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.
On Wednesday, September 23, the Office of Head Start (OHS) announced that it will be suspending CLASS reviews for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. We sincerely hope this news relieves some of the stress our Head Start partners have felt as they grapple with new challenges related to pandemic conditions.
It is also our hope that programs will use this time to provide specific CLASS support to staff in order to strengthen interactions, regardless of the delivery model in which they are serving children.
With the increased presence of virtual schooling, parents and educators of young children, including myself, are finding themselves stressed. Are children getting the content they need? How do I engage children in learning virtually? How do we help children develop essential skills such as curiosity, attention, and emotion regulation in a virtual setting? In a recent New York Times op-ed, entitled “Kids Can Learn to Love Learning, Even Over Zoom”, psychologist Adam Grant shared ways that teachers can promote curiosity in a virtual classroom. He discussed the importance of including “mystery, exploration, and meaning.”
One of the initial directives from the COVID-19 pandemic was shelter-in-place. To fuel this approach, life as we knew it changed immediately. Many of the venues that were a part of our normal lives were no longer available to us. We could not eat out in restaurants, go to movies, enjoy fellowship in churches, attend plays or concerts, and the list continued to grow. Suddenly, we found ourselves confined to our homes simply because there was nowhere else to go. Shelter-in-place limited the opportunities to spend time together. For educators, our relationships with our students and colleagues were snatched from us without any warning. They were just gone.
As a classroom teacher, I always viewed the start of a new school year with a lot of excitement and a bit of trepidation. Excitement because I loved meeting a new group of children and looked forward to getting to know them and supporting their learning. Trepidation because I was never quite certain what curveballs might be thrown my way.