Tag Archives: preschool

Play-Based Preschool

Those of us who teach preschool often use the term “play-based preschool” and often forget that may not mean anything to the average first-time parent looking for their first preschool! You may be wondering: what does play-based preschool look like? And what do kids actually learn if they’re just “playing”?

The Big Picture

In a play-based preschool: The teacher sets the stage with engaging materials and supplies for fun activities. Then the children explore through play: observing, experiencing, wondering and discovering. The teacher is nearby to observe, ask questions, make suggestions, or play along. But each child decides which activities to do, which toys to play with, what to do with them, and for how long. Play is spontaneous, fun and creative, and the focus in on process, not product. Play is done for its own sake, not to accomplish a task. It involves lots of exploring of possibilities, experiments, trial and error, and repetition which reinforces learning.

In some settings, such as outdoor preschools, the teacher may do little “set-up.” They may just wander and learn about whatever they discover as they go. However, the majority of play-based preschools have a center-based approach, also known as activity centers or stations. The teacher makes a very conscious set of choices about what activities to offer so there are options that help children grow in all areas of development and build all types of intelligence. There are fresh new activities each day, but there is also a lot of consistency where the same materials may be available for many weeks straight. This respects what we know about brain development – children need a combination of novelty and repetition to learn.

Stations and Classroom Set-Up

During free choice time, children are encouraged to move freely between stations. Some children will spend an entire class at one station if it’s really captured their attention. Some will flit between all the stations, trying everything out. A child might be playing alone for a long time, or they might be in the midst of group play. That freedom to move helps them self-regulate based on their mood and their energy level, lets them opt in or out of social play, lets them focus on what they most want/need to learn and allows for lots of practice with decision-making.

Typical activity centers include:

  • blocks and other building toys
  • sensory bins, water tables and light tables to explore with all of their senses
  • art process activities like play-dough and painting at the easel
  • craft projects where children practice following directions to create a specific product
  • book corner, writing center, puzzles, and board games to learn pre-academic skills
  • doll houses, dress-up clothes, and toy kitchens to tell stories and role play things they see in daily life and things they can only imagine
  • large motor activities like climbers, tumbling mats and riding trikes to build physical strength and skills
  • a snack station where they learn to prepare their own food and clean up after themselves
  • a nature and science station for learning about the world around them

[In a separate post, I cover these stations in more depth, with more pictures and concrete examples of what the children learn at each: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2022/02/13/stations-at-a-play-based-preschool/]

Some teachers refer to the classroom materials as “the third teacher.” (Parents and teacher are the first two.) Setting up materials in an intentional way helps to guide children’s learning. Teachers consider the skills they want the children to work on and find ways to set up an “invitation to play” that will inspire kids to engage. For example, if a teacher notices a child is resistant to holding a pencil and lacking the finger strength to write well, they might choose a variety of small motor muscle building activities for that child, like using tweezers to pull sunflower seeds off the sunflower, and working with Legos and play-dough, and popping packing bubbles or pulling velcro open to make that cool noise.

The Teacher’s Role

You might envision “teaching” as a teacher sitting at the front of a classroom, teaching one skill to everyone at once. There is absolutely a time and place for this sort of direct instruction – it’s the best way to teach some specific skills or facts. However, during this time, as the teacher is active, the children are often passive. Some may be very engaged in the learning, some may be distracted. Some may have already mastered the material that is being taught, and some may not yet be ready for it.

During free choice time in a play-based school, the teacher’s role is very different and much more individualized to the learner. As the children play, the teacher moves around the room, facilitating play and extending learning. There might be two children working on cutting paper for a craft – one has mastered scissors, the other has not, so the teacher offers guidance to the child who needs it. If a child is building with blocks, the teacher might ask open-ended questions to extend the child’s learning, or scaffold learning by making a few suggestions about how to build a stronger foundation for their block tower. If children are engaged in pretend play in the “kitchen”, the teacher might pretend to be a customer and place an order, and encourage the children to write it down and to count the pretend money. Sometimes the teacher just follows along with child-led play, which is a great way to practice communication skills. Sometimes the teacher will encourage the child to move on and try new activities if they feel like one has been mastered.

(More about the role of the teacher in a play-based class: http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2012/04/teaching-play-based-curriculum.html)

There is a lot of intentional planning and support that goes into a good play-based preschool, but sometimes it’s hard for the parents to see exactly what is being learned, so let’s look at some example activities and how children benefit.

Group Time / Music

Most play-based preschools spend part of their day in group time. This might include: singing songs or playing instruments, story time, learning about the calendar, watching demos of activities they could choose to try during free choice time, learning about a key concept for the weekly or monthly time, celebrations like birthdays or VIP, and chances for children to show and tell.

Lots of school readiness practice is happening here: learning to sit still, listen to the teacher, wait while others are talking, take their turn when it’s time, take an instrument when offered and return it when asked. They are exposed to new ideas and new vocabulary during theme discussions, learn core music skills like rhythm and tone, and build their memory skills as they remember the words of songs and poems.

