If you are sending your child to in-person school and wondering how to support them, you can read some of my suggestions on Motherly and After Third.
14 phrases to help prepare your preschooler for school this year
What parents can do to ease their child's transition to school
What schools can do to support children and families this fall.
Preschool directors, teachers, and administrators are busy planning for a unique start to a school year that brings new challenges, rules, and a lot of uncertainty. With safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds, this planning includes rethinking everything from class sizes and classroom set-ups, to cleaning supplies, procedures, and even what materials can be easily and regularly disinfected. Plastic baby dolls, yes. Stuffed animals, not so much.
With safety as a primary concern, it can be easy to forget what in other years might be the most important part of planning for the start of school: how to build strong relationships with children and their caregivers. Relationships must always be centered as part of the care provided by preschools. This is the year to remember why classrooms have family pictures on the walls, why a phase-in period is best practice, and why that photo sent to a parent of their child playing happily minutes after a tearful goodbye is more than meaningful. It is essential.
For those who are working tirelessly to ensure that their school is ready to welcome children and families back this fall, this is an invitation to reflect on the ways you can support not just the physical safety but the emotional health of your community. As I know from my years in the classroom, this is one of the things that can make preschools so wonderful.
Bring home into the classroom. Parents may not be able to walk through the doors, but there are other ways to bring them in. Laminated family photos that are available for children to touch or hold offer comfort and show children that their whole selves are welcome at school. Including the children’s favorite books in the reading corner and singing favorite songs during circle time provides familiar pleasures when so much else is new and different.
Bring school home. Continue building a bridge between school and home by helping to facilitate families’ conversations about school. Share photos of teachers and staff with and without masks. Send a video tour or photos of the classroom from a child’s perspective. Even a simple description of the day’s schedule can increase confidence. For parents who will not be able to see their child’s classroom from the inside, sharing lots of photos of their child playing and learning in that space can provide great peace of mind.
Provide predictability. Knowing what to expect allows children to relax and focus their energies on self-regulating and learning. By setting up consistent routines and keeping materials the same, teachers can create an environment that is predictable. This stability is especially crucial in a year with many other moving parts.
Facilitate learning and processing through play. Early childhood educators know the great power of play. Facilitating play so that the children can process their everyday experiences is one of your super-powers. You’ll know by observing your class what themes and ideas they are exploring. My guess is that you can predict some of these themes, too. Invite children to play out separation through peekaboo games. Make masks for the dolls with stickers or tape. Put out spray bottles with water and rags so children can take charge of “cleaning.” And, as always, adapt to the group.
Preschools are uniquely positioned to help children and families through challenging times. This is true even outside of a pandemic. The strength of the relationships forged in preschools is what so often leaves children and caregivers especially bonded to these institutions and the teachers and staff who work in them. As early childhood educators, you already have the tools at your disposal to take on this unprecedented year. Don’t let the changes throw you. Dig into what you know: how to build trust with children and families. The learning and the joy will follow.