Emily Jones introduced her three daughters to "pen pals" as part of their shift to education at home

Emily Jones knew when she got word that schools were closing that she needed a plan for her girls.

The 39-year-old mother of three knew that left to their own devices — literally — her daughters would be fighting and maybe forgetting any positive habits they'd picked up in class. They were already disappointed by a canceled Disneyland vacation and school field trips put on hold, not to mention the virus-related stress of the unknown.

"They were all really struggling," Jones says. "They were bummed.

"What can I do?" Jones thought, considering options for 13-year-old Lucy, 10-year-old Poppy and 8-year-old Evie. "I'm not going to worry that much about them missing school. I need to have something to put in front of them and say, 'This is what we're doing.'"

Jones recalled growing up in the pre-social media '90s and hit on an idea — pen pals. She contacted some college friends who also have kids, and during the first days of no school, her kids put pen to paper.

"The first day, they did not like it. The first three days we were just having to battle behavior stuff," Jones says. But after a few days of writing letters, "they're doing it, and I'm seeing them not hate it."

There were some hiccups, like discovering a lot of friends don't have envelopes or stamps, so she created email accounts for the kids she can monitor, and lets them write online to some of their own friends, as well as the pen pals she connected them with.

The kids are used to having their parents at home; Jones is a photographer and actress, while her husband Zac Jones has worked in user-interface design from home for a decade. But with a potentially lengthy stretch of social distancing ahead, Jones knew she wanted to quickly get her kids into a new routine using their brains for more than watching TV.

That starts with waking up at normal school time and brushing their teeth, an effort that "gets us out of our natural tendency to be sluggish." They spend time without devices outside, and have regular sessions writing letters. After a couple days of complaints about being bored, "they actually started talking to each other."

"I think it's great for them to learn it's OK to be bored."

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About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...