by Dr. Cailin Kerch (Clinical Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education email@example.com) and Dr. Alison Hooper (Assistant Professor, Early Childhood Education firstname.lastname@example.org)
A four year old turned to her mother and asked a battery of questions with tears in her eyes: “Will the virus dead me? When can I touch my friends again? “When will it go away?” A seven year old says, “But I miss my friends, and I don’t like learning on the computer! It’s too hard.”
Similar questions can be heard in the homes of many families with young children, and maybe you’ve heard them in your own home. Many children’s and families’ worlds have shifted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and adults are expected to respond and support their children while maintaining work and family responsibilities.
Here are some tips and resources to help families navigate their safer at home or school re-entry plans with an emphasis on supporting children’s social, emotional, and mental health. Keep in mind that there is no ‘right answer’ as to whether you should keep your children at home or to send them back to school or child care. No option is perfect during this worldwide pandemic, and all are associated with some risk. These decisions must be made with your own family circumstances in mind.
Safer at Home
Children and families are navigating unprecedented times at home with varying levels of access to community, educational, and family supports. Families have been at home for over 140 days with varying access to child care or face-to-face educational support. The phrase, “It takes a village” may be more accurately stated for many families as, “It takes a virtual village.” The responsibility has largely fallen on families to implement educational activities that have been provided by schools or early care and education programs or to come up with activities to entertain and educate children on their own, often with limited support or guidance.
You may be running out of resources to provide playful and educational activities for your children while one or two parents or guardians are working from the home. UA’s Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education Faculty are here to help. Check out the resources below to augment existing supports you may be receiving from your child’s school or early care and education program.
- Navigating Decisions
- Parenting at Home During Pandemic
- Talking to Children About COVID-19
- Supporting Children’s Social Emotional Well-Being at Home
Virtual Learning Strategies
While school opening plans are still under development in many places, an increasing number of schools have announced that they are opening virtually for at least the first nine weeks of school. This is an important safety precaution to reduce community spread and protect children and educators. However, it presents a great challenge to working families. Check out these resources, along with resources provided by your school system, to support virtual learning at home.
Create a visual schedule and reference it throughout the day, discussing any changes with your child.
Build in frequent breaks and encourage play throughout the day.
Encourage gross-motor activities (big body play: outside, jumping, dancing, etc.) for at least 60 minutes a day.
Daily household activities like setting the table, sorting laundry, and writing a grocery list can be great learning opportunities. Do these activities alongside your child, and talk about how you are using math, writing, etc.
You are doing your best, and your best is enough. If your child is doing virtual schooling, you are not your child’s teacher, and you are not expected to be. Support their learning the best you can, but rely on their teacher and the resources provided by the school.
Find healthy ways to manage your own stress and make time for self care, even if it’s something small each day. This is one of the best things you can do to support your child’s development.
Make time to meaningfully connect with your child each day. This could be over a book, while playing, or at a mealtime. It doesn’t need to be long, but it’s important to try to give your child your full attention during these brief times of connection.
Ask for help! You could ask your child’s teacher, a family member, a friend, your church, or another support system.
Consult the UA Parenting Assistance Line with any specific concerns or needs. Visit their website at pal.ua.edu or call or text 866-962-3030.
Check out the resources below for guidance around how to talk to your child/ren to help prepare them for what they may experience if they are returning to school or child care. You can use strategies like role playing and social stories to help children transition to new surroundings and better understand expectations.
The 2020-2021 school year will be challenging. Our children’s wellbeing and the health of our families are our top priorities. We hope these resources provide you with evidence-informed support as you personally navigate the challenges ahead.
Providing a stable environment with positive adult-child interactions, whether at home or in a school setting, has been shown to mitigate harmful stress for children. Remember, the rest is secondary. You are doing your best and making the best decisions you can with the information you have, and your best is enough. Children are resilient. With your support, they are developing important skills like adaptability and compassion as your family navigates the pandemic together.