Early Years, with Jan & Janet
It has been over two years since COVID-19 emerged as a stress-producing pandemic. Its impact was enormous and continues to be a concern for everyone involved in child care.
Anxiety (both tolerable and toxic) remains a continuing concern for families, educators and all children who have witnessed the impact of this stress in their homes, childcare learning environments and kindergartens.
Very young children’s exposure to social life has been distorted in ways that they do not have the cognitive ability to understand or regulate.
Physical personal connections between educators and parents have been eroded.
Children’s social connections and opportunities have been limited or drastically reduced in group settings, to avoid COVID spread.
Social interactions for sharing, turn taking, and collaborating together have been reduced for children. It falls on the educators to direct safe interactions and manage children’s social stress.
The nine concepts of the Tools for Life Early Years Resource will help to guide your approaches and strategies. Here are a few examples taken from various Concepts presented in the Resource:
Concept 1 Building a Culture of Belonging
Build the new relationships that allow you to become a source of calm, non-stressful safety.
Within your play-based program, your first priority in these times is to ensure all children have the sense of safety to participate comfortably, with as much support from you as needed. Children who are not calm cannot move forward in their development or learning. (Shanker, 2012)
Concept 4 All Feelings Are Okay!
Validate children’s emotions and areas of non-understanding.
Reassure children that all emotions are natural at all times, but especially in times of high stress and uncertainty. Use the feelings posters, puppets and other resources to encourage children to recognize and share their own feelings.
Share information about the pandemic in very simple terms for young children who are concrete thinkers. “There is a sickness that we have to be careful about. You are safe here. I am here for you …”
Concept 7 How to Calm Down
Model and teach self calming.
Teach small groups of children the self calming strategies, using Calm Down posters and the lanyard with cards representing various strategies.
Observe carefully to determine each child’s preferred strategy and make sure it is available (e.g. self-withdrawing to a cozy corner, engaging in sensory activities).
Plan carefully for children who do not seem to calm easily. You will need to co-regulate with these children.
Concept 2 Communication Builds Connections
Rebuild your communication and connections with parents. This creates an opportunity to share the Tools that you use in your setting for similar use at home.
Post the relevant posters in the entrance to invite conversation about Tools for Life, and print the relevant posters to send home for parents along with a contact email or phone number that allows for questions.
Use your communication app to keep parents up-to-date on their children’s’ emotional state and needs, and provide Strategies that can help. For example, “Today your child was (upset, scared, angry, etc.) when (describe circumstance that occurred). This is how we helped to co-regulate your child back to calm.”
As soon as is allowed, offer a parent session to describe your strategies.
Concept 8 Friendly Words! For Others
Social development has taken a back seat for safety protocol reasons. But remember two years is one-half of a preschool child’s life. They have not been able to freely work on their social skills and competence, and this is further eroded by the underlying stress that creates frequent and unpredictable outbursts. Some children’s social skills may be noticeably delayed, and they will appear quite egocentric.
Your role is not to judge or get frustrated, but to recognize the effects of lack of opportunity and to create numerous opportunities that you can use to guide and teach children. Using Friendly Words! Is a key starting point.
We need to always remember that a play-based program cannot be effective until the emotional needs of children are met enabling them to effectively use their newly developing social competencies. Tools for Life is developed from research and provides practical strategies and hands-on resources to support you as an Educator.
Tools for Life is … All Day, Every Day!
Tools for Life Early Years Specialists
ECE Professors, Janet Foster and Jan Blaxall