(Photo courtesy of Natalie Boyle.)

Staying at home is tough for kids. It might be even tougher for parents trying to keep their kids entertained. After you’ve woken up, eaten breakfast, taken a walk, colored and read a book, it’s been half an hour, and your kids are demanding something to do for the next 12 hours before bedtime. Now imagine being a parent sick with the coronavirus. You can hardly take care of yourself, let alone your kids. That’s when neighbor Natalie Boyle steps in to help. Her nonprofit organization, Mommies in Need, provides in-person childcare to families experiencing a health crisis. To comply with social distancing guidelines, Boyle has shifted her focus to virtual programs intended for families of hospital staff, first responders and those affected by the coronavirus. Families accepted into the program receive a daily schedule, printable curriculum materials, one-on-one time with a virtual teacher and virtual small group sessions to provide interaction with other children. Some families may also qualify for a weekly delivery of supplies and a loaner Chromebook or tablet. We talked with Boyle about how her organization has pivoted to provide service during the virus outbreak.

How is the program going so far?

We’re trying to find ways to be in a family’s home without being in a family’s home. It’s still a work in progress. Things may adapt or change, but we’re really excited as a company about finding a way to serve.  We’re in the middle of the test phase. We’re testing it out with four families and will roll it out more fully in a couple weeks. Comerica Bank has fully funded our first month of the program. We’re seeking funding through the end of July. We think this will be something people really need for some time.

Who is the target audience?

We focus on children ages 3-6. Older children are getting curriculum from their schools.

What feedback have you received?

So far, feedback has been really good. Everyone was so surprised that they didn’t hear their kids for hours. We’re testing how long we can keep a child engaged. We had a 4-year-old engaged for three and a half hours. That was fantastic. Depending on the age and things we do with the kids, we’re experimenting with technology to extend that time.

Will you continue the program once the stay-at-home order has been lifted?

Even after this crush of childcare and schools being closed, this is a program we’ll continue doing. We just don’t know what the scale will be. Before, if a family had any communicable diseases, we had no way to provide service. We have a way to do that going forward. We could also use this for waitlisted families.

How are you holding up?

I’ve had a fever for the last four days. The fever broke, but I’ve been on full lockdown in my bedroom and not able to help my kids. I’ve had a really hard time stuck in this room, but it’s the best thing I can do for my family.

What advice do you have for families?

I think the biggest thing is giving people in the house a lot of grace. Everyone is stressed. Even the littlest of kids see it and absorb it. Give them that free time to express what they’re feeling through play. It’s OK to be mad and to cry. Those feelings are totally fine. Just be kind and understanding and take separate space. Say, “This is the hour when we will all be in a different room in the house.” Tell the kids that [staying home] is how we’re being helpers right now. We can have fun as a family unit.

How can people apply for care?

This week, we’re probably going to start taking open applications via our website and social media. Go to our website at mommiesinneed.org.