Thinking Outside the Box While Distancing

Today marks three weeks since most of us put our normal lives on hold and headed indoors to distance ourselves while COVID-19 impacts our corner of the world. Kids’ schools and many work offices closed, national and recreational sports stopped, our local “non-essential” stores shut their doors, hopefully just temporarily. While we’ve all had to make huge adjustments, I am amazed by the ingenuity of so many people and places that didn’t just give up, but instead thought “outside the box” to how they can keep things moving, for themselves, their families, their students, and their customers. There are many museums and places that have created tours of their exhibits, etc. (many of them highlighted in Jaime’s post here), but I’d like to highlight some incredible ingenuity that I’ve seen right here in the Madison area that has developed just over the past three weeks. Here are just a few I can think of:

1) Schools: The first thing that comes to mind is the Madison schools. I think that anyone with kids in the school district will agree that the teachers are doing a great job keeping the kids connected with meaningful work, in addition to providing ways to have fun! Both my kids are at Madison Junior School. I know over the past few years, the teachers have had several training session by experts in Google Classroom, and it is pretty obvious that they are using what they have learned to teach our kids remotely. From using Google forms to Google Slides to Google Meets to FlipGrid movies for assignments, my kids are engaged in the work. Just for fun, the past two Wednesday nights at 7pm, the teachers have also coordinated a Family Trivia Night with an online Gimkit competition. All the Madison School District instrumental teachers have coordinated an outdoor practice time. Be sure to open your windows or head outdoors at 3pm every Thursday to be treated to orchestra and band songs being practiced outside! I’ve heard amazing things from friends with kids in the elementary and high schools, too. Mr. Liss, the principal at CAS, has uplifting morning video announcements each morning. They have also had theme days, like Hawaiian Day and Crazy Sock Day, and parents can post photos of their kids doing their schoolwork while dressed in theme. The retired librarian, Mrs. Stein, even posted a video of her doing a Hawaiian-themed read-aloud while decked out in her Hawaiian gear with tropical-themed props. The high school kids have full days of classes, following their usual bell schedule and have work to do in each time block. Group collaborative projects are being worked on remotely.

I keep thinking about how things would have been different if this happened 30-some years ago when I was in middle school. We would possibly have gotten a mimeographed packet of worksheets and been told “good luck”! Now the kids are connected with their teachers and classmates throughout the day!

2) Restaurants: Anyone who has been on Madison Area Parents and Community (Original) Facebook page will know that many of the Madison restaurants have a full array of take-out options available for pick-up (and some for delivery). Even McCool’s Ice Cream is doing take-out! The most current list I have been able to find is below, though I know this is a bit outdated. Bottle Hill Tavern, for example, has just announced that they are shutting down temporarily. Shifting from mostly dine-in to only take-out has been a major adjustment to many, I’m sure, but customers have been raving about the food on Facebook (and not having to cook yet another meal at home), and hopefully this will help the restaurants stay afloat. Even caterers, whose usual business has been decimated by the group gathering cancelations, have thought of new ways to do business. Divine Catering, for example, is now taking orders for meats, produce, dairy, and other food items and making weekly home deliveries in the area. (Email Tom Sturdevant at for details.)

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention FLAG—Front-Line Appreciation Group of Chatham and Madison, which I wrote about in my blog last week. This group, started by two moms in Chatham and Madison, has raised over $95,000 to date, bought more than $20,000 worth of meals from local restaurants, and supplied more than 3,000 meals to front line workers over the past two weeks. They have even helped FLAG groups start all over the country! Check out the interview with them on Fox News.

3) Retail Stores: The other day I took a jog down Main Street. It was so sad to see all the stores closed, with signs in their doors saying that they are closed until further notice. Often, though, the next line on the sign would say something like “We are keeping our current merchandise on our Web site, and you may place an order online for delivery or pick up.” Many of these brick-and mortar stores rely on foot traffic, and don’t have much of an online presence, but they are trying to find new ways to get their products to their customers. I called Tons of Toys the other day, asking if they had certain toys my daughter wanted. They took my number and then texted me four photos of different toys like I described. She decided on two of them, and then asked about another one, and John quickly searched the shelves and sent me another photo. Once she made her final decision, he called me and took my credit card number. We went for a walk later in the day, called them when we got to the store, and they brought it out to us! Incredible service!

