to answer questions and if I don’t know it, I know people who do.

“We WILL get through this! #bettertogether.”

Parents can share their ideas too.

“We’re all looking for things to keep our kids engaged and busy,” Solander said.

The crisis interfered with the school’s dress-up days for March Is Reading Month, so she invited parents to keep up with that activity at home and load their photos on Facebook.

“That’s been a lot of fun to see the kids, and they’ve enjoyed seeing me and my kids and my husband,” Solander said.

Her husband, Bryan, teaches seventh-grade geography at Negaunee Middle School.

“I think routine and structure are needed — for both our kids and us as adults,” he said in an email.

There are challenges to remote learning, but there are advantages as well, such as one-on-one education.

For one thing, the at-home schooling has allowed her daughter, who is in day care, to be exposed to school.

“As a teacher, I get home from a long day at work, and I don’t really want to do a lot of schoolwork with my son, and he’s been at school all day,” Solander said. “We read books and stuff, but having this time with him and seeing how great he’s doing — I think he’s totally ready for kindergarten.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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