Saturday, September 26, 2020

COVID-19: Anti-bias early childhood

 This morning, we kicked off the 2020-2021 school year's 

Anti-Bias Early Childhood Working Group, an initiative of D.C. Educators for Social Justice (DCESJ).

I am proud to be a part of this group of educators! 

Early childhood educators work to meet the needs of every child, to ensure that no child is invisible or left out of learning. Anti-bias is inherent and integral. We are working with humans, we are working with CHILDREN, we are building the future. 

This work is particularly challenging during this time of COVID-19. Virtual learning requires many new skills and so much additional planning and preparation. Teachers of young children are working with parents and caregivers in a much more intimate way than ever before, with families right at their child's hip for learning. Although technology allows us to personalize education for children, it is extremely difficult to create some of those generic and fertile preschool experiences that foster so much social thinking for young children - you know, playing together in dramatic play and struggling over who gets to play with what, creating a block tower together and learning how to respond when a classmate accidentally makes it fall over, or sharing space when painting and drawing together on a class mural. So many of these experiences feel impossible to create virtually....

...and yet, teachers are trying! Oh my! I am in awe of today's early childhood teachers!! 

The teachers I met in today's working group session have anti-bias, anti-racism, and social justice at the core of their practice, and work hard to weave these essential ideals into lessons. We spoke of ways that the working group might best support teachers during this very challenging and difficult year. We are looking for ways to share resources, especially "low prep and practical" virtual anti-bias lessons. We are sharing ideas to support teacher wellness and self-care, during such a stressful time.

Book and music choices can go a long way to introducing social justice ideas. Visual art and storytelling can provide amazing opportunities for children to wrestle with big questions. Our close and personal work with families during this time - this, too, is an asset, an opportunity to create a true community, with teachers taking time to explain the why behind certain lessons, including parents in our thinking, and seeking their support. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

COVID 19 - What is there to savor?

Here we are in the middle of week eight of shelter-in-place. I am finding that my phone calls with preschoolers and families are taking a little longer than they did those first few weeks...perhaps we are all seeking a deeper connection?

Truly, we seem to have shifted from
fearful and overwhelmed
acceptance tinged with sadness,
open to joy.
This is our life now.

These preschoolers - honestly, what a gift they are to the world! My prescription for sanity in this time: reach out and converse with a young child. Build that connection. Prepare for a journey somewhere magical! What do I mean? Let me share a few [anonymous] tidbits from my families' worlds:

- dragging t-ball equipment to a local school's baseball field and playing an impromptu game of baseball with your family,
- building a marble run on your wall, using cardboard rolls,
- using found objects and magnetic numerals and exploring math with Dad,
- putting on lipstick and having a fashion competition with your whole family,
- celebrating the find of insect larvae in a rotted tree stump, on a family nature walk
- building a hiding place for stuffed animals and Mom's high heels,
- whole family re-enactments of favorite picture books,
- driving to the airport (which is empty, of course) to have lunch; sitting in the bay windows, looking at airplanes and other transportation,
- building boats with your family, to float in the wading pool, and testing them in different ways.

It's obvious that families are becoming very creative, playing deeply with their kids. One preschooler was excited to tell me how they burnt a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and cut off the burnt edges, "I eat them but not the burned part, some parts are not burnt."

That beautifully describes this time of COVID-19 - it is possible to find something to savor. We must look for joy.

"some parts are not burnt"

Friday, May 1, 2020

COVID-19: What do you know how to do?

We've been asking the children,

what do you know how to do, all by yourself?

This has proven to be a very fun conversation starter. The children have a fun range of "I can do!" -

turn on the hose
I am an engineer
play mancala with Mommy
playing balls
play Legos
building Magna Tiles out of stuff
open snacks
grow plants
water plants
count to 20
paint on sprinkles and rocks
look at the funny hat I made
ride my balance bike
play in sand box
commanding "SIT!" and "STAY!" and having your dog do this!
make rainbows

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

COVID-19: What do the parents say?

Here's what we're hearing about virtual learning:

"We love the read-alouds!"

"My child does not like the read-alouds."

"It is hard for us to commit to the once-a-week Zoom."

"Why can't we have more Zoom meetings each week?"

"Where are the academic tasks?"

"Why are there academic tasks?"

"You have sent a lot of lessons. Do we have to do them all?"

"Please, could you send more lessons? There are not enough."

"My child will not sit for more than five minutes."

"How can my child play independently, so that I may get work done?"


This is hard.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID-19: What is tough?

There is so much that is
so tough
about virtual teaching.

This old gal is hoping that learning all this new technology -  group chats, FaceTime, shared google files, linking files, data entry for new schedules and spreadsheets, and so much more - will serve to prevent Alzheimer's. A girl can dream, yes?

