Stuck at home with young kids? Here’s what to do— and not to do

By Jackie Mader

This week’s newsletter is going to be a bit different as we take some time to finish up a soon-to-be-released series on teaching kids to read. The series will dive into the research on how kids learn to read, as well as tips for parents on what to look for in classrooms and how to support your child in learning to read at home. Look for it on our website April 1st, and I will also send the links out in my newsletter that week. 

In the meantime, I know many of you are in the same situation as I am: working from home with young children. I’ve answered some questions and compiled some resources from experts and educators that may help you get through this time, as well as a list of articles pertaining to kids and coronavirus. Feel free to respond to this email with any questions, story ideas or activity ideas, and I can share them in the next newsletter or via Twitter (follow me @jackiemader). Stay healthy everyone! 

What should I do at home with my young children? 

The priority is to help children feel safe and “not absorb all the anxiety that we’re feeling,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. And while many parents are trying to find resources to homeschool, Golin said it’s important for parents to take pressure off themselves to provide a “traditional academic” experience for young children. In fact, it’s OK—and even good— to just let kids play by themselves. Golin said the first few days at home are important because you can set up a routine that is not centered around screens. “We have this dichotomy often in our society that we have two choices, which is being on the floor playing with our young child or putting them in front of the screen,” Golin said. “This is a really wonderful time to remind parents of all the wonderful ways that young children can…play by themselves without a screen. In fact, it’s really important that they do.” 

One of the biggest concerns for young children during this time is figuring out a way to “replace interaction” that typically happens in preschool settings, Golin said. He suggested that parents take turns reading books aloud for groups of children via video or a conferencing platform, and that parents focus on giving kids experiences, rather than structured academic lessons, since that’s how they learn best at this age.  

Susan Friedman, the senior director of publishing and professional learning at the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC, underscored the importance of a well-rounded experience while children are out of school. “Are children exercising their bodies? Are they making art? Are they playing? Are they having conversation?” Friedman asked in an e-mail interview. “Those are important questions to ask right along with what kind of screen time.” 

When it comes to providing activities and experiences for kids, it can be overwhelming to wade through the endless ideas available online. Several school districts, including the New York City Department of Education, have compiled activities and resources for children organized by grade level, including early childhood. Many museums offer virtual tours. NAEYC has ideas for parents who want to create “centers” in their homes like those found in most preschool classrooms. Most importantly, however parents choose to structure their time, research shows kids thrive on routines, and the experts I spoke to said regardless of how parents fill their child’s time at home, they should aim to maintain a predictable schedule each day.  

Is it bad if my kid is getting exponentially more screen time now? 

Individual circumstances are going to vary, so if your child will be using a screen for a large part of the day, Golin said it’s important to remember best practices for choosing media content for young children. The most important things, Golin said, are that the content be age-appropriate, that it isn’t an “all day thing,” and that the media you show has clear beginning and ending points. “That is going to be better for kids than You Tube, for instance, which never ends,” Golin said. Some experts say media use should be limited to educational content, especially for young children (one study specifically cautioned against using anything but PBS content). Friedman pointed to NAEYC’s position statement on technology and media in early childhood and suggested parents scrutinize the quality of content. “The quality of what children watch on screens is more important than how much they watch,” Friedman wrote. Beyond watching content, a video chat can be a great way for kids to stay in touch with friends and relatives and give kids a chance to socialize. You may even be able to enlist Grandma to hold a daily story time or switch off with other parents to host a virtual circle time. Vincent Costanza, the chief academic officer for Teaching Strategies, which focuses on early ed curriculum, assessment and professional development, said parents often hear mixed messages about technology and there are times when technology can enhance relationships. “Setting up those kinds of experiences where technology is used to connect with others are certainly appropriate and should be leveraged at this time,” Costanza said. And when it comes to tablets and apps, parents should have clear expectations for what their child will take away from that screen time. Research shows that children under the age of 3 are less likely to learn from screens, so while giving your child a tablet may feel like you’re giving them an educational activity, it’s more entertainment than anything else in the early years.  

What about those controversial online preschool programs? 

