Time out for cousins

·4 min read

The home-school bubble has burst.

Two months into the school year, COVID-19 is to blame for yet another disruption in the Parenteau family’s lives.

Carter Parenteau and his cousin-classmates are all learning in their separate homes during the second lockdown — that’s his family’s new education plan, until the curve flattens and gatherings can resume freely.

Despite confusion over public-health officials’ directives to stay home conflicting with an order that permits limited meetings between households, the Parenteaus are being proactive.

“We’re all taking responsibility for our own kids now, but we’re trying to keep the same schedule,” Anna Parenteau says during a group video call on a recent school day.

In Silver Heights, Carter will carry on with his Grade 4 reading, writing, math and penmanship work independently.

He will keep speaking Ojibwe with his parents and practising new words as he draws in a cultural colouring book compiled by his father Jason.

But the province’s code-red restrictions won’t get in the way of Carter’s land-based learning. Or that of his older brother Josiah, a Grade 12 student at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate.

With nearly all activities off limits, it’s a perfect opportunity to get outside and set up some rabbit snares, Jason says.

He has already taken the boys out to fish and catch rabbits, grouse and deer, skin the animals and prepare them this fall. The weekly field trips have become known as no-screen-Fridays.

“When you’re out there, it’s about being aware: being aware of nature, wilderness, animals. If you’re not (aware), you miss out,” says Jason.

Not only are the outings an opportunity to learn about their culture, he adds, but also the anatomy of animals and what parts are edible.

Carter has become particularly fond of deer tongue and rabbit brain; the nine-year-old likes to spread the latter on fresh bannock for breakfast.

There has been no shortage of cooking on the fall syllabus. He’s learned how to make everything from a box of Kraft Dinner to deer-meat stew.

Following a visit to their hunt camp in southwestern Manitoba in October, the Parenteaus and their cousins took their sons out to do safe deer-meat deliveries. The young boys put on masks and took the offerings to elders, speakers, and loved ones in their community who are sick and isolated because of the pandemic. They could not, however, get to relatives in Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, who are living under a lockdown.

The health of elders and at-risk family members is what prompted the Parenteaus to decide to keep Carter home this school year in the first place. The growing caseload has only reinforced their belief they made the right decision.

“It’s one less thing to worry about,” Jason says — but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy for the kids.

Kenny Kennedy, who is in Grade 3, has been crying a lot since finding out he would no longer be able to visit Carter or his other cousin-classmate, MJ Patrick-Prieston, a couple of weeks ago, his mother, Dawnis Kennedy says.

The boys have been going online to play Minecraft, Fortnite and Roblox together, although it’s no substitute for working on group projects together.

“We just have to adjust to the fact that we’re in red zone, and all the decisions we made for the school were when it was yellow,” she says.

It’s also been a tough few months for Carter, who recently learned he has an allergy to cold exposure (cold urticaria) and will have to be extra careful about bundling up this winter, even for a short trip to the dog park. He misses his older friends — both his cousin-classmates are in Grade 3 — and his teachers at Isaac Brock School.

“He started writing a book about his hunting and fishing adventures; that’s helped,” Anna says, adding they have also been approved for remote support, so they have been able to FaceTime with his teacher.

The Winnipeg School Division’s remote-learning programming conflicts with their existing setup, however, so they’ve been mainly sticking to their original plan.

Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press