Children and Youth

Families share experiences during shelter-in-place order

Five San Benito County parents share thoughts on keeping kids engaged.
Parents suggested making a new recipe or involving your child when cooking. Photo provided by Heather Nichols.
Parents suggested making a new recipe or involving your child when cooking. Photo provided by Heather Nichols.
"Include the child in the decision-making process. Offer choices," said Heather Nichols on what advice she would give to parents. Photo provided by Heather Nichols.
Parents suggested creating mazes, a hopscotch game, or an obstacle course to keep your child moving. Photo provided by Heather Nichols.
Parents suggested creating mazes, a hopscotch game, or an obstacle course to keep your child moving. Photo provided by Heather Nichols.
On staying indoors, parent Rick Ornelas said,
On staying indoors, parent Rick Ornelas said, "I like to have creative activities that involve paints, sensory items, or able to build/stack items." Photo provided by Rick Ornelas.
"My son has come up with fun ideas for us to draw," said Allison Barnes. Photo provided by Allison Barnes.

As schools across San Benito County remain closed due to the coronavirus, parents who are sheltering at home with their children are looking for ways to adjust. BenitoLink reached out to local families to see how they are keeping their children active and engaged. Rick Ornelas has a three-year-old son; Allison Barnes has a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son; Kate Berryhill has two daughters ages four and six; Meghan Ross has two sons ages three and 11 months; and Heather Nichols has two sons ages four and five. Prior to the shelter-in-place order and school closures, the children were either in school or attending daycare.

BENITOLINK: What activities have you and your children participated in that you feel were beneficial?

ORNELAS: When the weather is good, I try to get him outside and let his energy out by various activities that utilize his balancing skills. When indoors, I like to have creative activities that involve paints, sensory items, or building or stacking items.

BARNES: We have many board games at home and have been encouraging the kids to play a different game almost every day. Yahtzee has become a favorite. We have plans to play the game with their grandmother through Facetime since we can’t visit in person. We also have been drawing every day. My son has come up with fun ideas for us to draw. Our first day of drawing, he chose a theme of Wonder Woman as a perfect homemaker. We are taking daily walks and trying to make sure we get outside every day.

BERRYHILL: When I got a sense that things might go the way of school closures, I bought some age-appropriate workbooks and extra art supplies. Those, along with the packet we printed from the school district and Footsteps 2 Brilliance, have been beneficial. We also take daily walks that have been great for getting them out of the house in a safe way and for some exercise.

ROSS: We have been doing our best to keep them both entertained. It’s much more difficult with our older child, who is used to being at school with his friends full-time. We have printed worksheets and coloring pages, created indoor obstacle courses, baked, downloaded educational apps, and utilized websites dedicated to distance learning.

NICHOLS: With the shelter-in-place order, I’ve established a consistent routine that includes work and play activities similar to those they had in school. In school, my son would mix masa and make tortillas. At home, we’ve been trying different recipes like banana apple bread. I also let their interests guide the scope of the activity, such as painting a picture of Sonic the Hedgehog. These activities have helped with the transition, in addition to fitting in lots of outdoor play and gardening if weather permits.

Have you established any type of schedule or routine to help your children transition to being at home full-time?

ORNELAS: We have always tried to keep a routine at home, his moods are better when he knows what’s coming up. I also try to recreate activities that are mostly play-based that he would do at school in the mornings.

BARNES: We don’t have a set routine for now due to how quickly things have changed day-to-day. We don’t want to add any pressure to our children at this time by having a set schedule. We do stress the importance of having three meals a day, outdoor activity, fun and creative activities we can do as a family, along with some individual quiet time such as reading and some school work. 

BERRYHILL: We have established a routine to help the kids get used to being home full time. They get up around the same time every day, eat breakfast and get ready for the day just like they would normally. Then they start on school-related activities while I get on my morning Zoom for work and my husband starts working. And we go from there mixing in art and P.E. with school-related items until a set time. The schedule isn’t strict, but has been the same every day and seems to be helping.

