Ashley Kick's kids are starting to understand why they can't play with their friends.
“'It's because of the sickness,' my daughter has become accustomed to answering her own questions,” Kick, a resident of Fort Wayne's Oakdale neighborhood, wrote in an email.
The spread of COVID-19 has put daily life in Fort Wayne on hold, especially since Gov. Eric Holcomb's shelter-in-place order took effect Tuesday. But families throughout the city are using a 30-year-old children's book as inspiration to help their neighbors smile and entertain their children.
It's spread through social media, hopping from city to city nationwide as families adapt to social distancing guidelines designed to slow the virus' spread. Families place bears and other stuffed animals in their windows for others to find while walking through the neighborhood.
By many accounts, the activity is based on the 1989 book by Michel Rosen titled “We're Going on a Bear Hunt,” in which five children and their dog spend a day hunting a bear. They pass through a series of obstacles before fleeing in terror when they find a bear in a cave.
“We're going on a bear hunt. We're going to catch a big one. We're not scared! What a beautiful day,” the book reads.
Homes throughout Fort Wayne, including the Oakdale, Forest Park and Laurel Ridge neighborhoods, are giving area children plenty of bears to hunt. Others are displaying rainbows and encouraging messages.
Bears have also been spotted in Lakeside and Lincoln Village.
Jennifer FitzSimons McKinney, who lives near Lakeside Park, said she heard about the bear hunt through social media and mom groups looking to find family-friendly activities to entertain cooped-up children.
Now, her daughter Fiona's bear Bernard, one of those oversized bears from Costco, now sits in an upper-floor window. Next to him, McKinney posted a simple message: “Hang in There.”
“I haven't seen too many in our neighborhood,” she said. “I hope more people learn about it. Sometimes little things mean a lot.”
Laurel Ridge neighborhood resident Steve Powell said he was browsing Facebook – a rare occurrence – on Saturday and saw a post about a bear hunt in his area.
“My daughter is a little older,” Powell said. “So I grabbed one of her old bears and threw it up there.”
Powell said he's amazed at how many families are out walking the neighborhood. He's seen at least 10 families on sidewalks near his home. Anything that helps more people get out into the fresh air is a good thing, Powell added.
Trista Rose Guillaume Miller, who lives in the Hawthorne Park neighborhood, said seeing her neighbors displaying animals and messages in their windows gives her the sense that there's a common cause in the community. Her family displayed a stuffed monkey in their window.
“Any community support we can do right now is nice,” Miller said. “I saw kids walk by this morning and they seemed happy and pointed at the window. It helps you feel connected when you can't connect with people.”
Carol Ann Eckrich, who lives on Pemberton Drive, placed four bears in four different windows of her house. She said she remembers listening to her sister tell the bear hunt story years before it was a children's book.
“I thought this idea sounded fun and I wanted to participate to hopefully share a little fun,” Eckrich said in an email.
Oakdale resident Michele Schnelker said she absolutely loves the idea and borrowed a teddy bear from a neighbor.
“Even just borrowing a teddy bear from a neighborhood girl got me psyched about this, let alone seeing pictures of bears pop up in our neighborhood Facebook group,” she said. “So fun! Such a welcome activity during this time.”
Carrie Mikaloff, who lives on Parnell Avenue, said her family put a bear and a painting of a rainbow in their windows. The activity is a “great outlet for their creativity and a good excuse to break out the paint and get delightfully messy,” she said.
“Like most grownups now, I'm struggling with maintaining a level of calm and strength for our children, while inside I'm still trying to fathom what is going on and how best to prepare and maintain structure,” Mikaloff said in an email. “The weather is lovely, but we can't play outside with friends. We can stay connected to our neighbors, though, by providing a fun adventure to explore that encourages people to slow down, observe the world around them, and converse with the children in their life.”
When asked how the displays make them feel, Mikaloff said her 6-year-old daughter Sylvia told her, “I think the hearts and rainbows are symbols of hope and love and people who say, 'we can get through this if we just wait it out.' The bears are soft and huggable!”
Mikaloff's 2-year-old, Emmeline, gave her mom a thumbs-up in agreement.
Sofia Rosales-Scatena, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department, said she thinks the activity is a wonderful idea for residents to get out of the house, as long as they do so safely. She cautioned residents to remember to follow health department guidelines regarding social distancing and to avoid touching items that may be placed outside.
Kick said her family loves their neighborhood and when they heard about others displaying bears, it made them feel a little bit closer with neighbors. The family decided to put a few in their windows, too. Then, they listened to the song the book is based on and ventured out into the neighborhood.
“'Hannah has a bear! Hannah has a bear,' they peered into their school friend's window. Each bear a connection. Each connection a little hug of comfort and hope,” Kick wrote.
“Bears will do for now, but we look forward to being with friends again. Safe and soon.”
• Fort Wayne is joining a nationwide movement to encourage residents to step outside and wave to their neighbors every day at 7 p.m. People are, of course, urged to maintain social distancing.
• For real-time updates, go to www.cityoffortwayne.org/covid-19.