Don’t all preschools incorporate play?

Of course! (And if you find a preschool that doesn’t incorporate play, avoid it!) At almost all preschools and daycares you will find many of the elements described here. But some focus on this more than others.

You’ll get a sense of which schools truly embrace play-based learning by looking at their schedules and talking to their teachers.

For example, at one of the preschools I work with, they are very play-based – the schedule is a five minute group time for a good morning song and a little preview of the day, then 100 minutes of free choice time, clean-up, ten minutes for a story-time in a group, 20+ minutes of free play outdoors, then some music time outdoors to end the day. That adds up to less than a half hour of structured group learning, and over two hours free choice time indoors or outdoors, and the play-based learning has plenty of opportunity to unfold. They have several sessions on a theme, where the primary art project might change, but most of the other activities stay the same. The balance between novelty and repetition matches what we know best supports brain development. If you talk with the teacher, they will definitely share their view that free play in a rich environment is the best way for children to learn..

I lead a STEM enrichment class for 3-6 year olds that mixes direct instruction and play-based learning. We have 30 minutes of discovery time where the children explore the stations for the day, then a 30 minute group time where we use a non-fiction book, a song, and demos to teach the science concepts of the day, then 40 minutes of tinkering time where the children return to the stations to apply the concepts that they learned. After a quick snack break, we have 20 minutes of group time to wrap up the ideas for the day, read a fun book related to the topic and play a fun related game. So, that’s 50 minutes of structured direct instruction and 70 minutes of free choice play-based learning. And it’s a different theme every week, so there’s almost no repetition of activities. This is great for providing children with novelty – new experiences and new ideas – crystallized knowledge. But, it’s not as powerful as the preschool for providing the opportunity for children to stay with an activity for as long of periods of time over many class sessions – that repetition could build more mastery of the concepts and skills. So, my program is play-based… but not as pure about it as the preschool. (Note: the reason I feel OK with this is the class is a parent-child program where they participate together, and I encourage the parents to talk about the ideas outside of class, and watch optional videos to review or preview the ideas and repeat their favorite activities and games from class, so that parent involvement offers opportunities for reinforcement outside of the class.)

An example of play-based learning

Yesterday morning at the preschool, I had a spontaneous interaction that provides a good example. I didn’t have any particular plan in mind when this started. One girl had found our basket of plastic toy dogs and had picked out one dog. I said “you have one white poodle.” (number, color, and vocabulary learning) I asked: “are there any other white poodles in the basket?” She then looks through the basket until she finds all the white poodles and we count them together. (Practicing observation skills, sorting, and counting.) A couple other children have joined in. We decide which type of dogs each one will seek out, and we line them all up by category, counting how many we have of each type and comparing that. (Social negotiation, sorting, counting, organizing, and comparing quantities. I also taught the vocabulary of names of dog breeds and talked about their characteristics – color, size, fluffiness, etc.) We added up how many we had total. (56!)

At this point, we are probably 10 minutes into this spontaneous exploration and I’ve got four kids completely captivated in this process even while other children were doing many other activities around us, and another who is enjoying the joke of adding his duplo horse into the mix as we try to count and we laugh that it doesn’t fit! I was ready to extend the play, so I suggested maybe we could use the blocks to build a zoo for all the types of dogs. That stretched into a 15 or 20 minute block session where all these children stayed with it the full time and a few others wandered in and out. I was closest to the blocks, so they would ask me to pass them blocks. I asked them to tell me what shape and size they wanted, so we got all sorts of practice in quantity, comparing sizes, and learning names of shapes.

One child who rarely speaks aloud to anyone in the class was speaking to me easily and freely as it helped her get the materials she needed for our joint game. They practiced building skills, I suggested ways to make structures more stable, they negotiated for ways to share the materials when someone else had what they wanted. We managed the frustration of having someone accidentally knock over something you were working on. Other children brought over some dolls, and we added visitors to our zoo. They also brought signs so we practiced reading those and talked about which ones we could use. (Literacy practice.) The children were so relaxed and focused on play this whole time, even while they heard excited shrieking from the other room where there was a new piece of climbing equipment. I was ready to move on and check in with other children, but reminded them that we would all need to work together later on to put away the blocks, since we had used almost every block on the shelf in our big project. Later on they and the other children helped put back all those blocks – each type of block has a specific spot on the shelf, so they put all the squares in their zone, and all the arches here, and all the triangles there, and so on, and put all our dogs back in the basket. So much spontaneous learning, all starting with one question to one child.

But was this the only thing happening that day? Not at all! This was a co-op preschool with 20 kids, 3 staff, and 2 parent volunteers that morning. The kids who wanted to engage in what I was doing did so for as long as they wanted. But in the meantime, other children were in the “gym” climbing on the climber and rolling down the mats. Others were in the library looking at books and putting puzzles together. Others were stringing beads and putting heart stickers on valentines in the art area, and others were busy in the kitchen area making pretend soup. Each had the ability to choose whatever most inspired their curiosity and joy that day.

