Kindergarten is already a time of momentous change for most kids.
Priorities have to be established — how much play time vs. snack time — and lessons have to be learned — the alphabet, numbers and coins, to name a few.
But the pandemic that has disrupted the first year in school for this year’s bunch has made their time of transition that much more challenging.
Over the past week, the Sun-Times spoke to a half-dozen Chicago-area kindergartners, who put the coronavirus pandemic in perspective — their perspective.
They recounted how they’re coping with closed schools and parks, the activities helping pass their time, and how they’re staying in touch with grandparents and other relatives. They shared their best advice for how to prevent and get rid of the disease — and how to social distance.
Some have an understanding of loss. Others are focused on hobbies. One scolded a reporter for working. All realize life is way different than several weeks ago.
Maryam Rizvi — Morton Grove
Maryam’s sixth birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and the coronavirus has her wondering how to celebrate.
“I liked to go to Rainforest Cafe for my birthday. But now it’s closed ,” Maryam says. “I’ve been dreaming about how to spend my birthday in the house. I want a scooter because my pink one is broken because it’s too small for me.”
Maryam wants to be a chef when she grows up, so she sees a silver lining in being forced to stay home. She’s making the most of her newfound free time by practicing her cooking and planting skills — and good hygiene.
“I have been cooking with my dad,” Maryam says. “He made some bread and some pretzels. I want to be a chef. I always practice planting with him. We’re going to plant right now. When we’re done putting the dirt in we’re going to wash our hands again with soap.”
Washing hands is one way to make the virus go away, Maryam says.
“Staying home, not shopping, scrubbing your hands with some soap or hand sanitizer,” she says. “The bottle of soap has a thing on the top, so we squeeze it so it comes out and then we scrub. I sing happy birthday to the sink. It’s 8 years old.”
- Maryam Rizvi, 5, holds up a drawing she made of herself giving an air hug, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- Maryam Rizvi and her younger brother Idris play in their front yard, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- Maryam Rizvi, 5, sits with her stuffed teddy bear, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Learning remotely has been an adjustment. While at home, Maryam has learned about coins and bills, what each one is called and what they look like. But she misses coloring with her friends and teachers at MCC Academy in Skokie and playing with them in the park. Her teachers “like to do their work,” she says.
“We would wake up and we would eat breakfast, go to the car really early, but we would change our clothes first, and then we would go to school,” Maryam says. “Now we wake up, change the clothes, eat breakfast. We pretend the couch is the bus. We are using our imagination that it’s moving, and we’re already at school. When we don’t hurry up it takes even longer time.”
Maryam doesn’t get out much, only to go for short walks — “but we stay away from each other to stay away from the coronavirus” — and occasionally to the yard to see her grandma and grandpa from a distance.
“We give them air hugs, air high fives and air kisses. I miss playing with them, hugging them, high fiving and kissing them,” Maryam says.
“I’m so scared,” she says, of catching the virus. “It’s hurting you, and it makes you very, very, very sick. Then we need it to say bye bye! Bye bye! Kick it in the butt!”
Hilde and Elsie Shapiro-Braddy — Ukrainian Village
Hilde and Else didn’t used to have bad dreams. But since the virus started spreading, the 6-year-old twins have been seeing monsters in their sleep.
“I’ve been having ‘Ghostbuster’ dreams, scary dreams,” Hilde says. “I know one of my really scary dreams. I was in the bathroom when I looked into the trash can when I was going to throw something away, and a goblin just popped out and brought me to monster land. And I was dead forever because a monster ate me. Really, really scary.”
Elsie had a similar dream, maybe because the girls watched “Monsters Inc.”
“I’ll tell you one of my scariest stories,” Elsie says. “I went to my room and locked it up because an orange ghost was trying to follow me. I ran to my room and locked it, but you know what happened? He went through the door and then turned me into a ghost anyway.”
The girls have been learning from home, including online ballet classes, since their Old Town school, Franklin Elementary Fine Arts Center, shut down. Their mom, Jessi, draws back to her dance days, too, to help practice.
Hilde and Elsie are sad they’ve missed out on seeing relatives and celebrating events such as Passover like they did before.
“We were going to go on a trip to Baltimore to see our cousins, and it was canceled because of the coronavirus,” Hilde says. “We did Zoom with everybody for Passover. We said the blessings and we talked and we ate matzah and we played a game called find the matzah. My mommy and daddy hid the bread, and then we hid it and mommy and daddy could never find it.”