I am drained.

Things are simultaneously

faster - instantaneous even,

  • talking to a child and seeing them in person!
  • opening a video, and hearing your teacher talk!
  • you can use the mute button and no one is interrupting!

and slower,

  • waiting for the other party to read your text,
  • or enter their information,
  • or respond to your email;
  • creating videos of books and morning meetings;
  • figuring out the nuances of uploading and linking files
  • things that must be done in a particular order, in order to be done right (and so there's more waiting and more 'do overs' as you learn)
  • it can feel as if you are repeating the same steps, over and over

and overwhelming,

  • so many emails in the inbox
  • so many 'stakeholders' - parents, administrators, colleagues, specialists, and more
  • it feels as if everything must be done at once
  • how to have good collaboration in this virtual world?

and complicated,

  • do you need to get permission to do this?
  • is it appropriate developmentally to expect this from a child?
  • are we burdening the families by asking for this?
  • what is most helpful right now?
  • so little body language, so many fewer clues (did this written message mean what I think it meant?)
  • it can feel as if you are repeating yourself, over and over

and hard,
everyone is in a different emotional place, dealing with their response to this crisis; some people have family members with the disease, others know no one and feel very removed, still others know someone who is an essential worker, on the front lines...we don't know what anyone else is carrying on their shoulders...we must give grace and love to all, and, especially,
to ourselves.

Deep cleansing breath.

Monday, April 6, 2020

COVID 19 - How have things changed?

I should be writing more in this blog, during this new normal.

My teaching days are now filled to the brim with new experiences - working through technical challenges to produce some clunky video for preschoolers, having virtual meetings with colleagues, FaceTime conversations with families and preschoolers, on and on. It's all new, and I think I am still trying to find my footing.

It feels as if the world is trying to find its footing.

So here we all are, figuring this out as we go.

Something kind of sweet though - we are building stronger connections with families. We are having rich one-on-one conversations on a regular basis, striving to be in contact at least twice a week. Each of us on the teaching team is taking turns to chat with families, and we share these stories with one another. This brings me great joy! I am particularly fond of FaceTime and the ability to see children's faces...I know it helps the preschoolers, too, to see mine (though, geez, I am shocked by how I look, every single time that camera pops on). I delight in preschooler's use of FaceTime - I have seen so many ceilings!

My friend Hannah's home routine for her preschooler
My role as teacher has changed. I find I am listener, supporter, and counselor, shoring up the family. I am touched by the confidences that have been shared - families needing to vent, to hope, to understand, seeking insight, perspective, affirmation, or just an ear. Over and over again, I am awed by the strength, wisdom, and love of all these families, how they are meeting the demands of this wild new time. We are a resilient species, we human beings.

It is perhaps not surprising that each family is succeeding a little differently from one another, no two alike. Couples are finding new work-life rhythms, these were made up on the fly and continue to be re-adjusted. Children have clear routines, no routines, and somewhere-in-the-middle routines; everyone is finding out what works best for them. I try to share what we did in school, just to let families know of what was once a very different setting.

Things are always going to be different at home.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

COVID-19 How might we help parents?

What a shock to families, to be home full-time, around the clock, with your energetic preschooler! As we continue to build our virtual learning as we go, with little to no beforehand planning, I am striving to know what families need. We can change our materials to match their needs.

Our school's approach has been to offer families the same daily framework as we had in school - we are sending daily plans that more or less resemble the school day, with a morning message/intention for the day, a core lesson, a read-aloud, plus special extras such as dance and music links. Some families find that these are not enough materials; others have insisted they are too much. I, for my part, insist that families not feel obligated to do any of it - these are meant as supports for families during this new normal. Though, I continue to tweak the materials to meet the emerging needs.

There are so many resources available on the internet. The early academic information is almost daunting! There are math and alphabet games, scavenger hunts, and videos galore.

The real work is in behavior management. Families have never had to deal with their little ones day in and day out like this before! All of us, sheltering in our homes, in isolation. How do we get along?

I've reminded families - when the going gets rough, keep their outlooks small and immediate. Just get through the next little bit of time as patiently and kindly as you can.

Behavior management skills are built over time...there is no panacea. However, children thrive on is good to try to follow a similar pattern each day, and, ideally, even provide a visual for your preschooler about this routine.

One small yet effective tool we keep at the ready at school: "First/Then" This simple, direct lingo can often lead a child into more positive choices, rather than spiraling into tantrums. Basically, it goes like this - preschooler really wants to do x, whereas you really need/want them to do y. Simply say, "First y, Then x." When you use this on a regular basis, you will build your child's ability to do less-preferred activities...and they will always have the happy reward of doing something fun right afterwards.

Believe me, like every behavior idea, it doesn't always work - but it may well be worth trying.