Monday, June 29, 2020

The New Normal

Easing into Monday with some thoughts about young children.

Those of us who work in early childhood often joke about how we work in germ factories. It doesn’t matter how much you clean, the kids are massive cross-pollinators for every illness that is out there circulating. The first year you work with young children, you are as sick as a dog. If it doesn’t outright flatten you, subsequent years are usually better. This also happens when you change schools/centers. 

Ask me how I know.

Now these children will be returning on a limited basis to childcare settings which are desperately racing to provide accommodations to prevent the spread of COVID. These measures involve keeping children physically distanced while also cleaning everything they come in contact with every time they use it. They will limit who can enter classrooms and school buildings. They will require layers of safety protocol. Temperature checks, health checks. 

All of these things are now necessary but almost all of them run counter to the best practices for young children.  Good hygiene practices always have a place. Distancing and separation and a basic prohibition for collaboration in play activities do not. When you think about the best experiences that young children have in a classroom or on a playground, you are thinking of hands squishing together in a sensory table, heads bent together over a story book, a group clustered around a block structure. 

The true work of childhood is messy and collaborative. It feeds both cognitive and social emotional growth.

As we move forward from a period of isolation, I see a lot of discussions about how important it is to get kids back to school. I wonder if people truly understand what that school would have to look like to adequately protect students, parents, and faculty/staff. And what is “adequately”? What would constitute success?

If you have young children who will be returning to childcare settings, I strongly recommend that you supplement their classroom experiences with as much multi-sensory play as possible. Playdough, fingerpaint, sand play, mud pies, water play. In addition, make sure there are plenty of shared activities where they can experience physical closeness with you and other members of the family. Make a pillow fort. Snuggle in bed with a lot of picture books. Pile together like a bunch of puppies. 

The years from birth to five are a huge period in brain development. Whatever happens during this time will have profound consequences for our children. A sudden withdrawal of sensory input and physical closeness will take its toll both in cognitive development and emotional well being. These experiences are deeply nutritional for young childen. They are the sorts of things that are absent in situations where children fail to thrive. 

I know we all have a million things to remember as we try to stay healthy and respond to the many ways that the coronavirus has changed our daily lives. I realize that this may seem like a very small thing in comparison. But the small things, unattended, become the big things. Emotionally distraught young children become anxious, angry, disregulated students in classrooms that don’t adequately address their needs. 

Have kids? Get messy. Hug. Create your own group projects. You may discover how great it is for you, too. 

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