For years, early education experts have cautioned parents about online preschool programs. Preschool programs are no replacement for the important in-person interactions that we know benefit the growing brains of young children. But what if your child’s preschool is closed? “You probably don’t need to sign up for one of those programs,” said Golin, adding that an immense amount of content for young children is already available without subscribing to an online preschool program. Plus, Golin reiterated, parents should not be concerned with trying to fill their children’s day with academic content. “I’d rather have kids watching old episodes of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood than worrying about if this is going to be the right [online] kindergarten readiness program,” he said.  

If I’m going to use online resources, how do I tell if they’re good? 

If you’re like me, you may have seen lists of 30 or more websites and online learning sites floating around the online parenting world, including on Facebook and in e-mail listservs. It can be overwhelming, and difficult to know which websites are quality. Golin said this is where parents can be helpful to each other. Instead of blindly sharing those lists, recommend a program your kid has enjoyed and share why they’ve enjoyed it. Also, caution parents about any part of that website that isn’t so great. Friedman recommended several resources, including The Kennedy Center’s daily lunch doodle with children’s book author Mo Willems and the PBS Kids Play and Learn Science app which provides ideas for hands-on, non-screen science projects. NAEYC has advice online for parents on how to choose technology for young children and Common Sense Media is also a good resource for parents to determine which websites, movies and books are age-appropriate.  

What can early childhood classrooms and schools do during this time? 

I was heartened last weekend by a story I heard about Dandelion Montessori, a small private Montessori school in Somerville, Massachusetts. When the local school district announced it would be closing, Heads of School Micki Sausen and Lindy McGrail Younis came up with a plan to provide support to parents and give their young students – who range from nearly 3 years old to 6 – a semblance of normalcy. Sausen and Younis spent hours collecting school materials and packing individual bags of activities for each of their 26 students. Each bag is different and includes activities and materials like Play-Doh, beads, puzzles, snap pea seeds and art supplies, tailored to what each student was working on before school closed. Bags were either handed out to parents outside the school or delivered to parents at their homes. The school’s teachers, known as guides in the Montessori world, will also do daily video check-ins with each student and their parents while school is closed, to sing songs, read a book and answer any questions about school materials that were sent home. “In this time of uncertainty, it’s just sort of supporting families and letting them know ‘You’ve got this, you can do this, it’s going to be OK and we’re here for you,’ ” Younis said. School officials are also considering hosting virtual play-dates if the closures continue.  

Vincent Costanza said one of the best things a preschool program or school district can do at this time is to send home model schedules with recommendations for parents on how to replicate their child’s day in the classroom. Costanza said it’s also important for programs and districts to communicate with their families at this time, especially to relay information on where parents can access meals and other essentials if they are in need. “This is an event that’s changing at least daily, if not much more quickly than that. Having an established communication structure in place I think is very important.” 

Across the nation, I’ve heard of many schools sending home lists of hands-on activities and parents organizing to share ideas. The executive director of my older son’s school, The Rise School of Austin, sent more than two dozen activity ideas out to parents when our school closed last week as teachers worked on creating a distance learning program. We’ve been very quickly making our way through this list, and I’ve included some of my favorites below: 

Feel free to respond to this e-mail with your ideas or tweet at me (@jackiemader) or tag hechingerreport on Instagram to share your experience and thoughts.

Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently reports that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is low for young Americansresearch on natural disasters makes it clear that, compared to adults, children are more vulnerable to the emotional impact of traumatic events that disrupt their daily lives. This resource offers information on supporting and protecting children’s emotional well-being as this public health crisis unfolds.

Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, everyday life has changed and will continue to change for most people in the United States, often with little notice. Children may struggle with significant adjustments to their routines (e.g., schools and child care closuressocial distancing, home confinement), which may interfere with their sense of structure, predictability, and security. Young people—even infants and toddlers—are keen observers of people and environments, and they notice and react to stress in their parents and other caregivers, peers, and community members. They may ask direct questions about what is happening now or what will happen in the future and may behave differently in reaction to strong feelings (e.g., fear, worry, sadness, anger) about the pandemic and related conditions. Children also may worry about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones, how they will get their basic needs met (e.g., food, shelter, clothing), and uncertainties for the future.

