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"

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 possible...in 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 routine...it 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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

COVID 19 - What happens when we Zoom together?

We had a very special Zoom call yesterday afternoon, initiated by one of our families. This was our first time connecting with one another through this tool. I loved seeing everyone's faces, and hearing the happy pandemonium of all the children's voices. I've been on a few Zoom calls in recent days, having needed to connect virtually with a variety of groups of people during this health crisis. I think this was the first Zoom call where there did not seem to be anyone "administering." There was no one turning off and on the various mics from afar, no one helping participants to take turns in their talking. It was a glorious free for all!

My noticings:

I loved seeing all the families together...many of the children have siblings, either younger or older, and there everyone was, together, making faces, laughing, and talking.

I thought the parents looked remarkably relaxed and happy. This new normal started back on Thursday, March 12, 2020, when the President declared a national emergency and schools were closed that very next day. Relaxed and happy, on your 11th day home with your children in this surprising, unforeseen way? Go, families! You rock!!

I heard so many caring expressions from the children -

  • "I want to hear ____ talk; isn't it ____'s turn?" said one preschooler; 
  • Another showed a page from their new journal and a classmate responded, "I like that!!"
  • "How about I try to talk to everybody?" one preschooler asked, diplomatically.
There was so much love and affection between all the kids and their families - sitting on laps, sharing snacks, stretching and moving while being held by a loving parent, squeezing closely together...so dear!

There were a series of unexpected and absurd conversation topics -

  • why do people kill alligators and crocodiles?
  • these are the lovies I sleep with at night.
  • do you know Darth Vader?
All the children had things to share: Legos, costumes (lots of princess dresses!), journals, drawings, paintings, and stories. There was an impromptu book sharing, with preschoolers leaving their video feed to search their homes for favorite stories, to show these to their classmates. So cute! They see themselves as readers, wanting to learn more about everything.

We were so charmed by this exuberant time together, we are thinking that weekly "Zoom gatherings" would be a fun routine to add to this new normal. More to come!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID - 19: How to explain to kids?

I made a short video for my students, to explain this coronavirus pandemic in terms that they might understand. I have long admired Fred Rogers' advice:

If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable

If we talk about tough issues, we can handle them; we’re not as scared. I believe it is really important to convey this courage to children, to let them know that we are here for them, we are keeping them safe. Here's the text of my video:

I want to talk to you about something that is on everybody’s minds these days.
 You’re probably wondering why we’re all at home, why we friends can’t be together in the same classroom, playing together.
 Maybe you’ve heard this big word:
 Maybe you’ve wondered about it.
 Would you clap it with me?
 [Clap out the syllables of Coronavirus]
 See it’s not too big. We’ve got this!
 It’s a big, big word with FIVE syllables – yet, here’s something surprising, Coronavirus is very, very, very small. You and I can’t see it. It’s practically invisible – unless you have a very strong microscope.
 Coronavirus is a very powerful germ that can make people sick. And, because we can’t really see it, we’re not always sure where it is.
 I don’t know a lot about it, but I know there are lots of scientists, lots of adults, who are working very hard to keep us safe from Coronavirus. Lots of people all around the world are thinking about this, working on it. We are in a whole big community of people asking questions about this.
 And we know how to stop it!
Oh, yes, we do!
We have good ideas about not spreading this virus.
n  need to wash our hands thoroughly - you can sing along while you wash your hands, a song makes the soap bubbles last longer, as you clean your hands all over.
n  You can be sure to cover a cough or sneeze with your elbow
n  If you hear someone cough or sneeze, you can move away from them, give them a little space...maybe go get the box of tissues for them
n  And, we have to spend time apart. That’s why school is closed.
 If we can spend time apart, we won’t pass Coronavirus to others, and we won’t grow it, in our world. That is a very kind thing!
 It’s pretty strange to not be in our classroom together,
Here’s the good news:
We get to be with our families during this time.
There’s lots of things to do at home, too!
And we get to be resourceful.
 We need to see each other through the computer, through pictures. We can talk on the phone together, too.
 We have always been thinkers.. We can think of fun and interesting things to do at home:
Tell stories!
 You could also think like a scientist. What do you think we could do to make Coronavirus go away faster? What if you get out some paper and give it a think, draw and write what you imagine. I wonder what it looks like! What magic can you create that makes this virus go away, stop making people so sick.?
 Also, what is something kind that you can do? What is something you can do to help your family? Show your family what the we do every day!
 We’re still going to have lots of fun together, just like we always do. For a while, we need to be together separately!
 We can share our fun ideas with each other, too. Send me a picture of what your are building, what you are drawing. Tell me a story when I call you on the phone. We’re going to make this time apart be a time when we are still together in our hearts.
   If you start to feel worried or frustrated about it, remember the rule of three – Three Deep Cleansing Breaths! Let’s do that now.

[Take three deep breaths together.]
 I care about you.