A summer for modified adventures

Families adapt to continuing closures, social-distancing requirements

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

A summer for modified adventuresLast summer, News Review Correspondent Christina MacGregor spent several weeks sharing with her five children the free and low-cost experiences offered by the Ridgecrest Branch Library, Historic USO Building, Maturango Museum, Kerr McGee Center and the Freedom Park Splash Pad.

Once she finished writing a series about their adventures, her takeaway was that we have abundant opportunities for families in search of a diverse slate of activities appealing to a wide variety of ages and interests.

This year, with the exception of the splash pad (scheduled for a modified reopening), most of those facilities remain shuttered. And parents face new challenges in how to keep their children occupied in safe and healthy amusements.

“I think it is okay to acknowledge that this is a tough time,” said MacGregor. “But it’s also good to look for those opportunities that we would not have necessarily found if we didn’t find ourselves in these circumstances.”

MacGregor’s youngest is 18 months, and her eldest is 8. “Everyone has cabin fever. I think me more than anybody!”

She recalled that, as a child, she would go outside and find something to amuse herself. “As an adult, you’re more limited. But as a family we have found a lot of new things to do together.”

One is the “Paint Along With Paco” series on youtube, which allows children to watch the titular sloth paint something, then follow up the lesson by creating their own.

“There are also a lot of online activities we have found through Facebook,” she said. “I’m sure it’s not as fun as going to the museum or the library, but we are still having a lot of fun.”

Toward the beginning of quarantine, MacGregor reconnected with her creative side during the “Chalk Your Walk” trend. Her children followed suit, and have turned to painting, coloring and drawing as some of their favorite activities.

“I think there is something very therapeutic about art. I know it helps me relieve stress, and I think it helps the children, too. Their interest has definitely increased. I noticed that, without my prompting, that’s one of the things they get out and enjoy on their own.”

Her eldest daughter, Ariadne, was introduced by her teacher to the “Seek” app, which allows you to identify different flora and fauna through the camera app. “She loves going out and taking pictures of plants and animals in the desert, and then coming home and drawing pictures in her journal. With the Seek app, we can figure out the names of everything really easily.”

Amber Petersen and her three children, ages 2, 5 and 7, have also found ways to modify some of their traditional favorites. At the beginning of the summer, Ridgecrest United Methodist Church adapted their Vacation Bible Study to a take-home-study program.

“Amy Ochoa provided different activities for each day, and there were videos that went with each one,” said Petersen. “I think it was a good way to include some structure and give a sense of interaction.”

She has also leveraged the Zoom platform to help her children stay in touch with families and friends. “They also have pen-pals to keep up with people. But we do get bored quickly some days!”

Petersen said one of the ways she keeps things interesting is by finding different recipes for them to make each morning before it gets too hot. They have also blocked off their driveway and drawn traffic patterns so the kids can ride their bikes. Their garage has also been converted to a Lego sanctuary.

“We fly kites, build paper airplanes, things like that. But I have also found this is a good opportunity to focus on basic chores. The older kids can help fold clothes or load the dishwasher.”

Adam McGee, father of 10- and 11-year-old girls, has also found that chores are a good way to provide structure and a way to empower his daughters.

“This is an interesting time we are living through. Definitely a lot of things have changed. But I think this is also a great opportunity for some families to reconnect with each other — listen to what your children are interested in and experience things together.”

One of the things he learned his children wanted to try was making slime. “They made the list of ingredients and helped plan and execute the endeavor. Going through step-by-step was also a good exercise in communication for us.”

McGee said he also took advantage of their time together to tackle some even more involved projects. Since his girls wanted to learn how to target shoot, he devoted about a week to the safety protocol and instruction that goes into firearm training. “We spent a couple of days going over all of the education involved, then I allowed the girls to go through the mechanical operations through dry firing. Then we went shopping for all the right protection for their eyes and ears. It was a great experience for us.”