Where can I find a play-based preschool?

One great option is to see if you have co-op preschools in your community. They are almost always play-based. Forest kindergartens or outdoor preschools are play-based, with even less structure than the station based experience I describe here. You may also find some preschools that are what I call the “church basement” preschool – sometimes run by the church but sometimes rented out by a non-profit preschool that has been there for 40 years. Many public school districts offer a preschool but these tend NOT to be play-based as they are often taught and administered by people trained in k-5 education and standards-based curriculum and may not be as informed about the best learning methods for young children. For other preschools, you just have to check out their websites and brochures and see how they describe themselves and their schedules.

If you are in Washington state, check out the co-op preschools sponsored by parent education programs offered by our community colleges. (Full list of Washington programs: https://www.opepwa.org/contact.) Learn about these programs and find links to all the programs in King County here: https://gooddayswithkids.com/parent-ed-at-colleges/. I teach for Bellevue College Parent Education and the photos on this page are from our co-op preschools and our art and science enrichment classes.

Preschool Choice Time

choiceIf your child will be 3 this September, then January through March is a great time to look ahead and choose a preschool for next year. I have a whole collection of posts on things to think about – check out whichever ones apply to you!

First decide: Is preschool necessary? Is it something you want for your child?

If you decide you’re looking, the first thing to think about is logistics: What do you need in a preschool in terms of location, schedule, cost, and so on. What are your goals for preschool?

Then, research your options. Have you considered cooperative preschool? outdoor preschool? specialty preschools (e.g. bilingual or religious)? academic preschool or play-based learning? online preschool?  multi-age programs? What’s the difference between Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio?

Then visit, or attend an open house, and ask these questions to learn more.

After you’ve done all the research with your head, narrowing it down to the list of the best three options, then listen to your heart. Which school feels best to you? Where will your child be happiest? From the science of brain development, we know that we all learn best when we feel safe and happy – our brains have a high degree of neuroplasticity and we can absorb all the teacher has to teach. In the end, it’s that happiness and preserving the love of learning that will serve our child’s educational future the best.

FYI: I teach at co-op preschools sponsored by Bellevue College, so if you live on Seattle’s Eastside, check us out! www.bellevuecollege.edu/parented.

photo credit: JoshSchulz via photopin cc

Parachute Play with Children

Parachute from Lakeshore Learning

Parachutes can be a fun accessory for indoor story-times or outdoor play, for groups of children from birth to adolescence.

Benefits of parachute play:

  • Collaborative and non-competitive – children work together, need to spread out around the chute and all participate for it to work
  • Helps to develop rhythm
  • Builds shoulder, arm and hand muscle strength
  • Good for practicing listening to instructions – if they didn’t understand it when you say to lift it up, but then their hand is lifted up into the air along with the parachute, that helps them learn the meaning of the instruction
  • It’s a great way to gain children’s attention when it’s wandering, or to settle down chaotic energy in a group time
  • It’s fun!

Choosing Equipment

If you don’t already own one, buy a parachute. (That’s an Amazon affiliate link to a product that looks good quality and comes in a variety of sizes.) Parachutes are fairly inexpensive, and fold up pretty small so they don’t require a lot of storage space.

The size you need depends on two things – how big is your room and how many people will participate?

Parachutes are described in diameter – so 12′ means 12′ from one side to the other. You need space all around it for the people to move, so it’s best to have a 20×20 space at least for that 12′ parachute.

Parachutes typically have one handle per foot of diameter. So, a 12′ parachute could work for 6 people if they all held onto two handles, or for 12 people if each holds one handle – you can squeeze in more than that, but it gets tight.

A parachute alternative – in some of our classrooms, we have a red elastic band that is probably about 12′ in diameter. Many things you can do with a parachute you can do with this elastic band, and in some ways it is easier to start with because they practice all holding something in a circle without having all that fabric to get tangled up in. I have not found one of these for purchase, but it seems similar to this stretchy band. Learn about stretchy band play.

image from https://www.singplaycreate.com/2016/01/stretching-learning-with-stretchy-bands.html

Ages

In my activity descriptions below, I’ll code what age groups they work best for:

  • B = Babies. The parents hold the parachute and do the actions while the babies observe
  • P/C = Parent/Child. For toddlers and preschool age. Parents all hold the parachute and do the actions. The children may hold on, they may go under the parachute, they may wander off…
  • P = Preschool. A group of 3 – 5 year old children and 1 or 2 adults can do this without needing more adults to help.
  • O = Older Kids. Kids 5 and up can do this.
  • All = OK for any of these contexts

Up and Down

You can simply stand in a circle, say “up” and everyone lifts the parachute up high and “down” while everyone lowers it. Kids can be holding on the edge raising and lowering, or they can be standing under it or lying down under it. So easy, and it manages to feel intriguing yet soothing at the same time. ALL

You can also put on calming music and raise and lower in rhythm with the music for a calming moment in the midst of a story time. B, P/C

Sing this song to the tune If You’re Happy and You Know It. “When the parachute goes up (raising it up), shout hurray. Hurray! (as you lower it down). When the parachute goes up, shout hurray. When the parachute is high and floats up in the sky. When the parachute goes up, shout hurray.” Repeat with “dance a dance” or “stomp your feet” and so on. P/C, P

Toast in the Toaster chant – shake side to side, then “pop” it up at the end
I’m toast in the toaster / I’m getting very hot / Tick tock, Tick tock / Up I pop!