Hilde knows exactly how to get rid of the coronavirus.
“Cinderella’s fairy godmother will wave her magic wand and ‘Poof!’ Before summer camp.”
Natasha Norwood — Avalon Park
Natasha, 6, has a pessimistic outlook on the future of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the coronavirus won’t stop because people don’t know,” Natasha says.
“We wash every single day on dinner time, lunch time and snack time. Twenty seconds. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.”
Natasha, a student at South Loop Elementary, is getting a bit used to life at home. She’s learning her ABCs and gets to watch her favorite superheroes in the Avengers — Black Widow and Captain Marvel.
“My favorite part is having free time,” Natasha says. “I love free time because you can play games.”
- Nathasha Norwood hangs hangs on a fence with her brother John-Michael, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- Tiffany Norwood and her daughter Natasha stand in front of their home, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- The Norwood family stands in front of their home, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
But there’s no doubt she misses her old life.
“I don’t see my teachers or my friends. I just miss my friends,” she says. “I totally miss school. I miss the park. I miss my teachers.
“Sometimes we go to our yard, and we see our daddy’s mom and my mommy’s mom,” Natasha says. “They come to say hi to us. We see them in front of the gate. We totally miss them because the sad news is we can’t see them.”
She also hasn’t been shielded from the realities of the virus.
“People die from the coronavirus,” Natasha says. “My mom’s friend died.”
Luckily, Natasha knows exactly how to end the pandemic. It’s simple, in her mind, if people follow the rules.
“If people eat a lot of vegetables and fruits,” she says. “We just have to eat healthy stuff. Pears, apples, grapes, blueberries, carrots.”
Josephine Anderes — West Ridge
Josephine, 6, is using this time to nail down her role in the Boone Elementary School play. She’s the hedgehog and has to get every line right.
“I’m practicing my part,” Josephine says. “But I have to be at home. I want to do my play, but it won’t be fun without it at school.”
She knows exactly what to do to make sure the pandemic comes to a quick end.
“You have to stand 6 feet away so you don’t get germs. Don’t throw trash everywhere, and don’t go near people, and don’t go to other people’s houses, and we have to wash our hands a lot,” Josephine says. “I sing happy birthday two times. I sing to me because for real every single day it’s actually my birthday. I turn even more years tomorrow. … April Fool’s!”
- Josephine Hope Anderes holds up a picture she drew of herself social distancing, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- The Anderes family stands together inside their home, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
- The Anderes family enjoys time together on the swing set, Thursday, April 30, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Jokes aside, Josephine is strict about the stay-at-home rules. In the middle of talking about her friends, she realizes the reporter she’s speaking with — via Zoom — is working.
“Wait a minute, are you at your work?” she asks sternly, mistaking a virtual background of “The Office” for a real office. “Hey! You shouldn’t be at your work right now, dude! Why do I see other people?”
School hasn’t been the same at home: “It’s not how our classes usually went. And it’s a little different because we don’t have outdoor recess,” Josephine says.
“We did an experiment. We made slime,” she says, showing off her pink goo. “It was supposed to be glow-in-the-dark, but it wasn’t.
“I miss seeing the rest of my family like my grandparents,” Josephine says. “But I’m going to go to my grandparents when it’s a safe time, when it’s summer.”
Ayden — Humboldt Park
Ayden is 5 years old, but his expectation is that he’ll be much older by the time he can leave his home again.
“I’ll be 16,” Ayden says. “I’ll be smarter than I am right now.”
In that time, he plans to reach that goal by filling his head with knowledge. He’s already well on his way.
“I’ve been learning about numbers. Like 100. And 101,” Ayden says. “I wrote a book about how to plant Brussels sprouts.
“I planted tomatoes on the back porch, cucumbers, corn. We planted a tree, and it just grew in one week. The bean plants are already adults.”
Ayden had a visit from the tooth fairy while he’s been at home, but he fell asleep before he was able to see her.
On weekends he watches movies. And he also has taken on some projects.
“I made a piñata,” he says. “I made a volcano. It splashed everywhere.”
Even though he’s having fun at home, Ayden is still looking forward to getting back to normal.
“I miss my friends because I like spending time with them.”