We are now approaching a year of living under safety guidelines and while it has been an undoubtedly complicated process, there is one thing that rings true above all else: SPYC early education and care partner programs and Somerville children have risen to the challenge as pioneers in this new world.
Over the past several months, SPYC program directors have been meeting and collaborating to discuss, share, and implement ways to meet the requirements for physically distant learning. A collective issue requires a unified approach. As Preschool Director of Elizabeth Peabody House, Sheri Rios-Graziano, notes, there is “not one exact formula for quality early child care,” which proves just how essential cooperation is right now.
When asked to describe their biggest obstacles, directors of SPYC partner programs all highlighted the need to make up for lost interaction with families and children in classrooms due to physical distancing. Aside from wearing masks, physical distancing means families no longer have in-person access to classrooms, while drop off and pick up now takes place at the front door. Directors then shared ideas for how to personalize drop off and how to share what was happening in the classrooms through photos sent home via daily texts or apps.
Reshaping the Classroom
In the classroom, the children’s learning and play spaces became distanced from one another, a guideline that educators were initially afraid would isolate them.
Despite these changes, directors across the board noticed that children entered school with little separation anxiety, eager to get to the classroom to play!
With this newfound space between them, educators focused on bridging these gaps with opportunities for engagement in new ways. Working with SPYC’s Instructional Coaches, they began restructuring the environments for more individualized learning experiences and shared photos of classroom set ups.
Children now had their own sets of materials and more freedom to choose what to play with from their own shelves now that toys could not be shared. As a result, children became more independent, focused, and settled in routines. Even so, they still talked to each other and shared their excitement about what they were doing!
Making Sense of the “Unknown”
While this has certainly provided unprecedented areas of growth, it has also highlighted a key feature that existed throughout each child care center long before the new safety guidelines were ever put into place. Because each of our partners center the need for social-emotional learning, an approach that considers the needs of the whole child, partner programs act on the belief that children are fully capable of understanding and adapting to anything as long as there is mutual trust, respect, and assistance between the educator and child.
As a result, the children proved that these changes are not about taking away their agency. In fact, by virtue of their natural curiosity and independence the children have instead engaged their adaptability to guide themselves towards creative solutions. Director of Somerville YMCA, Cheryl McNulty, insists that children have adapted with much more ease than the adults because children are more comfortable marching into “the unknown”, something she believes has helped educators and families themselves become empowered. What our children have continuously shown us is that despite shifting guidelines and practices, they are pioneers in this world too.