How an adapting Child and Family Center supports the littlest learners in the pandemic
The sudden shift in routines caused by the COVID-19 outbreak in March was a strain on both parents and kids. But for the littlest learners, 136 kids aged three months to five years who spend their days in the Child and Family Center (CFC), it has been hard to grasp the COVID-related reasons for our societal shift. Like many of us, the CFC’s team has had to pivot quickly to a work-from-home model, and they have moved nimbly to create new programming to support their young charges and provide age appropriate education and enrichment—and a measure of continuity.
All 14 classes of the CFC, the Rockefeller community’s progressive early childcare provider and preschool, have offered outreach to their students and families through a variety of mediums, including videoconferencing via Zoom. Through a combination of live and recorded events such as circle time, storybook reading, small group activities, and one-on-one sessions, CFC teachers are helping to maintain their school community and provide the kids with virtual social opportunities outside of their families. Although staff can’t provide physical care—changing diapers, warming bottles, managing meals—they can maintain their relationships and, perhaps, give parents a few minutes to focus on other tasks. There are events happening every day of the week.
“What really hit us is the importance of the connections that are built in our school community and the potential of this situation to take a social and emotional toll on our children who can’t understand why they can’t see their teachers and friends,” says Pamela Stark, director of the CFC. “Much of this programing is to let the children know we’re still here, we didn’t disappear, even though things are different.”
In one of their first videos, music specialist Owen Johnston, a former Broadway performer, created musical handwashing demos set to the catchy tunes of “Baby Shark” and the “ABC’s.” The lyrics and melodies are meant to promote self-reliant hygiene habits that follow the guidelines of the World Health Organization. In another video, a teacher soothingly speaks with children about masks using puppets and stuffed animals, familiarizing them with the new normal of face coverings.
Understanding of the competing demands on parents working from home, CFC teachers have explored new schedules. The gold room, with four-year-olds, for instance, has found that Friday evening pajama circle time is better suited to the demands of parents working from home. With families in close quarters, older siblings, many of whom once attended the CFC, also join in activities with their younger brothers and sisters.
The efforts have been well received. “’At the beginning of the shutdown, my son would cry when circle time with his teachers would end. However, now it’s become more routine, and he’s comfortable knowing that he’ll see them again online the next day. The consistent check-in with his CFC teachers has really helped anchor his day,” says Lacy Barton, a CFC parent.
Teaching teams are also circulating a weekly newsletter with suggested activities for every age group, often in direct response to parent concerns. And they are hosting drop-in Zoom sessions for parents. One-on-one support has also been made available through CFC team members as well as through a consulting clinical psychologist who specializes in working with young children and their families and teachers.
“We know that all of this is not a substitute for daylong Monday to Friday care. But it is really meaningful, while everything else is so hard, to keep the community going for our children and families,” says Stark.