Leading up to the days prior to re-opening daycare following the pandemic closure, we all had so many questions and fears of the unknown. As educators, we want to do our best to create an environment that keeps children physically safe and healthy. Parents may have question too because although they may trust their educators and caregivers, the situation is new to all of us. But the question remains for all, how do we provide a safe environment according to the guidelines without creating an institutional feel within the classroom?
What does engagement look like now?
Educators and parents often share many common goals when it comes to children. We all want and strive for their overall health, safety, and well-being both at homes and at school. Considering the pandemic, more emphasis has been placed on physical health for obvious reasons. But now that we have some experience implementing these new health guidelines, we have also gained some confidence to provide a broader sense of well being for each child that extends beyond just the physical well-being.
After months of being house bound with limited interactions with friends, family and the community, children have now returned to daycare. For many children, this may be the only place they go other than their home. This means that the time spent with educators and peers becomes even more precious. These social interactions are critical to the child’s emotional well-being.
Responsive Educators and Peer Interactions
How do we create a warm and inviting environment for children? Firstly, the presence of a sensitive and responsive educator is the most important part. Secondly, the social interactions between peers play a pivotal role in the child’s environment and their own social development. Children can interact with each other throughout the day within a space that has a limited number of children and that allows for physical distancing during higher risk times (such as sleeping and eating times). Children—especially young children—need quality time with their educators and other peers.
We create a safe physical and emotional environment by following routines. Routines are so important to a child’s well being. This is something that most children lacked during their time at home during quarantine. Knowing what comes next creates a sense of ease and familiarity each day and this helps to build a child’s confidence.
Creative Approaches to Engagement
Creative approaches to staying connected are important while remaining cautious and safe. A sure-fire recipe for happiness is keeping children engaged. Children need ample time to engage in play and other joyful learning experiences such as exercise, mindfulness, and regular routines for sleeping and eating. It is essential to both children’s emotional and physical well-being.
Verbal and Non-verbal Communication
As educators, we find moments to use powerful words to acknowledge children. These words can convey affection, compassion, and encouragement. We also use eye contact, smiles, hand gestures, signals, and other forms of non-verbal communications to stay connected with the children.
What we know is that creating a sense of belonging, engagement, well-being, and expression creates a foundation for learning.