While most children eventually return to their typical functioning when they receive consistent support from sensitive and responsive caregivers, others are at risk of developing significant mental health problems, including trauma-related stress, anxiety, and depression. Children with prior trauma or pre-existing mental, physical, or developmental problems—and those whose parents struggle with mental health disorderssubstance misuse, or economic instability—are at especially high risk for emotional disturbances.

In addition to keeping children physically safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important to care for their emotional health. Below, we summarize recommendations for promoting the emotional well-being of children in the face of these types of adversities and provide a list of helpful resources. Because broader environments play an important role in supporting an individual’s resilience to childhood adversity, this list supplements resources specifically for children and their families with those intended for educators, communities, and states, territories, and tribes.

Recommendations to support and protect children’s emotional well-being during the pandemic:

Understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary.

Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating. New and challenging behaviors are natural responses, and adults can help by showing empathy and patience and by calmly setting limits when needed.

Ensure the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver.

The primary factor in recovery from a traumatic event is the presence of a supportive, caring adult in a child’s life. Even when a parent is not available, children can benefit greatly from care provided by other adults (e.g., foster parents, relatives, friends) who can offer them consistent, sensitive care that helps protect them from a pandemic’s harmful effects.

Social distancing should not mean social isolation.

Children—especially young children—need quality time with their caregivers and other important people in their lives. Social connectedness improves children’s chances of showing resilience to adversity. Creative approaches to staying connected are important (e.g., writing letters, online video chats).

Provide age-appropriate information.

Children tend to rely on their imaginations when they lack adequate information. Adults’ decisions to withhold information are usually more stressful for children than telling the truth in age-appropriate ways. Adults should instead make themselves available for children to ask questions and talk about their concerns. They might, for example, provide opportunities for kids to access books, websites, and other activities on COVID-19 that present information in child-friendly ways. In addition, adults should limit children’s exposure to media coverage, social media, and adult conversations about the pandemic, as these channels may be less age-appropriate. Ongoing access to news and social media about the pandemic and constant conversation about threats to public safety can cause unnecessary stress for children.

Create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing the 3 R’s: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation.

First, adults should reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones, and tell them that it is adults’ job to ensure their safety. Second, adults should maintain routines to provide children with a sense of safety and predictability (e.g., regular bedtimes and meals, daily schedules for learning and play). And third, adults should support children’s development of regulation. When children are stressed, their bodies respond by activating their stress response systems. To help them manage these reactions, it is important to both validate their feelings (e.g., “I know that this might feel scary or overwhelming”) and encourage them to engage in activities that help them self-regulate (e.g., exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation activities, regular routines for sleeping and eating). In addition, it is essential to both children’s emotional and physical well-being to ensure that families can meet their basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, clothing).

Keep children busy.

When children are bored, their levels of worry and disruptive behaviors may increase. Adults can provide options for safe activities (e.g., outside play, blocks, modeling clay, art, music, games) and involve children in brainstorming other creative ideas. Children need ample time to engage in play and other joyful or learning experiences without worrying or talking about the pandemic.

Increase children’s self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the sense of having agency or control—an especially important trait during times of fear and uncertainty. Children often feel more in control when they can play an active role in helping themselves, their families, and their communities. For example, children can help by following safety guidelines (e.g., washing their hands), preparing for home confinement (e.g., helping to cook and freeze food), or volunteering in the community (e.g., writing letters or creating art for older adults or sick friends, sharing extra supplies with a neighbor).

Create opportunities for caregivers (which may mean yourself!) to take care of themselves.

Children’s well-being depends on the well-being of their parents and other caregivers. Caregivers must take care of themselves so they have the internal resources to care for others. To this end, adult caregivers can engage in self-care by staying connected to social supports, getting enough rest, and taking time for restorative activities (e.g., exercise, meditation, reading, outdoor activities, prayer). Seeking help from a mental health provider is also important when adults struggle with very high levels of stress and other mental health challenges.

Seek professional help if children show signs of trauma that do not resolve relatively quickly.

