Manitoba mom’s tickle trunk inspires learning at home throughout pandemic

By | June 21, 2020

For the past few months of the pandemic, a rural Manitoba mom has been getting dressed up in a costume everyday.

Janice Friesen has been literally getting into different characters while also wearing a teacher’s hat to deliver daily lesson plans at home during the COVID-19 crisis.

Much like tens of thousands of Manitoba parents and guardians, the first three days of trying to get her five-year-old son to sit down to do schoolwork at their family home in the small community of Neubergthal, Man., located 93 kilometres south of Winnipeg, was a struggle.

On the fourth day, Friesen decided to try something different to hold her son’s focus, she said to host Emily Brass during a phone interview on CBC’s Radio Noon on Friday.

“When I’m dressed up, I’m the teacher,” she told him, “and he went along with it.”

A resourceful Manitoba mom turned to innovative costume ideas to motivate her children during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Janice Friesen)

His attitude flipped when they got the costumes involved.

“It made a big difference, at first, anyway,” she said.

For the next 50 days, she transformed into the likes of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, Cruella De Vil of Disney’s 101 Dalmations and Napoleon Dynamite of the 2004 comedy.

Friesen had only planned to do it for a couple of weeks while under the impression the closures would end soon. When in-school classes were suspended indefinitely in March, and then extended until the end of the school year, she just kept going with it.

She started each morning by handing the first assignments out to her son and older daughter. While they were busy with school stuff, she got ready.

Dressing up

Friesen spent five minutes to an hour getting ready each day. Sometimes, it was just a wig and a pair of shoes. Other times it was a full makeover and she had to be resourceful.

Her family’s tradition of themed gatherings have finally paid off, she said, as she already had most of the garb and random supplies in her possession.

WATCH | CBC’s Holly Bernier speaks with Janice Friesen about why she decided to don a new look each day: 

Janice Friesen of Neubergthal, Man., makes at-home learning more fun with her tickle trunk. 2:57

The idea of coming up with a new costume and figuring out how to put it all together made things both fun and challenging for her. Friesen watched online tutorials to learn new hairstyles and makeup tricks that she had never tried before.

“It was just kind of fun to challenge myself with something I didn’t think I could do.”

Janice Friesen dug into her tickle trunk to help keep her kids motivated during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Janice Friesen)

One day, after applying foundation and painting over her eyebrows, the effect reminded her husband of a Star Trek character, and she jumped on the idea.

“I was like, done. I’m going to Google Star Trek characters and see if I can do this,” she said, and that led to her dressing up as Data.

Dressed as Data from Star Trek, this was one of the many costume ideas Janice Friesen came up with on the fly since school was suspended in mid-March. (Supplied by Janice Friesen)

For an Avatar costume, Friesen said the blue paint was made using eyeshadows and eyeliner.

Janice Friesen said she made paint out of makeup for this Avatar costume. (Supplied by Janice Friesen)

Making the best of tough times

To begin with, none of Friesen’s family were too thrilled about home-schooling.

On that first day of getting into costume, Friesen’s older daughter asked her “why do you look like that?”

Eventually both kids got into it, too, and sometimes they even would even partake in getting into quirky getup along with their mother.

“I wasn’t really excited to do teaching, and they weren’t excited to be at home,” she said.

“But I’m always telling my kids that happiness is a choice, and that our attitude doesn’t have to be determined by our circumstances, and so I do my best to model that for my kids,” she said.

Janice Friesen dressed up in a differed costume daily to inspire her family during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Janice Friesen)

“It gave me something to look forward to everyday,” she said.

Friesen hopes her children will look back and remember this as being fun, instead of missing their teachers, peers and regular classroom activities.

“This is less than ideal but I want them to have good memories, not sad or like bad ones.”

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