Families always have many concerns when their children enter the preschool gates, whether for the first time or continuing years in childcare. Foremost is “Will my child be safe and stay healthy?” As much as childcare staff review health policies with parents and follow safety procedures, illness does occur and accidents do happen. This past year has been a particular challenge for childcare providers, as the Covid-19 pandemic that has spread throughout our communities has been unprecedented.
New modifications for both teachers and parents have been put into practice, and the changes have proved to be essential in childcare facilities. The cooperative efforts among staff and families have reinforced the focus on safe and healthy environments.
This year, TBI Preschool, like many early childhood programs, adjusted our daily schedule. Children now spend the majority of their time outdoors, to enhance physical distancing and be in fresh air. Following the suggested modifications of the CDC, LACPH and DSS licensing, wearing masks has become the new norm for everyone on site.
There have been some lessons learned, and some lessons reinforced at TBI Preschool during Covid-19. For example, as an ECE Director I was always forthright with new parents. I let them know that their children would very likely get four or five colds during the school year. This is common with children who haven’t developed immunity yet, and are first exposed to viruses carried by others. I’ve long known of the parenting practice of having babies napping in their prams outdoors and children regularly playing outdoors despite the cold weather in Scandinavian countries. This year, we’ve been forced to adopt some of the same experiences. The TBI Preschool children are outdoors about 90% of the school day. It’s a very small sampling, but for the first time in the 32 years that I’ve been at TBI Preschool, we have not had one child out sick. Perhaps the combination of wearing masks, limiting the exposure to a smaller group of children and being outdoors most of the day has been the answer to reducing the risk of infection with common colds as well as with Covid-19.
Some reinforced lessons include the necessity of outdoor play for children, not only for physical wellness. For young children, most anything that’s done indoors can be done outside, with the benefit of more space and fresh air.
Also, a child’s well-being is not merely physical. Social-emotional wellness is an essential and interrelated aspect of a child’s health. A child will often react to a parent’s anxiety, and struggle with something new and different if they sense a parent’s discomfort with the activity. So when parents model wearing masks and washing hands in a positive, supportive way, they are demonstrating their care for their child, family and others.
Thus, the combination of social-emotional support within a healthy environment gives children an opportunity to thrive and grow. By focusing on what’s working, in partnership with others, our community becomes resilient and demonstrates and models values of chesed and pikuach nefesh for our children.
Deborah Pruitt is the director of TBI preschool and a contributing writer to Kiddish Magazine.