The girls are also involved in music, art, and reading throughout the summer. Together, Adam and his girls are reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

“It’s pretty intense reading, but the high-concept vocabulary gives us a lot to talk about. And then those discussions lead to deeper conversations. What is the writing conveying in the story he is telling? How does this relate to our lives?”

“This has been a really big change for our family,” said Kristen Barney, mother of five children ages 5 to 14.

“One of the strangest things about our situation is that it feels like the kids already had summer! They were home for the last two or three months of school, so every day were looking for things to do from home. Now that summer is actually here, I feel like I have run out of ideas!”

While school was in session, her husband was under the shelter-at-home guidelines for work. So the two of them broke down their day into one-hour time blocks for meals, reading, exercise and other activities. “That actually made it a lot easier to manage things so you don’t end up with everyone stuck on a device all day.”

Family walks and bike rides were among the favorites. But as time went on their pursuits got more creative — like coordinating scavenger hunts or filming home “documentary” movies.

“One really fun thing that Brandon’s family was doing was on the Marco Polo app, which they had us download.”

The application allows users to record videos that can be shared with friends and family. “So his mom would use that to give the kids different challenges each week. Like one week they had to create a ‘monster’ out of things around the house, write a backstory, and then shoot a video of their monster to send back to her.”

That led to her children translating that into new challenges for themselves — like the popular “find the moody teenager” hunt.

Briahlen and Andre Havan have a 5-year-old daughter to keep occupied. Bri takes her on “adventures” to the Pinnacles or the Pacific Crest Trail or other remote locations on the weekends, but Andre is the activities director during the rest of the week.

“The loss of the park has definitely hurt,” he said. “I was surprised to discover how much she liked the little things like going to the store. You wouldn’t think something like that would be such a big adjustment for her.”

Andre noted that their daughter is highly self-sufficient, so she doesn’t seem to mind finding ways to amuse herself. She continues to flex her imagination outside — “but that’s getting tough, too, as it’s getting hotter out” — and delights in collecting rocks of all shapes and sizes and colors. So long as the sun isn’t boiling the water, the splasher pool provides another outdoor amusement.

When indoors, they take advantage of the virtual activities and resources shared by the Faller State Preschool. “One of the cool trends I saw was hanging party streamers in hallways so they are laid out like a lazar grid. Then you have to get through them without touching them.”

Andre will blindfold himself for a housebound “Marco Polo” game. “She’s pretty good, actually. Although I’m pretty sure she cheats a little.”

Every game and activity can also be integrated with educational components, he noted. When they play catch, he includes a word-association game. “I say ‘duck,’ she says ‘goose,’ I say ‘feather,’ she says ‘pillow.’”

He agreed with the other parents who found that breaking down the day into a regimented schedule helps change up the day without making things too dull.

Marla Cosner and her three teenagers are also missing some of their summer staples. “There are definitely challenges, with typical indoor activities impacted by both COVID and the earthquakes.” Once you factor in the ever-increasing temperatures, “the most missed for us are the library and the movie theater.”

However, they have taken advantage of the opportunity to pick up some of the hobbies they didn’t have a lot of time for before — archery, crochet, guitar, home-made music videos, rock-painting and hiking. “Oh — also family movie marathons!”

Cosner is a founding member of the Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society, and typically directs a children’s show each year. That didn’t happen this year, but her children did get to compete in the RMES virtual sing-off — which attracted dozens of competitors and hundreds of viewers.

Cosner, along with many of the other families who shared their experiences, acknowledged how the quarantine has increased their appreciation of meaningful relationships. “I think the most interesting hobby that emerged was that my kids started exchanging regular letters via e-mail with their friends in town when they couldn’t see them.”

Whatever else has been lost during this challenge, many of these new habits are sure to follow these families into the future.

Pictured: Ariadne MacGregor indulges in art as a creative and therapeutic outlet. -- Photo by Christina MacGregor

Story First Published: 2020-06-12