4) Art and Craft Centers and Museums: Mud Clay Studio, Crafted, and Glassworks (Morristown) have all created at-home kits to keep kids (and adults) creative and crafting. Mud Clay Studio has “Curbside Clay” kits you can purchase for $35 (and pick up in front of Tons of Toys), and then create your project at home—a pinch pot, coil pot, bird house, mug or plate. They also just started Private Kids Claydates, Ladies Night “In” on Zoom, and Private Claydates on Zoom at Home, where you set up a time to Zoom with a Clay Artist who walks your group through the projects! Crafted in Madison has $25 “Crafted @ Home Craft Packs” for ages 3-7 that you can order online, and then either do no-contact pick-up or they can deliver within Madison. Glassworks glass fusing studio in Morristown has “Glass to Go” kits (including kid kits) that can be shipped or picked up. Check the Web site for great project options! Talk about thinking outside the box!

The Museum of Early Trades and Crafts has created a great “METC at Home” page that includes recipes including homemade butter and playdough, coloring pages you can print off, crafts you can make at home, old fashioned games, and more to help kids learn about New Jersey’s early trades.

5) Lessons/Practices: My daughter’s virtual singing lessons have been going great! After a quick set-up check of the microphone settings by the teacher, she was good to go! Her teacher, Tom Sellwood, is offering a free 30-minute online lesson to anyone (ages 8 to adult) who would like to try it. He also does “Mr. Tom’s Midday Song” posts of him singing and playing cheery songs on the piano. See his Facebook page Sellwood Studio of Performing Arts for details on both. Becca’s theater group, Spotlight Kids Company is also posting Facebook Live dance lessons. Check out the SKC Facebook page for times. One of Becca’s friends is taking her Tae Kwon Do lessons virtually. And another is doing Zoom piano lessons. My husband has been taking private guitar lessons with Mike Dennis of Madison NJ Guitar lately, and now he does the lessons via Zoom, which is going well! Many sports groups are adjusting, too. The Madison Soccer Club Facebook Page is posting instructional videos from coaches and trainers to help kids keep up their skills.

6) Meetings: Over the past two weeks, my sixth grade Girl Scout troop has had two Zoom meetings. In the first one, the girls shared ways they are taking care of themselves and also helping their families and community during this unreal time. The second one was more of a show-and-tell where the girls talked about and showed different family cultural and religious traditions. The girls shared about the Passover Seder plate, Greek Orthodox Easter, Catholic Easter/Lent, and Japan’s Girls Day. Though I think they liked the discussion topics of the meetings, I know they especially liked seeing each other! It was just like they were walking through the halls at school and able to say hi to each other! The meetings were filled with smiles, them showing each other their pets, and showing the art projects they have completed while they have been home.

7) Family Gatherings: Zoom has been incredible for keeping people connected. We had a Zoom gathering with both sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles. Passover is in a few weeks, and we plan to do a virtual Seder, too! (If you are looking for tips on how to host a virtual Seder, visit: Some of these tips might help with virtual Easter family gatherings, too! It will definitely be a bit different than years past, but we’ll remember this year as the one we adjusted and learned how to stay connected even when we could not physically be together. It will make all future holidays when we can be together that much sweeter.

8) Religious Services and Classes: I know that many churches and other places of worship are now doing services online. Our temple, Temple B’Nai Or in Morristown has Friday night services on Zoom, Saturday morning Torah discussions, other discussion groups, and Sunday Hebrew school all on Zoom! Last Sunday, each students in my daughter’s sixth grade religious school class presented a family artifact during their Zoom class time. And since it was all recorded, they are planning on sending it to the Jewish Museum in NYC to be included in their archives.