ROSS: We are still adjusting to this new normal and are staying on our typical daily schedule with meals and bedtime. As far as an activity schedule, I don’t think we’re there yet, but we are hoping to get into a regular routine soon. I have continued to work, and thankfully my husband chose this month to use the rest of his paternity leave offered through the state. The real challenge will be when we are both working while both of our children are home. We may try alternating shifts, where one parent is able to be productive with work while the other entertains our children.

Do you have any fun, creative ideas for activities to do with your children in the future?

ORNELAS: My son is into construction vehicles currently. I would really like to build a mini rock quarry where he could use his toy trucks like the real ones. Using watered down paints on sheets of paper, then having my son using a straw to blow on the paint to simulate germs spreading.

BARNES: We plan on trying photography. My father has a very nice camera for us to borrow and take pictures with. Our plan is to take pictures of the beautiful apricot blossoms that are now in bloom. With my small studio space at home, I am encouraging dancing and singing. I also have plans to teach a family Irish dance lesson! We also have plans to bake bread from scratch. I have talked about doing this for a while now with my children. I have very fond memories of my grandmother baking bread when visiting her, and I have always wanted to try it. 

BERRYHILL: I’m still working on the fun and creative ideas, I am not as good at that as some moms. When the weather is better we will be working on revitalizing the garden together. Some other ideas are nature bingo on walks, creating a video from a story they wrote, or creating a family board game.

ROSS: I have been reaching out to my teacher friends for tips and have also noticed fun activities posted on social media. Our preschooler is used to a lot of physical activity while at school, so we are making sure to get out for a walk and a bike ride as often as we can. On rainy days, we set up indoor obstacle courses or watch online exercise videos for kids. We are doing our best to be active with him and make exercise a priority in addition to educational activities.

NICHOLS: Make a chalk maze in the backyard or a hopscotch game. Come up with an obstacle course or a treasure hunt. We are also working on Spanish, so learning the colors through art and Spanish preschool books will be in our future.

Do you have any concerns going forward?

ORNELAS: The only concern I have is running out of activities because of the limited access to resources from stores that have modified hours. The practice of social distancing might affect peer interactions once he returns to school. Having no access to parks and activities such as swimming, library events, and play places that helped his growth will be delayed. Our son had been receiving speech therapy. But due to the new health order, those services are on hold.

BERRYHILL: I’m trying to not let the concerns nag at me because there’s not much I can do about it. But I am concerned I’ll run out of ideas or things will get monotonous. I am also not looking forward to all the fighting and disagreements my two will get in from constantly being together.

ROSS: What is concerning is we don’t know how long this isolation period will last or how this will affect our children long-term. It’s difficult with young children because it takes some time to get them into a regular routine, especially when the childcare arrangement is new. Our younger son has only been in daycare about six weeks and it took a couple weeks for him to adjust. If the virus outbreak continues and we have to keep our boys home for more than a few weeks, we will need to go through another adjustment period when things get back to normal. Also, my husband and I are not educators and we’re doing our best; we hope this period of time does not set our preschooler back in any way.  

Do you have any advice for other parents trying to find activities?

ORNELAS: Always try to be flexible with activities. Look into how you can influence education by their interests. YouTube has always been a good place for ideas with specific household items that you might already have. The Dad Lab channel on YouTube has great content on various educational activities.

BARNES: My advice to other parents is just to continue to show your love and encouragement to your children. Look for the positive that is around us every day. Allow your children to talk about their concerns and let them know even though we don’t know all the answers, as parents we will do everything we can to help keep them safe and loved.  

BERRYHILL: There is no right way to fill your kid’s day with activities. Do what works best for you and your kids. Don’t stress yourself out, everything else is already stressful enough. Google is a great source of ideas.

ROSS: The internet has been my best resource. The Monterey Bay Aquarium and other organizations have livestream videos, has learn-at-home opportunities, Pinterest has printable worksheets, the “Today” show website has resources for homeschooling, the ABC Mouse app has a plethora of educational activities. There are a lot of resources and information out there, especially during this time.

NICHOLS: Include the child in the decision-making process. Offer choices. Let them help with every step of the process as much as possible. Don’t let the small stuff build stress and enjoy the time together. 


BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.

Becky Bonner

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.