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Enriching Children’s Lives During a Global Pandemic

September 21, 2020.

Looking back on the last day of the strangest summer most of us have known.

Early in March, I went to the beach with my family, thinking that when I got back it would be time to start focusing on our summer inclusion collaboration with Charlottesville Parks and Recreation. I felt pretty relaxed about it, because so many of last summer’s Inclusion Counselors were returning, and one would be stepping into a new role to help coordinate the program.

These are just some of the emails my inbox contained in March of 2020.

By the time our four days at the beach were over, COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic. By the end of the week, Governor Northam had closed the public schools for two weeks, and we had no idea if they would re-open nor how summer would play out for the children of our community.

It soon became obvious that we needed to plan for a summer like no other. Our work is about out-of-school time, and man were the kids in our community out of school!

Crises and tragedies have a way of forcing people to think outside the proverbial box.

It is our hope that these three actions we took in response to the pandemic will be of lasting value to children and families with limited access to enriching activities:

  • Blog Posts Featuring Affordable, Inclusive Enrichment Activities for Social Distancing
  • Enrichment to Go: Delivery of Enrichment Materials to Families Through Food Distribution Programs
  • A Zoom Poetry Workshop

Our next few posts will talk about each of these activities, starting today with

A brief tour of the our 2020 Spring/Summer Blogs.

From our popNpoems posts.

Our first response was to share activities that are enriching, inclusive, and available even while quarantined or social distancing. I wrote up the blogs, but I had great help from board member Sue Smith and volunteers Amy Vandenburg and Lily Zhou-Mei Ji  who identified many of the activities shared. Lily even got in her car and took a picture of Beta Bridge for one post. Thanks so much to you three imaginative people.

When we began posting, we were all under stay at home orders, which is reflected in our earliest posts. We looked primarily for activities that actively engaged children and youth in movement, science, and the arts. We also included games that promote strategic thinking, creativity, and collaboration. Ideas for transformative staycations were posted three times. Here are just a few examples of the activities we found or created and shared: build-your-own theme park; sidewalk art; escape rooms; magic tricks; forts, shelters, and cities; backyard naturalists; converting regular board games to cooperative games; recycling art.

Inclusion is a core value and we made every effort to find activities for a wide range of abilities and interests. You will also find some stories in ASL and on audio files, and some movement activities suitable for people with limited mobility. We would be very interested in hearing from you if you have links to inclusive enrichment activities.

With 60 posts typically featuring 4 activities each, we feel that we have a good supply of activities to help children stay engaged in meaningful activities outside of their regular school hours. We will add a few seasonal COVID friendly activities as fall and winter go on, but will be focusing on new activities less frequently. Most of our activities are not age specific, but because of our efforts to offer a wide range of activities as well as ideas for adapting activities, you should be able to find activities suitable for different age groups.

Although these posts went up during the pandemic, they will always be relevant. They were specifically posted for children stuck at home, but most of them would also make great activities for afterschool and week-end programs. Sharing information about out-of-school time curricula has been identified as a strategic goal in our three year plan, so expect to see more links to awesome out-of-school time activities for all children in the year and years to come.

Stay well, stay hopeful, and stay devoted to making the world an enriching place for all children–Mary Anna Dunn, Director.

Poetry and Pop.2

Firework, Part 2

August 5

Firework is a song that uses a lot of comparisons to explain feelings. “Like a plastic bag/drifting through the wind.” “Like a house of cards/One blow from caving in.” Comparisons can make writing much more powerful than simple statements. How boring this song would have been if she had said, “Do you ever feel sad and insignificant? Like your world isn’t stable?”

Poets and Songwriters Love Comparisons

OPTION A. Grab a piece of paper. Write down 2-3 emotions, next to each emotion write or draw an image to go with it. An example from “Firework” might be “Sad. Plastic bag drifting.” An example from your imagination might be “Happy. A vase of sunflowers.”

OPTION B. If you’re the kind of person who likes to have suggestions, download this Metaphor and Simile Think Sheet.

Poets Don’t Always Say things Directly. Read A Blessing, by James Wright. At the very end of the poem, what do you think he is feeling? And what is he comparing himself to (hint: what could break into blossom)?

Write a Poem about Your Feelings

As mentioned, Perry uses a LOT of comparisons in “Firework”. Poets tend to prefer to use fewer comparisons. Pick one of your comparisons and use it to write a poem about a feeling.

Poets usually break their lines before they get to the end of the page. You can learn more about line breaks and white space through this video.

Option A. Write a poem about a feeling. Use a comparison to help your reader understand what the feeling is like. Use some strong action verbs to talk about what you do when you feel that way. Remember to think about where you want to break your lines.

Option B. If you need some ideas try one of these Poem Prompts. And here are great “doing words” you might want to use in your poem.