You can also do lap songs with up/down motions like “Grand Old Duke of York” or “Let’s Go Riding in an Elevator” except instead of lifting a child up in your lap, you’re raising the parachute.

Side to Side

You can stand in place and swish the parachute from side to side. Here’s a chant to go with that motion: “I am a washing machine. Washing clothes till they are clean. I am a washing machine. Swish swish swish swish swish.” P

Making Waves / Shaking

You can shake a parachute slow and gentle, or fast and rough.

With slow waves, sing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” B, P/C, P

With shakes, you can use some songs you use with shakers: “Oh you shake and you shake and you shake and you stop… (3x) Shake it up high, shake it down low, shake it on your tummy, and way down to your toes.” P/C, P

There’s a video here of a nice shaking song: https://nancykopman.com/parachute-songs-and-games-for-young-children/

Walking Songs

Merry Go Round. The children hold onto the parachute with one hand and walk around the circle clockwise. Play any music – as long as music is playing, they walk, If the music stops, they stop. Turn to face the other direction (e.g. counterclockwise) and wait for the music to begin, then walk more. P

Ring around the Rosie. P/C, P
Walk around as you sing: Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posy, ashes, ashes
Kneel Down: All fall down!
Shake gently, close to the ground: cows are in the meadow, eating buttercups.
Then shaking fast: Thunder, Lightning, stand We all Stand Up!

Roly Poly (a chant) P/C, P
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, Up, Up, Up lift the parachute up
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, Down, Down, Down parachute down
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, In, In, In, walk toward the center of the circle
Roly Poly, Roly Poly, out, out, out
…. fast… slow… shake it

Zoom. (tune) P/C, P
Zoom Zoom Zoom. We’re going to the moon. walking around
Zoom Zoom Zoom. We’re going to the moon. stop walking at the end of this line
In 5…. 4…. 3… 2… 1 lower the parachute gradually to the ground
Blast off!!! quickly raise your arms and let go to launch the chute up in the air

Pop Goes the Weasel P/C, P
All around the cobblers bench (walk around a circle),
the monkey chased the weasel (rattle parachute).
The monkey thought it was all in fun (lower the parachute to the ground).
Pop goes the weasel (pop it up)

Wheels on the bus. Go round and round… wipers go swish… babies go up and down…

Children on Top of the Parachute B, P/C, O

For 3 – 6 month old babies, you can lay the babies on the parachute, and the adults hold on to the parachute and walk in circles, and give the babies a ride. You have to be slow and gentle so they don’t roll on top of each other!

For older toddlers, who are able to sit well and stay where you tell them to stay, you can have them sit up on the parachute and take them for a ride.

This activity does NOT work well with the “wobblers” in between those ages – the children who can sit but not very well and would tip over, or the children who will try to crawl away, and knock over the other children.

Many of the songs above and below here combine well with taking the children for a ride, as does “Here we go round the mulberry bush” or “we’re going to the zoo”.

Children Under the Parachute B, P/C

Babies can lay on the ground as the parents hold the parachute above them. Toddlers or preschoolers can sit or walk under the parachute as the parents hold it.

Colors Over You. (tune)
Red and Yellow, Green and Blue, these are the colors over you. Red like the apple, green like the tree, yellow like the sun and blue like the sea. Red and yellow, green and blue, these are the colors over you.

Peekaboo. hold the parachute low, just above the children Someone is hiding, hiding, hiding, someone is hiding, Who could it be? lift it up high Peekaboo!

Come Under My Umbrella (tune of The More We Get Together)
Come under my umbrella, umbrella, umbrella. lift it up high so it “balloons” up a bit
Come under my umbrella, it’s starting to storm. again
There’s thunder and lightning and wind and rain. shake it hard and fast
Come under my umbrella it’s starting to storm. lift it high

Sitting Down with the Parachute P

The children sit on the floor in a circle, holding on to the parachute.

10 Little Bubbles (tune: 10 little indians)
shake the chute as you do the counting part – pat the parachute with your hands for the “pop the bubble’ part
1 little, 2 little, 3 little bubbles. 4 little, 5 little, 6 little bubbles.
7 little, 8 little, 9 little bubbles. 10 little bubbles go pop, pop, pop!
Pop pop pop pop those bubbles. (x3) Popping all the day.

Row Your Boat – divide the children in half – those on the left half and those on the right half. (It helps if there’s a teacher on each side! They “row” the parachute – holding on and leaning back, then forward. So, as left leans back, right leans forward, and so on. Sing row your boat.

