Families get creative with extra time at home

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Haley Ondiek hands a doll to her daughter, Meredith, 2, so she could let the doll go down the slide at their home in Jasper on Wednesday. Haley said she feels unstructured play is important for her children’s development and with the extra time at home, she is making sure they have plenty of time to play.


The Ondiek family is on a mission.

Haley Ondiek and her three youngest children — Allen, 6, Jane Margaret, 3 and Meredith, 2 — plan to read every children’s book on their shelves by the time school resumes, hopefully in May. It’s no small feat, as Haley figures they have well over 100.

“We have a ton,” the Jasper woman said. “We usually read one book a day. Now, though, I challenged them to read all of them. We’re doing five to seven a day.”

It’s one of several ways Haley found to fill her kids’ free time with school out. And she’s not alone. Across the county, parents are looking for things to do to keep themselves and their kids occupied in the time of COVID-19.

When the Ondieks aren’t reading, they go for walks around their Jasper neighborhood, head to Hochgesang Park and walk the trails there or just play outside. Sometimes Haley’s oldest daughter, Michelle, 14, joins in for those activities.

“It just feels like a Saturday every day,” Haley said. “I’m not even sure the two youngest ones even realize anything is wrong.”

Every night before bed, the family prays for everyone affected by COVID-19.

Meanwhile at the Stiles house in Jasper, Macey, 14, is filling her extra time with baking.

“I make really good sugar cookies,” Macey said.

Last week, she made a batch of clover-shaped cookies for St. Patrick’s Day, painted them with green icing and delivered them to family friends to lift people’s spirits. Next week, she plans to do it again, but this time she’ll take them to other people. Macey said she isn’t sure what shape they’ll be in, but she knows they’ll be beautifully decorated, just like all the cookies she gives away.

“I take a long time decorating,” she explained. “If they don’t look good, I don’t give them to people.”

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Charlie McCrady of Jasper holds his daughter, Gabriella, 6, while watching his wife, Catalina, shoot a basket ball as his other daughter, Abby, 7, goes after a ball in the McCrady family's driveway in Jasper on Wednesday. The McCrady family made the most of the sunshine by spending the afternoon playing outside and taking a walk in their neighborhood.

She also plans to go on a mission trip to Africa through her church and will sell her cookies to raise money for that trip once the stay-at-home order passes.

When Macey isn’t baking, she’s playing board games with her family or out running. Track may be canceled this season, but she’s still determined to stay in shape.

For people who don’t like to bake cookies but need a creative outlet, Katherine Bramlett as Mad Batter Bakery in Jasper has your back. She’s selling cookie-decorating kits for families to do at home. The kits come with either half a dozen or a dozen cookies and icing. Bramlett just asks that families place their order a day ahead.

Jasper Community Arts Commission Visual Arts Coordinator Emily Peak and her daughter, Mia, have been getting creative with the items around their house, and they’re inviting others to join them. Each Monday and Thursday during the stay-at-home order, Peak plans to post a video to the Jasper Arts Facebook page showing what she and Mia are up to. The first one dropped Monday and shows how to paint with spaghetti noodles. Up next is how to make paints out of household items.

Although the libraries are closed, the librarians are still looking for fun activities to help families pass the time. Right now, the Jasper-Dubois County Contractual Library is running a bear hunt based on the book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

“It’s about doing something to brighten people’s day,” Library Director Christine Golden said, noting that she’s already seen photos of bears from across the county.

To participate, families and businesses can place stuffed bears in their windows for families to hunt for as they walk around town, practicing good social distancing. When you spy a bear, the library asks that you snap a photo and post it to one of the branch’s Facebook pages.

And don’t worry if you don’t have a stuffed bear. The libraries posted a printable coloring page of a bear that can be hung up, too.

“It’s just looking at life a little bit differently over these next few weeks and enjoying some of the little things,” Golden said.

At the Ondiek house, Haley and her family are also finding positives amid the COVID-19 emergency. For one thing, their mornings are a lot less stressful and hectic now that everyone isn’t rushing off to work or school, she said.

“I’ve just noticed mornings are so much more relaxed,” she said. “There’s more time to be patient. There’s more time to let them be kids.”

Haley did admit that figuring out e-learning last week was a challenge. Haley teaches at Jasper Middle School, so she was guiding her own students virtually while also trying to help Allen with his kindergarten work. But with this week being spring break, they’ve been able to let loose and enjoy the time together.

While it’s a bummer that Allen didn’t get to finish his wrestling season and won’t start Little League as planned, Haley said, it’s been kind of nice to relax and just let the kids play.

“I hate that it’s taken this sickness to get society to slow down,” Haley said. “But I think there’s some good that can come out of it.”

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