Family Staycations, Part Two

Beyond your own backyard. June 6-9

This is the second of two parts. Last weekend’s post focused on transforming your home and yard into a destination. This weekend’s post shared information about potential destinations in the Charlottesville area, or close enough for day trips. The situation is very fluid, so rather than listing open destinations, we are providing links. Check these links often for updates.

Whether you have decided dining out is a safe choice for your family or are looking for the carryout for the beautiful restaurant you created in your home (see last weekend’s post), find out what local restaurants are currently offering. Staunton has closed four blocks of city streets to enable more outside dining.

During Phase Two more attractions will be opening up, but please weigh the risks carefully before deciding what is safe for your family and your community. Social distancing, hand-washing, masks, and other measures recommended by the CDC are still critical, and staying home remains the safest choice.

For information on a few local and regional parks and natural areas that are at least partially open:

Albemarle County Parks and Recreation.

Augusta County Parks and Recreation.

Blue Ridge Parkway.

Charlottesville Parks and Recreation.

Claudius Crozet Park.

Greene County Parks and Recreation

Ivy Creek Natural Area.

Nelson County Parks and Recreation

Shenandoah National Park.

Wildrock Park.

Other destinations and activities that are partially open include:

Brooks Family YMCA.

Carter Mountain/Chiles Family Orchards.

James Madison’s Montpelier.


Check out this interactive map to get some ideas for day trips in Virginia. But please don’t let down your guard. The virus is still out there. Most popular tourist destinations in Virginia have virtual tours, downloadables, and online activities, and we’ll be sharing some of those next week-end for Part Three of Family Staycations.

Family Staycations During Social Distancing

May 30 – June 2

Whether vacation plans for the summer were cancelled by quarantine, or a family vacation was never in the budget to begin with, it’s still important to set aside a time to to exchange the same old routine for some fun and relaxation.

Every vacation takes planning. A staycation is no different. If you can’t get away this summer, or even if you can but quarantine has you in the doldrums for now: it’s time to plan a staycation. If you have a child with developmental differences, you may want to prepare for these changes with social stories or visual schedules, since changing a routine in a familiar setting may be especially confusing without some preparation.

Begin by finding out what’s important about vacation to your family. A change of scene? A change in routine? Freedom from daily chores and meal planning? Make a list with your family and start thinking about how you can create opportunities at home. Read more about planning a staycation for your family.

Engage your children as much as possible in these activities for physically transforming your home into a vacation destination. For example, do your folding with the kids a few days in advance and set the towels and napkins aside until the vacation begins. And remember, if it feels too much like work, it’s NOT a staycation. If it’s fun, fold a towel like a swan. But it could feel just as special to roll your towels up and put them in a basket.

An Inn in Your Home. If the novelty of sleeping in a new place is a named as a reason your family loves vacation, make your home extra, extra special for a week. Kids might find that rearranging their bedrooms gives them a feeling of waking up in a new space. Or would they like to sleep in a different room? Maybe swap rooms with a sibling, or sleep in a cardboard “fort” (see May 27 post). Turn your bathroom into a hotel bathroom with flowers, guest soaps, and specially folded towels. And don’t forget to fold that little triangle at the end of your toilet paper roll!

Dining Out Dining In. Probably dining out will be mentioned as a favorite vacation experience. It may be that it works for your family to visit some local restaurants. If so, to create the novelty of vacation, try some restaurants you haven’t been to before. But if weather, budget, or health concerns mean you prefer to eat at home, you can still make it new. This article on turning your dining room into a restaurant offers some great ideas. Here are a few more:

  • Rearrange your eating area or move it to another part of the house.
  • Fold your napkins like the pros. Here are a video and a set of written step-by step instructions with photos.
  • Change up your place setting.
  • And try some recipes you’ve never prepared before, or order from a new restaurant.

Backyard Destinations. Of course, there’s more to vacation than sleeping and eating. There is. Really! Mini golf is usually a vacation favorite, so why not set up a golf course in your backyard? You can make it as simple or complicated as you want. This video tells how to make a hole with a cardboard box and a cup, but you can also dig tin cans into the ground. Put some big toys near your holes to create a theme. No clubs and golf balls? Improvise with sticks and small balls. After a few rounds of golf, you’ll be hot, so you might want to visit a water park next.

What’s your favorite destination? Try entering the destination with the phrase “Turn your backyard into a …” or “turn your house into a …” Some hits will be off topic, but you’ll get some cool ideas, too. Next week-end, we’ll share some day trips that are open in Central Virginia.

Children’s Activities in Quarantine: Board Games Revisited

April 8-10 Are you bored with board games?

You don’t need to buy new games to play new games. The games you have around the house can be played with new rules.

