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Cranberry program helps with isolation doldrums

Virtual games engage children

April 18, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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Leslie Pallotta, Cranberry Public Library director, speaks to residents at a 2018 township manager's talk. Pallotta and Pete Geis, parks and recreation director, have teamed up to present Cooped Up Cranberry, a program to engage children during the pandemic.

Many adults might be happy to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic.

But social distancing can be a challenge for children and their parents, especially this time of year. With temperatures warming up and school winding down, the promise of summer isn't far away.

“What we're all looking at is how we deliver public programs,” said Jerry Andree, Cranberry Township manager.

Andree said despite pandemic-induced social distancing regulations, Cranberry Township is using new platforms to deliver services to residents.

An example of one of those platforms is Cooped Up Cranberry. A series of virtual programs and activities designed to engage kids during the pandemic, the project was launched in April.

The program is a joint effort between the township parks and recreation department and the Cranberry Public Library. Activity worksheets and games are linked to both entities' social media pages. Things like coloring pages and word scramble challenges can entertain children while also providing educational lessons.

The idea for Cooped Up Cranberry came in part from Andree, according to Leslie Pallotta, Cranberry Public Library director. Pallotta said Andree brought the idea to reach kids virtually to the library and parks and recreation department after being unable to have contact with his own grandkids.

“It's so hard not to hug them,” Andree said. “It's so difficult.”

With videos that help to explain social distancing and a printable book starring “Coronavirus” as a character, Cooped Up Cranberry has resources to help parents as well as kids through the pandemic. The program also provides parents with access to sources like “Psychology Today.”

Pallotta said a number of residents have reached out to the library for support since libraries closed across the state in March. After being in touch with parks and recreation director Pete Geis, Pallotta said she saw a pattern among township parents.

“They just really missed the routine that they had,” Pallotta said. “We realized we were facing some of the same challenges.”

“As much as we value our relationship with kids, it starts with the parents,” Geis said. “This has the opportunity to continue into something.”

Cooped Up Cranberry logo april 2020

The Cooped Up Cranberry activity library provides PDFs for early childhood education. Worksheets featuring phonics activities, Lego challenges and lessons in counting help kids keep their academic skills sharp during quarantine.

Lessons also incorporate physical development, like learning to use scissors. Andree said the program is designed to not only support preschoolers enrolled in the township's early learning center, but also school-age students.

“We want to compliment what Seneca Valley's doing,” Andree said.

Pallotta said the township will be measuring the program's usefulness by “hits” from visitors using the links. The popularity of some aspects is already recognizable: Pallotta said a video posted of story time has about 1,000 views. She said the library doesn't get 1,000 children for story time in normal conditions.

Pallotta and Geis said their departments have collaborated in the past. But they see their coordination growing stronger and outlasting the pandemic.

“This has made us very aware that we're both in the same community,” Pallotta said.

“We have a great relationship,” Geis said.

Pallotta said Cooped Up Cranberry continues to grow and develop every week, with content being added on week days.

In the future, the program will be expanded to include new Quick Response (QR) code installations in the township park. QR codes will help visitors connect virtually to elements like story time videos or exercise activities while walking park trails.

“It's going to be really interesting,” Geis said.

Cooped Up Cranberry is linked to the Cranberry Township website. Access to the program is free. Residents are also encouraged to visit the Cranberry Public Library and parks and recreation department Facebook pages.

“We'll push it out every way we can,” Andree said. “I think we'll be seeing social distancing for some time.”

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Samantha Beal

Samantha Beal