Emotional and behavioral changes in children are to be expected during a pandemic, as everyone adjusts to a new sense of normal. If children show an ongoing pattern of emotional or behavioral concerns (e.g., nightmares, excessive focus on anxieties, increased aggression, regressive behaviors, or self-harm) that do not resolve with supports, professional help may be needed. Many mental health providers have the capacity to provide services via “telehealth” (i.e., therapy provided by telephone or an online platform) when in-person social contact must be restricted.

Emphasize strengths, hope, and positivity.

Children need to feel safe, secure, and positive about their present and future. Adults can help by focusing children’s attention on stories about how people come together, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and overcome adversity during the epidemic. Talking about these stories can be healing and reassuring to children and adults alike.

April and May Online Educational Training’s

APRIL

April 9, 2020 | 1:00 PM | MHTTC: Transitional Age Youth, Part 1: Young Adult Peer Monitoringwebinar
April 15, 2020 | 1:00 PM | PTTC: Talk about Sex as Prevention: A Novel Use of Motivational Interviewingwebinar
April 22, 2020 | 1:00 PM | PTTC: Social Determinants of Health Part 1: Examining the Social Determinants of Health: A Prevention Perspectivewebinar


MAY

May 6, 2020 | 1:00 PM | PTTC: Social Determinants of Health Part 2: A Prevention Approach to Working with the Social Determinants of Healthwebinar


OTHER TRAINING’S OF INTEREST

April 2-5, 2020 |  ASAM 51st Annual Conference – Innovations in Addiction Medicine and ScienceDenver, CO
April-May 2020 |  Suicide Prevention Across the Educational Continuum: Six-Part Webinar Series, webinars


*All times provided in Eastern Standard Time (EST)

Child Care Resources

How to Talk to Children About Coronavirus (COVID-19)

News of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is everywhere, from the front page of all the news to the playground at school. Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it.

Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.

Here are some suggestions regarding talking to children about COVID-19:

Remain calm. Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions. What you say and do about COVID-19 can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety. So, stay calm and don’t panic. If true, emphasize to your children that they and your family are fine. Remind them that you and the adults at their school/childcare are there to keep them safe and healthy.

Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about COVID-19 on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child that there aren’t a lot of cases in children. If children do get the virus, it tends to be very mild (like a cold).

Take your cues from your child and make yourself available. Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about COVID-19, and let your children talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective. It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them and make time for them. Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection

Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.

Monitor television viewing and social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present. Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Make sure an adult is the one who take on the news and will be the person who filters the news to their child. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from TV or social media.

Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure children is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Children will feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe. Remind the children that they are taking care of themselves by practicing good hygiene, such as: washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) multiple times a day, and covering their mouth with their elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Stick to routine. Children don’t like uncertainty, so staying rooted in routines and predictability is going to be helpful. This is particularly important if your child’s school or childcare shuts down. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.

Keep talking. Tell children that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. Let them know that the lines of communication are going to be open. You can say, “Even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, mom or dad will let you know, too.”


For more information regarding coronavirus (COVID-19), please visit:

· CDC Information on COVID-19 and Children

· CDC Recommendations: Steps to Prevent Illness

General CDC fact sheets to help staff and children’s families understand COVID-19 and the steps they can take to protect themselves:

· What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

· What to do if you are sick with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

· Stop the spread of germs – help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses like COVID-19 (visual/poster)


Resources:

· https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-(coronavirus)-a-parent-resource

· https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/

· https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/pep20-01-01-006_508_0.pdf

· https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PYrKYfOBa4p-azI5z_46KJMbi1FSmL_Y/view

· https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/3210-tips-for-families-talking-about-the-coronavirus

Training’s Available Near You!

Devereux Flip It

Devereux Flip It training focuses on an easy to use four step strategy in response to challenging behaviors. This strategy relies on a foundation of relationships, empathy, and understanding of trauma and toxic stress, using research-based techniques proven to support social-emotional development and improve behaviors.

Participants will learn about the four steps: (F)eelings, (L)imits, (I)nquiry and (P)rompts and practice using them in response to behaviors most prevalent in the classroom.