Props on Top – P/C, P, O

For parent/child classes, it’s easier for toddlers to see what’s on top of the parachute if the parents are sitting down and the parachute is down low. Preschoolers or older children could do it sitting or standing.

Popcorn – put several balls on the parachute and do this chant:
Popcorn, popcorn in a pan (hands go gently side to side),
shake it up, shake it up, (shake it fast side to side)
bam bam bam! (three quick “pops” of the chute – will send balls flying off the chute.)

Autumn Leaves. Put lots of silk leaves on the parachute. Sing this song to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down
Autumn Leaves are Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down… All Around the Town. up and down gently, so the leaves lift off the chute just a little
The wind will blow them round and round… swish the chute
Then you shout “oh no, it’s a storm” and you all shake like crazy till all the leaves fly off.
Now it’s time to pick them up…. gather up the leaves

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed. (use monkey puppets)

Games – O. (maybe P)

Ball through the Hole: Only works for parachutes with a hole in the center!
Place a ball on the parachute. Try NOT to let it fall through the hole in the center! For children 4+, divide the kids into teams (e.g. everyone who is holding onto a blue or green section of the parachute is one team and the other team is everyone holding onto red or yellow). Put two balls on the parachute – team 1 is trying to get their ball in the hole before team 2 can get their ball in.

Knock the Ball Off: If your parachute has a mesh circle in the center instead of an opening, you can adapt this game and have them try to keep their ball on the parachute while they knock off their opponents ball.

Swap Places. Everyone is raising and lowering the parachute. Then you say “stop” and everyone freezes with the parachute held way up high. You announce who needs to trade places. They swap quickly, then you continue going up and down. “Up and down, up and down. Up and stop! Bobby and Sally swap!”

Parachute Cave – lift up on 1, 2, 3 – when you get to 3, everyone (still holding on!) steps 3 steps forward under the parachute, then sits down with the parachute under their bottoms. You’re all in a parachute cave together!

Pass the ball – put a beach ball on the chute. Person A lowers the parachute till the ball comes to them – they raise one hand to roll the ball to the person next to them. That person then raises the chute to pass the ball to the next person. Keep going, trying to make it all the way around the circle.

Cat and Mouse – Children sit on the floor holding the parachute. One child is the cat – they sit on top of the chute and close their eyes while everyone counts to 10. The “mouse” child crawls under the parachute. Then the kids all shake the parachute to hide the mouse. The cat opens his eyes and crawls around trying to find the mouse.

Sources: https://childcarelounge.com/pages/benefits-of-parachute-play; https://www.earlyyearscareers.com/eyc/learning-and-development/top-5-parachute-games-children-early-years/; http://brampton.momstown.ca/baby/parachute-songs-kids; https://earlyimpactlearning.com/14-parachute-songs-for-preschoolers-games-lyrics-tips/; https://klmpeace.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/parachute-play-with-babies-and-toddlers/

More Resources

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Can We Do Sensory Bins In Class During COVID?

I’m about to return to in-person teaching of toddlers and preschoolers for the first time in 18 months. I have many questions about sensory bins, shared toys, and craft supplies. I don’t have a lot of answers, but here’s what I’ve found.

Official Recommendations for Child Care Settings

Safest Options: Here are some recommended Sensory Ideas from King County public health. These are from May 2020, when worries about surface transmission were high, so the fact that these were considered safe then means they would definitely fit under current recommendations.

  • Individual sensory items in containers. To clean, just wipe down the outside.
    • Double-bagged ziplocks, sealed with tape. Fill with slime, gak, water beads, hair gel, etc. Kids hold and squish around.
    • Fill rubber gloves with sand, lentils, etc. Tie off.
    • Water bottles filled with colored water, oil, sequins, shells, etc. Tape or glue lids.
  • Individual sensory bins in plastic tubs. Each child has their own bin they use each week, filled with rice, beans or other material. Swap tools each week: cups, scoops, toys that can be cleaned.
  • Play-dough in individual containers for each child. For play, put them on a tray, or tape off part of a table. Give the child tools to play with – like cookie cutters. When done, put child’s playdough back in their bag, and clean tools before another child uses them.
  • Give child their own containers of finger paint. Use plastic handled paintbrushes, and clean before another child uses them.

Guidelines specific to sensory bins and shared items in childcare settings

The current recommendations from the Washington DOH (they’re supposedly releasing new recommendations soon) and the CDC, were originally developed when there was high concern about surface transmission.

DOH says (https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/DOH-OSPI-DYCF-SchoolsChildCareGuidance.pdf)

  • “Children should have their own set of items to limit the sharing of supplies or equipment.
  • Some items cannot be cleaned and sanitized. This includes things like playdough and some items in sensory bins or tables, stuffed animals, and dress up clothes. Remove these items from the program unless they are individually assigned and labeled.
  • If using sensory materials, use items that can be disinfected or discarded and replaced between sessions…. All sensory table activities should be supervised for toddlers and preschool children. Hands should be washed before and after sensory table use.
  • Books and other paper-based materials are not high risk for spreading the virus and do not need to be cleaned more than normal.”