Changing up checkers. Bashni is a crazy Russian variation of checkers that involves moving ever growing stacks of checkers around the board.

Scrambling Scrabble. If you have a set of Scrabble tiles at home, there’s almost no limit to the different kinds of games you can play with those tiles.

Monopoly Not Monotony. Ever notice the rules you play by don’t seem the same as the instructions? Ever play with a friend who has rules you never heard of? There are all sorts of ways to vary Monopoly. Maybe you can come up with some new ideas of your own.


These are only a few ideas. Look at the game you have at home and type the name of a game plus the word “variations” and you may get some helpful hits.

Field Trips in Quarantine

May 4-5 Aquaria

(That’s the plural of aquarium not an astrological sign, in case you weren’t sure.)

As you may have heard by now, the penguins are taking field trips in aquaria (that’s the plural of aquarium. I just said that, right?) Join them on their tour of The Florida Aquarium.

Staff at The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores are working incredibly hard to keep young people engaged in learning about marine life during the pandemic with activities and an animal of the day. They even have a virtual bookshelf.

Now you know enough to make your own aquarium, and you don’t even need live animals to do it. Check out this Pinterest Board to get some ideas for making an aquarium diorama. Maybe you’ll want to make two aquariums. No wait, that’s aquaria.

Activities During Quarantine: Printmaking and Foil Art

May 2-3

This promises to be a very lovely weekend, so get outside to collect some natural materials for these captivating art works.

Foil Art. Instructions for this activity suggest drawing with glue. The effect is marvelous, but here’s a suggestion: gather some natural objects and glue them under the cardboard as well.

Sun Prints. You may have seen commercially available paper for sun prints, but did you know you can make them if you have acrylic paints and a few other supplies?

We like to start every month with a gallery crawl. Visit the National Gallery print collections online to see some examples of beautiful prints through the centuries and from all over the world.

Quarantine Activities: National Poetry Month

April 30- May 1

The end of National Poetry Month is not an end at all. It’s the beginning of a new year of exploring the many gifts reading and writing poetry can bring into our lives. So we end April and move into May with a few ideas to keep you reading and writing throughout the year.

Blackout Poetry is a type of “found poetry” that involves darkening sections of previously published writing in order to create a poem. While this type of poetry often involves the use of black markers, it can be particularly creative and exciting to use colored media to create a visual artwork that interacts with the written words. We’ve linked a Scholastic article that takes this process step-by-step to lead you into creating beautiful works of written and visual art. The artwork feature today is all offered with permission from Stacy Antoville, the art teacher cited in this article. For more exquisite student art, follow her class on Instagram @art_o_ville.


We want you to get up and moving every day during quarantine, so here’s an activity to incorporate with a daily walk. Grab a pen or pencil and notepad, or if you prefer use a notepad app. Take a walk, preferably a good long one. Write down at least 5 things you see, 3 things you do, and 1 thing you overhear. Draw a quick sketch of one thing you see. You may or may not actually decide to use this in a poem later. The point is to notice details. (Adapted from an activity offered by Erika Meitner, VQR Writers’ Conference, 2019).


There are numerous audio and downloadable poetry books at the Jefferson Madison Regional Library. Temporary library cards are available online during quarantine.


Our director, Mary Anna Dunn, will be offering an online poetry class through Charlottesville Parks and Recreation’s Adaptive Recreation Program later this summer. Details TBA.

Enrichment During Home Quarantine

April 28-29 Big Just Got Bigger

Grow Gummy Giants. Well, this certainly changes the meaning of “growing your own food.” All you need are your favorite gummies, glasses of clear water, and a spoon. For a similar experiment and other activities to try at home find a copy of The 101 Coolest Simple Science Experiments ( Rachel Miller, Holly Homer, and Jamie Harrington.  Page Street Publishers, 2016).

A Growing Girl. Speaking of growing out of control, that certainly was a problem for Alice. When she wasn’t growing smaller and smaller that is. You may have seen a movie or cartoon version, but have you ever sat down and read or listened to the book itself? As the saying goes, the book was better than the movie so chose your favorite device and enjoy:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, audible. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, eBook.

Now Streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch. You may not get as tall as Alice, but still it’s a great idea to stretch those muscles, especially if you’ve been schooling online all day! Try these Simple Stretches or Wheelchair Yoga.

Enrichment Activities for Home Quarantine

April 25-27 Theme and Adventure Parks

Like Adventure Parks? This very cool activity from the Adventure Park at Virginia Beach will show you how to design your own adventure park.

How about a theme park? You can get some great ideas to get you started on creating your own theme park from Pinterest . Use what you have in your house and your own imagination to build a magnificent park.

Of course, every theme park has to have lots of roller coasters.