Date:      February 22, 2020
Time:      9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Trainer:   Jaime Thompson
Cost:       $60
STARS:   6
Location: Lynnwood

For registration, click HERE!

Introduction to Best Practices: Learning Activities

Come explore what research says about how children learn, what adults can do to prepare these specific play areas, and how adult-child interactions can complement children’s learning without interrupting it. This is a class for providers who are fairly new to the field or for those who want to review best practices in the Environment Rating Scale (ERS -3).

Date:      February 25, 2020
Time:      6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Trainer:   Jodi Escalante
Cost:       $20
STARS:   2
Location: Mt. Vernon

For registration, click HERE!

Investigating in Nature

Young children are active and curious. Everything is worth exploration with all of their senses. Providing opportunities for the growth and development of the whole child through play, opportunities to develop a sense of wonder about nature, and deep engagement in discovery about the real world are the foundation for learning in early childhood. In this training, participants will plan developmentally appropriate nature-based investigations or studies using the Washington State Early Learning and Development Guidelines and NAAEE Early Childhood Environmental Education Programs: Guidelines for Excellence.

Date:      March 2, 2020
Time:      6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Trainer:   Jamie Ashton
Cost:       $20.00
STARS:   2
Location:  Bellingham

For registration, click HERE!

Directors Toolbox: Circle of Influence

Building trust and a spirit of collaboration among staff in early childhood programs is central to achieving high-performing work teams. Meaningful staff involvement in decision-making is one way that trust and commitment to organizational goals are achieved. This workshop provides a framework for analyzing different types of decisions in program management and suggests ways that directors can move toward a more participative process in achieving program goals

The target audience is administrators and lead teachers of early childhood programs. Participants will receive a copy of Circle of Influence and follow-up coaching.

Date:      March 10, March 24, & April 7, 2020
Time:      12:30 pm – 2:30 pm
Trainer:   Julie Wasilewski
Cost:       $50
STARS:  6
Location: Everett

For registration, click HERE!

Introduction to Early Achievers

Have you just enrolled in Early Achievers? Would you like to know more about how you can prepare for your rating? Introduction to Early Achievers will help you understand the critical role you will play in the quality improvement journey for your program and how you can make the most our of your Early Achievers participation.

Date:      March 12, 2020
Time:      1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Trainer:   Elyssa Yunker
Cost:       Free
STARS:   1.5
Location: Online training

For registration, click HERE!

Introduction to the Environment Rating Scales- Third Edition (ERS-3)

This training is one of six modules in the Best Practices Series that supports Early Achievers by emphasizing high-quality adult practices measured by the ERS-3. This module will introduce the ERS assessment tools: what they measure, definitions of terms, and how to score the assessment. Participants will focus on themes and examine what they already know about teaching and interactions, quality learning environments, and best practice. 

Date:       March 12, 2020
Time:       6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Trainer:    Kristen Bowler-Marere
Cost:        $20.00
STARS:    2.5
Location:  Lynnwood

For registration, click HERE!

Building Relationships Using Observation and Documentation for Infants and Toddlers

How do you know that the children in your care are thriving and making progress in all areas of the development? Implementing effective observation and documentation methods is key to this knowledge. Learn the whys and hows of planning for facilitation of learning, effective observation, and the gathering and organizing of documentation. Get to know the children in your care in a deeper way and increase the level of professionalism in your child care program.

Date:       March 24 2020
Time:       6:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Trainer:    Esther Iles
Cost:        $20.00
STARS:    2
Location:  Bellingham

For registration, click HERE!

Conscious Discipline

Conscious Discipline teaches how to intentionally build a culture of learning in each classroom. Conscious Discipline® is an evidence-based, trauma-informed approach. It is recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, and received high ratings in a Harvard analysis of the nation’s top 25 social-emotional learning programs.

This training includes 10 modules (8 sessions) covered over three months for 20 hours of professional learning. Sessions are held on selected Wednesdays and Saturdays, and location varies by date. Dates include March 25, April 1, April 4, April 25, April 29, May 5, May 13, and May 20.

Date: Series starts on March 25, 2020
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Trainer: Pat Cavit
Cost: $200.00
STARS: 20
Location: Everett

For registration, click HERE!