CDC adds “Machine washable cloth toys should be used by one person at a time or should not be used at all. These toys should be laundered before being used by another child.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/guidance-for-childcare.html

What is known, but not yet reflected in the guidelines

Does the type of surface matter?

Viruses live a different amount of time on different surfaces. There were studies in the NEJM that looked at half-life – how long till it’s reduced in half and Lancet that looked at how long it took before the virus was undetectable. Department of Homeland Security has a page that addresses estimated surface decay. (Here’s a plain language summary of the research.)

When first “deposited” – like if an infected person without a mask just sneezed droplets on a surface – there’s more virus there. As time passes, the amount of virus drops, till there’s no longer any detectable. (Imagine a puddle on a sidewalk – at first it might be two feet across, then it gets smaller, and then the pavement is just damp, and eventually the pavement is pretty much dry… the water is undetectable.)

When the virus was intentionally deposited on surfaces, it’s virtually gone from paper in a few hours, from cardboard in 24 hours, wood and cloth in 2 days, glass in 4 days, and steel and plastic in 3 – 7 days.

So, that’s how long some small amount of virus might be capable of living (if not cleaned with soap and water, or sanitized with bleach, or disinfected.)

So… if we had someone in class with active coronavirus, and virus was deposited on a surface and we didn’t clean it, there is some small amount of virus on that surface the next day. The question is – how likely is it that someone who is masked and washing hands frequently would catch COVID from that?

What do we now know about surface transmission?

  • In April 2021, the CDC released a brief (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/surface-transmission.html) which stated: “… surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low. The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. The risk of fomite transmission can be reduced by wearing masks consistently and correctly, practicing hand hygiene, cleaning, and taking other measures to maintain healthy facilities.” “… the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the fomite transmission route is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000….” “Routine cleaning … with soap or detergent, at least once per day, can substantially reduce virus levels on surfaces. When focused on high-touch surfaces, cleaning with soap or detergent should be enough to further reduce the relatively low transmission risk from fomites in situations when there has not been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 indoors.” “Disinfection is recommended in indoor community settings where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours.”

How much does cleaning reduce risk?

“From studies of cleaning focused on other microbes, a 90–99.9% reduction of microbe levels could be possible depending on the cleaning method and the surface being cleaned.”

So, if a different group of people is entering the classroom within 24 hours, then cleaning does get you a substantial reduction in risk.

The Context of Our Classrooms

Child care can look like lots of things – there are some 24 hour child cares that are back-up emergency care for essential workers – those might be more likely to have a higher load of any virus, and may be harder to clean between children. A full-time child care with unvaccinated workers might be more likely to have virus, and harder to clean between children.

In the context of my classes, things might look very different and might lead to different decision making. Here are the layers of protection we have in place to reduce the possible viral loads in our classrooms:

  • We require all adults to be vaccinated. (Also, on the Eastside, over 90% of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.) We will ask them to do temperature checks, and symptom and exposure checks before coming. This reduces the risk that families will bring the virus to class.
  • We will require adults to wear masks and recommend that children do so. We will also increase ventilation. These practices reduce droplets and the risk of airborne transmission.
  • We will practice frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizing which reduces the risks of fomites being transferred to surfaces.
  • We have much higher adult to child ratios than a typical child care (between 1:1 and 1:5) and can provide closer supervision.
  • Some of our classrooms are only used once a week by one group of families.

Questions there aren’t official answers for

  • If an item is used by one child for a brief period of time, then put away for a week before being used again (like maracas or jingle bells at group time), does it need special cleaning?
  • Given frequent hand cleaning protocols, would it be reasonable to share materials like scissors and markers between children, or is it essential to have a system like a bin of clean markers, and then a bin for dirty markers where any marker that has been used by a child is placed?
  • If children hand sanitize before and after, is a shared sensory bin reasonable? Should it be filled only with materials that can be cleaned with soap and water and sanitized with bleach solution? Could some items (like rice and lentils) maybe be disinfected after class by stirring in alcohol? If health guidelines for child cares allow for sandbox play outdoors (they do) – what about sand in an indoor sensory bin?

These are the things I’m thinking about. If you have additional insight into this, let me know in the comments!

(Re)Adapting to In-Person Classes

This fall, many young children may be returning to in-person classes or preschool after a long time away, and some toddlers may be joining their first group activities with peers. Parents may worry about how their child will adapt. We can support the transition by: getting ourselves ready, choosing the right program for the moment, preparing children by teaching social skills and self-help skills at home plus talking to them about what to expect and what will be expected of them, then supporting them through all the new experiences in the first few weeks of class. We should expect that it will not all go smoothly and all children will have some rough days at school – because that has always been the case!

I know this feels like an unprecedented situation, and yes, COVID is unprecedented. But parents have always worried about sending their child off to school and wondered how they can help with the process. Those steps that parents have been following for decades all apply here, and we’ll throw in a couple COVID specific tips in our suggestions about what you can do to increase the chances that the transition to in-person learning will go smoothly.

