Virtual puppy training, FaceTime board game nights and six other ingenious ways Torontonians are socially distancing

Virtual puppy training, FaceTime board game nights and six other ingenious ways Torontonians are socially distancing

While the city is on virtual lockdown, people are finding new and surprising ways to transpose their regular activities online. We asked Torontonians about their creative approaches to social distancing.

Virtual brunch

Naomi Snieckus, actor and writer

Firecracker Department started as a podcast to give dynamic women and non-binary artists in the entertainment industry a voice and a platform to talk about their stories—and quickly grew into an inclusive community with chapters in Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and the United Kingdom. When social distancing came into effect, the actor Joanne Boland had the idea that we should host a brunch on Zoom. We wanted to create a safe environment to chat about the uncertainty of the world, what we’re doing to cope, whatever organically comes up. For our first brunch, 20 people joined from all over the world. Depending on the time zone, some were having wine and some were having coffee. Jann Arden popped in at the end asking what she could do. I suggested an in-home concert. She did an amazing Facebook Live concert the next day—it was magical!”


Virtual puppy-training classes

Sarah Shapiro-Ward, 29, instructor at When Hounds Fly

“When non-essential services were ordered to close, we were all nervous about going virtual—none of us had done this before. We settled on a combination of pre-recorded videos with our own dogs and live instruction, which we share on Zoom. The major difference is that there’s no puppy playtime, which takes up one-third of our group classes. Instead, we’ve added a lesson on how to read canine body language and how to help your dog learn good social skills during playtime—to be applied once social distancing is over, of course. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. One client even said that the virtual format was more relaxing, since her puppy is afraid of other dogs. Each week we offer new content. Last week we taught ‘sit’ and ‘down’ and discussed the importance of early handling, grooming and husbandry exercises. This week we’re doing ‘stay,’ polite greetings and introducing your puppy to novel sights and sounds. Anyone is welcome to audit the classes under our ‘pay what you feel’ system. The only drawback is the lack of puppy cuddles.”


Virtual tap class

Erica Kopyto, event curator, and Sadie, student

Erica: “My daughters, Maude, who’s 10, and Sadie, 11, got back from Mexico on March 16 with their dad, so we’re self-quarantining at home in the Dovercourt Park area. I wanted them to do some physical activity while confined to our home and yard. I said I didn’t care what they did, as long as they broke a sweat. Sadie, who has been taking tap for years, found an online adult intermediate tap tutorial and definitely worked up a sweat. She was so pleased with herself. She mastered the choreography and kept at it for much of the afternoon. “

Sadie: “I like doing tap-dance tutorials on YouTube because I like learning new moves and steps. Unlike my lessons, where I have to stick with the group, the tutorials allow me to go at my own pace. I also get to choose online classes based on the music I like.”


Virtual babysitting

Anu Rana, CPA

“I recently acquired a cloud bookkeeping company called Gnarly Books. It’s all very exciting, but we were already on track for a challenging tax season. Then coronavirus hit, and I spent a few days wondering how I was going to work from home with the kids out of school. My nine-year-old twins, Tara and Karan, are awesome, but it’s not easy to keep them busy while trying to work full time and then some. I learned about Helm Life from a friend; they run daily online activities for kids four and up in small groups with a session leader—artists, camp counsellors, education professionals. They do fun activities combined with some learning and virtual interaction with other kids for 40 minutes. There are also team challenges, sort of like a game show. It’s exactly what we needed: a little bit of structure a few times a day. My kids are doing one to two sessions per day, and it costs $7 per class with a membership.”


Virtual book launch

Andrea Curtis, author

“You work on a book for a long time, so a launch is a big moment to welcome it into the world and thank all the people who helped make it possible. I was supposed to launch my new kids’ book, A Forest in the City, on April 5 at Type Books, but of course it was postponed because of the crisis.  I decided a virtual launch could accomplish some of the same things. I recorded myself reading from the book, and I’ve already reached more people on Facebook and Instagram than I invited to the physical launch.  I’ll also be talking about the benefits of the urban forest on various platforms, and plan to introduce some interactive elements, like getting cooped-up kids to write thank-you notes to their city trees. We’ll also do a simple craft to go with the thank-you notes and share the notes on IGTV live. Plus, I’ll be signing books and—if possible given the ever-evolving situation—delivering them myself.”


Virtual learning

Amanda Thebe, personal trainer and nutrition coach

“My kids are home getting online lessons from school, so while they’re busy sticking with their schedule, I signed up for a free online course offered by Yale University. You can find it on YouTube. My subject of choice is ‘Early Modern England: Politics, Religion and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts.’ I’ve always been fascinated by British history so was thrilled when I found this one—I mean who doesn’t love a bit of Tudor gossip and drama! It’s divided into 25 lessons, all around 45 minutes each. My goal is to watch two lessons a day.”


Virtual board game night

Maia Leggott, freelance writer and content creator

“My family grew up on board games—my brother, Conor, and I have a serious competitive streak. When we get together, the one constant is games: Cribbage, Carcassonne, Sorry!, you name it. Our latest favourite is Code Names, a word game where two teams race to guess words based on one-word clues. Conor’s wife, Ashley, is pregnant, and after a week of social distancing we were all feeling a bit down. My partner, Dave, used his AV skills to rig up some cameras, and we set up a battle of the sexes over FaceTime. After some troubleshooting, we had a hugely successful game that I’m supposed to say my brother won—even though the gals cleaned up. It was great to connect and have some laughs in a scary time. We’ve already scheduled our next round.”


Creative social distancing

Virtual movie night

Olivia Wilyman, student

“My best friend, Callie, and I hang out every chance we get, so social distancing has been particularly hard for us. It’s our last year of high school, and next year we’ll be going to universities in different cities, so it breaks my heart that we have to separate now, too. We’ve been watching a lot of movies and shows together on FaceTime, like Beautiful Boy, Get Out and Dare Me. It can be annoying, because we have to time ourselves and hit play at the exact same second; FaceTime can also be super laggy. But it’s still great to laugh and shriek together whenever Timothée Chalamet comes onscreen. Tonight we’re going to try the Netflix Party Extension, a Chrome extension that allows your movie screens to be synced up perfectly. Before that we would avoid bathroom breaks because it would be hard to get our screens re-synced.