It’s wonderful to welcome children back to your child care center, possibly for the first time in months. But given this new environment, as we alter our routines during the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be big adjustments for your families to make, too, when they return to your daycare center. Supporting them through that transition is key to helping them navigate it successfully.
For the children, coming back to their child care center may be similar to starting daycare for the first time or returning after an extended holiday break or summer vacation. The disruption to the daily routine they’ve become used to over the last few months may cause stress and separation anxiety, especially for younger children.
Prepare families before they return
Reaching out to families before their children return is critical and shows you have their best interests at heart. Set up a phone or video call with each child and their teacher so they can connect before the first day back. The teacher can ask how they’re feeling about returning, empathetically address their concerns, and have an age-appropriate discussion about procedures that will change like washing hands more frequently to protect others.
Eliminating surprises can also help create a more successful transition. Give parents plenty of information about any changes before you reopen so they can prepare their children. For instance, it could be traumatic for some children, and make separating harder, if their parents are no longer walking them into the building each morning. Suggest that parents explain these new procedures and practice those that are practical to do at home such as temperature checks, wearing a mask and the proper way to wash hands.
You may also want to give parents information that will help them explain COVID-19, and why it’s so important to implement these new procedures. Parents may have put off having this discussion with their children because they don’t want to frighten them, or they’re unsure how to do it in an age-appropriate way. However, it makes for a much smoother transition back to school if parents to talk with their children about coronavirus and why your center is implementing these changes prior to their children returning.
There are many good resources on the web that you can share with parents to explain COVID-19 to their kids. Here’s a good article from the Child Mind Institute: “Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus Crisis.”
Create a fun video
Consider creating a fun and engaging video that walks families through the changes at your child care center. Having a visual tour of what will be different can be very reassuring to children.
Demonstrate new check-in/check-out procedures, wearing PPE, and new hygiene and social distancing practices. Explain how recess and eating times will work to keep everyone safe. Show them how your center looks different than before, such as tables being spaced farther apart. Reintroduce your teaching staff while they’re wearing masks so the children aren’t startled by their favorite teacher’s appearance. It’s also important to reiterate that you’re looking forward to welcoming them back.
It may be tough for the children to adapt to a structured routine again. Talk with your staff about how they can be flexible and supportive with children who are struggling. You may need to inject some flexibility such as letting a child play quietly by themselves if they’re feeling overwhelmed or allowing them to lie down for quiet time. Lesson plans may need to be shortened for the first few weeks if attention spans are short.
Other children may be wound up once they’re back at child care, because they’ve missed the interaction with friends and teachers. Social distancing may be particularly hard for them. Teachers will need to be prepared to frequently remind children if they’re getting too close to others while praising positive behaviors.
The Early Education Childhood blog recommends creating social distancing “pods” using painter’s tape to mark off a special area for each child to play. Within each pod, children can have their own toys and supplies to play with, which helps keep them intrigued enough that they remain within the pod’s boundaries. The pods also keep the children appropriately separated, while still allowing them to see each other.
Transitioning from being home for multiple months to going back to child care can be a big change for young children. By thoughtfully implementing ideas like these, you can help your families feel reassured and confident about the new normal and returning to your child care center.