Prepare Yourself

If you are anxious, your child will pick up on that, and they’ll be anxious too. So, before you start talking to them about going to classes, do whatever you need to do to build your own confidence that it will be OK. Get support from others if needed.

If you’re worried about COVID – remind yourself that even if children catch COVD, they typically have mild cases. (Yes, there are exceptions – some children who get very sick – but the chances are small.) The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a return to in-person school. You can also think about layers of protection – all the things you can do to reduce the risk for your child. [If you’re evaluating whether or not to return to in-person classes, here are factors to consider.]

If you’re worried your child won’t adapt well to being around other children, listening to other adults, or being away from you, keep in mind that children are very resilient – they often adapt to things much easier than adults do.

Ideally, you should work on your worries out of sight of your child. But, if your child notices your anxiety, then trying to pretend it’s not there can actually cause them more worry than if you just calmly say “I’m feeling worried now – here’s what I’m doing to calm myself.”

Planning for Success

Jumping from social isolation at home to a full-time program could be overwhelming for some children. Some parents are choosing to start small with a program that meets for only a few hours a week, and gradually build up to more. Some are choosing to start with a parent-child class or a cooperative preschool where they can stay with their child in the new setting to help make the transition to being with other kids and adults easier. Some will choose full-time school but simplify the rest of the child’s schedule to keep things manageable.

When looking at programs, I would consider their COVID protocols: Vaccines for the adults, masking for everyone over age 2, increased ventilation / more outside time, and social distancing can all reduce the risk.

I would also look more broadly at their approach to scheduling and rules. I would look for one that has a nice balance between providing structure with predictable routines and a little flexibility to adapt to your child’s needs of the moment. Our children really need both predictable routines at this time and responsiveness to their needs as they re-adapt.

Preparing Your Child

While returning from COVID is new, asking kids to adapt to new situations is not new. So there are a lot of things we know to do to ease transitions into toddler classes, daycare or preschool.

  • Teach self-help skills. Help your child learn how to put on their coat, take off their coat and hang it up. Help them learn how to open their string cheese or yogurt containers by themselves. Teach handwashing skills, and also practice how to use hand sanitizer.
    • During COVID, teach them how to wear a mask, how to take it off to eat, and put it back on, and what to do if their mask gets wet or dirty. (Early in COVID, many parents wondered if they could ever teach their child to do something “as weird” as wearing a mask – but remember, that’s not weird to a kid. It’s no weirder or harder to learn than how to wear pants in public.)
  • Teach and practice social skills: how to make friends, how to invite someone to play with you, how to ask to play with a toy someone else is using, taking turns, and so on. Set up playdates where your child can practice these skills.
    • During COVID, teach them about “giving space” around them rather than crowding other kids. In dance classes and sports classes, teachers have long used the idea of “bubbles” – imagine you have a big invisible bubble around you and so does everyone else and you can’t bump inside anyone else’s bubble. You can teach and practice this. Be careful not to give your child the message that it will always be dangerous / scary to be close to other people. Just say that right now with COVID we need to make extra space.
    • It always helps to teach emotional literacy skills – how you can tell how someone else is feeling. During COVID, be sure teach your child to watch for body language and tone of voice since they can’t see facial expression for people who are masked.
  • Create routines. What routines can you establish at home to make it easier to get out the door in the morning? If you’ll need to be up earlier in the morning than you’re used to, do you need to adjust bedtime? Learn about what routines they use at school and try to have similar practices at home. (For example, washing hands before snack time.) If your child will use new tools at school – like a backpack or a lunchbox or water bottle – get them early and practice.

Preparing them for Class

Talk about what to expect at their class, and what will be expected of them.

  • There are lots of great books and TV episodes about starting preschool. Some good book options include “Rosie goes to Preschool” by Karen Katz. (video) “Maisy Goes to Preschool” by Lucy Cousins (video), Lola Goes to School by McQuinn (video), Pete the Kitty’s First Day of Preschool by James Dean (video). Or watch “Learn what happens when Sadie starts school.” These provide good starting points for conversations and for pretend play.
    • Note: Many books address separation anxiety and other fears. If your child is already fearful, these can be reassuring. But if your child is feeling confident, don’t read these books – you don’t want to introduce anxiety! Some examples: Bye Bye Time by Verdick (video) is great for kids who are just a little anxious – it helps you develop a ritual for goodbye time and a plan for them for what to do if things are hard. “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney (video) is about a llama who has a really rough first day at school – it’s a perfect book to read after your child has a rough day. “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn (video) is about a raccoon child who is very reluctant to go to school – if your child is already reluctant, it offers good tools. Or watch Daniel Tiger Goes to School.
    • Here are recommendations for kids starting kindergarten or first grade: https://www.thoughtco.com/childrens-picture-books-about-starting-school-627520
  • Talk about what to expect at their school. Visit the school, if possible. Or, at least look at pictures or a video tour if available. Visit the outside of the building and walk around. Show your child pictures of the teacher. Get some materials like they’ll have in the classroom – like markers – and practice using them at home. There’s an idea called a social story which was created for kids with autism – where you create your own little book with pictures that clearly describes what to expect, what’s expected of them, and what they’ll do if something is challenging – I find these can benefit any child, so you could create one for your child.
  • Teach and practice how to interact with a teacher. Explain that the teacher is there to help them and will take care of them. Explain that the teacher is in charge. Teach how to get the teacher’s attention and how to ask for help. Teach them that sometimes they have to wait for a grown-up to be available to help them. Play listening games (like Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Copy the Rhythm I Clap).
  • Pretend play. Pretend to be going to school – who will play the parent? The child? The teacher? Play at things like: waiting in line (with stuffed animals), doing circle time, taking turns, asking the teacher for help, saying goodbye at drop-off time.

