So much has changed in the world of early childhood education since a global pandemic became part of our reality. School districts, families, child-care centers, home centers, state agencies, and federal agencies have been scrambling to keep up with what caring for young children looks like under new regulations. The statewide agency I work for consists of both federal (Head Start) and state-funded programs, and I’d like to share what guidance we’ve created for staff around changes in the day-to-day routine.*
Ratios and cohorts: In order to minimize risk, it’s important that we reduce and limit the number of people that come into contact with each other during the day.
Face masks: It’s important to help kids adapt to the staff requirement to wear face masks and personal protective equipment in the classroom.
Routines and transitions: In a world where so many routines in the children’s lives have been disrupted, maintaining predictability in the classroom is more critical than ever.
Learning: Children can continue learning through play with some adjustments to modality.
Fresh air: Being outside is another factor that can reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Dramatic play: Pretend play is an important tool for young children, especially in trying times.
Meals and brushing teeth: Changes to self-help tasks must be made at this time.
Staff wellness: We are most present for the children when we take care of ourselves.
I hope that this gives you a little picture of what might be different for your classroom when it reopens. Many of my agency’s open centers have found the experience to be very positive; both adults and children were happy to interact with each other again. Children adapted better than expected to staff wearing masks, the teachers found the new cleaning tasks manageable since class sizes were smaller, and laughter was shared.
Fair warning, however, that even with cohorting, not allowing any visitors into the center, temperature checking everyone who entered the building, and staff taking breaks in separate areas, we still had several sites shut down statewide, commensurate with the spike in cases my state was unfortunately seeing. Nothing is a perfect shield, but various precautions contribute to the important work of minimizing risk while children get the very important care they need.
Please feel free to use this list as an adaptable springboard for what your own center or program might need to consider and communicate to staff and families in the coming months. Thank you everyone for all the support and energy you give to early childhood education!
*Note: Remember to follow your own state's and organization's formal guidelines for safe teaching.
Stacia Clark has worked for multiple Head Start and early childhood education agencies over the last 14 years. She has taught in the classroom, managed several sites, supervised education staff, and is currently a Preschool Content Specialist at the Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC). She is also bilingual in Spanish and is an Affiliate CLASS® Trainer and coach.
When Covid-19 hit and schools shut down, many of us were certain that it would not impact the 2020-21 school year. But with the pandemic surging and some schools opening up - only to shut down again, it’s clear that Covid is still with us. The length of the pandemic has only heightened concern about Covid related learning loss - especially among underserved populations.
Young infants develop a unique relationship—known as attachment—with their caregivers. To develop secure bonds, infants need to know that at least one person really cares about them. Caregivers provide that comfort by helping infants regulate needs and emotions, such as hunger and sadness. With healthy attachments, infants develop a sense of safety and trust.
Infants need to be held, to have face-to-face interactions, to feel another human heartbeat. By meeting these needs, caregivers foster attachment. Plan how you will meet these essential needs—while keeping yourself and infants safe.
Children need to feel safe before they can explore their surroundings. While curiosity and exploration help awaken children’s talents, teachers help reinforce their learning through guidance and repetition. All children benefit from intentional interactions that inspire them through new experiences—and some children need additional or individualized support.
Given the natural need to be around others, children might have a hard time with social distancing. Organize materials in spaces where two friends can explore together. Make yourself available to facilitate their exploration while ensuring safety.
Toddlers reinforce their trust in caregivers while venturing into the world on their own. Along with stable relationships and independence, they need frequent reminders of behavioral expectations to keep themselves and their peers safe. With support and regulation, educators can help buffer the effects of stress or trauma and promote healthy child development.
Children learn best in a warm, safe environment. While positive interactions strengthen a classroom community, clear safety expectations promote healthiness. Remind children that these measures are in place because you care about them.