When Classes Begin

  • Don’t make too big a deal of the first day. That anticipation and excitement can turn into anxiety.
  • Don’t introduce all new clothes and shoes and backpack on the first day. Let them wear familiar and comfortable items. Pack their favorite foods, and pack the exact same lunch for the first several days so they know exactly what to expect. Ask your school’s policy about “transitional objects” – for some children, having a toy from home or a picture of family or favorite book, can help them adjust to all the new things around them.
    • Note: pre-COVID, this was often a stuffed animal, but during COVID, only send things to school that can be easily cleaned.
  • Allow extra time to get there – you want time to relax beforehand, remind your child what to expect, and get there with everyone calm. (Note: this is especially true if you have a child you think of as shy – I call them “slow to warm up.” These children do best when they can arrive a little early, before most of the other children and settle in. They don’t do well running in frantic and late to a full and busy classroom.
  • Build a relationship with the teacher(s), other kids, and other parents. When your child sees that you feel comfortable interacting with them all, they will feel comfortable too. Let the teacher know what things most engage and calm your child. (When my child was three, I told his teacher(s) that any time Ben was feeling worried, all they had to do was ask him about the planets, and give him nine objects to line up to show which was closest to the sun and which was furthest… it was guaranteed to calm him any time!)
  • For drop-off programs, ask if it’s possible to stay a while at drop off time in the early days. (It may not be possible during COVID.)
  • When it’s time to leave, keep your goodbyes brief, radiate confidence that they will be OK. Do say goodbye – don’t try to sneak our when they’re not looking. Tell them what they will be doing while you’re gone, and when you’ll return. (Be sure to honor that promise, and be prompt and predictable for your return.)
  • Make your goodbye ritual simple and sweet. Make sure your child is either settled into an activity or knows that to do next, or hand them off to an adult for care so that when you walk out the door, your child has something else they’re focused on other than your absence.
  • Remember that fear of strangers is developmentally normal for all children 7 months and up, and that separation anxiety is common in all toddlers around 18 months. If you see them, they’re likely not due to coronavirus or anything you did or didn’t do. And any advice that you can find for separation anxiety at any time will apply, whether or not it’s COVID specific.
  • Resist the rescue. If your child is sad/crying when it’s time for you to go, be caring and validate their feelings but stick to the plan and leave. Trust the teachers to be the professionals they are and manage the common challenges of separation anxiety. Typically a child who cries at drop off times cries only briefly and will soon calm down.
  • After class, give your child a chance to debrief and talk about how the day went.

Handling the Challenges

You may be one of the lucky few parents that everything goes well for and your child sails on through with no challenges. Or you may have a toddler who bites his classmates. If that happens, it’s not your fault and it’s not because of COVID isolation – it’s because sometimes toddlers bite their classmates. If your seven month old cries when strangers hold them, it’s good to know that 7 month olds have always been prone to fear of strangers. If you have a child who has a hard time sitting still for story time – maybe it’s because they didn’t have to sit still during quarantine… however, there have always been children who had a hard time sitting still! And the teachers will work with your family through the challenges, as they always have.

Be careful not to catastrophize. If your response to every setback is stress, anxiety, and “why does everything always go wrong?” that makes it worse. Try to have a resilience approach – “this is hard right now, but we’ve faced hard things in the past, and we’ve made it through, and look how much we learned.”

Some things to be aware of: if your child is having big feelings, it’s important to acknowledge them, not just try to distract them away. Regression is normal – for example, a child who was potty trained may have accidents – don’t punish or shame, just acknowledge the issue and say “let’s try to do better tomorrow.” If your child is really clingy, maybe they just need more snuggling for a while – soothe and reassure them. If they are misbehaving, remind yourself: children who are loved will always try to do well if they can. If they are misbehaving, ask yourself – is there a skill or support that they are lacking? If so, help them build it. Ask yourself – could it be that they have an underlying need that is driving the misbehavior? If so, meeting that need may resolve the issue.

Be patient and remember that any challenges are just a phase. Just keep doing your best every day and encourage them to do their best, and you’ll make your way through to the other side of this challenging time.

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