Distance Learning Discoveries: Making the Virtual Tactile

Digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, however it also comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. Over the last seven months our school has been engaging children through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One strategy that remains consistent with our in-person approach is the use of objects. This blog is authored by Juliana Venegas and Sarah Huffman, one of our preschool teaching teams, and shares their experience using objects with their class in a virtual format. 


Why objects? 

SEEC uses an object-based learning approach because both museum objects and everyday objects are a powerful learning tool as they tell stories, are tangible, real, and spark wonder. When we moved to virtual lessons, we wanted to keep true to the object-based approach we use in the classroom by sharing museum objects digitally and encouraging children to bring related objects to our online lessons. While some aspects of a museum object are lost when sharing digitally, we found that the addition of children bringing their own objects was a benefit we didn’t have when in the classrooms or museums. Having each child hold an object gives them a tangible way to connect lesson content to their immediate lives as the objects were coming from their own homes.

Children’s Response 

The children responded very well when bringing objects with them to virtual lessons. They could not wait to share what they brought and enjoyed seeing what their peers brought as well. They also seemed to have a sense of pride in the objects they had to share, which may have increased their overall engagement in lessons. They were quick to make comparisons between each other’s objects and the objects and images we shared in our PowerPoint presentations. Often, the children would recognize another item that we were showing but had not asked them to bring; then they would excitedly go find it in their home to point to or show us. We did not ask them to do this, but we supported these opportunities when they occurred. 

Objects Support Anti-Bias Education  

Having students bring their own objects to our virtual lessons supports the Anti-Bias Educational approach really well. Children were able to closely examine the objects they brought and compare them to the museum objects on the screen or to those of their peers. As teachers, we facilitated this by giving each student an opportunity to describe their item. Then we would go to each of the other students to ask if their object had something similar or if it looked different. It seemed that it may have been easier to have their own object than to share an object like we would do in the classroom because the children could continuously examine their objects throughout the lesson (they didn’t have to remember what they looked at before). After everyone shared, we, as teachers, would ask if all the objects did the same job and if they were all tools. This reiterated the idea that while some tools for mixing, for example, looked different, they all did the same thing. We would often connect that idea back to previous lessons: all our kitchens look different, but they are all places where we cook and spend time with loved ones. We all look different, but we are all chefs and help in the kitchen. 

a child sitting in front of an open kitchen cabinet, pulling out kitchen tools such as bowls, measuring cup, and cupcake pan.

Recommendations  

Having children bring an object to a virtual lesson is a great way to ensure you are reaching all different types of learners. Some children are perfectly fine sitting in front of a computer screen and listening to their peers and teachers, while others need to have a tangible object in their hands to help focus. 

Also make sure to think outside the box and provide options. We were very aware that families may not be comfortable or able to go out to purchase materials. When we asked families to send their child to our lessons with an object, we made sure to provide options. For example, during our unit on cooking, when learning about mixers, we asked our class to bring something they use to stir – some brought spoons, some brought whisks, and some brought hand mixers. Being general about what we asked for allowed families to use what was accessible to them and provided an opportunity for children to engage by sharing what they brought. Sharing objects in this way also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world. 

Lastly, be prepared in case a child does not bring an object. Families had a lot going on, so we didn’t want to make any family or child feel bad if they forgot to bring an item or didn’t have time to look for a particular item. In this case, one of the teachers may not show their object, instead opting to ‘not have an object’ as well. The teacher leading the lesson would reassure the students that it was okay to not have an item and would facilitate careful looking of others’ objects and the images on the screens. Even without an object, there were still ways for every child to participate. 

Distance Learning Discoveries: Creating a Character

While digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, it comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. This summer our school has been engaging our students through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One such strategy is to create a character. This blog is authored by pre-k 4 educator Krystiana Kaminski, the creator of Penny Featherbottom.


The character of Penny Featherbottom came about after hearing that our stay-at-home order was being extended and I was feeling frustrated and upset by the news. I needed some cheering up and I thought my families might as well. 

A sock puppet with red button eyes, a yarn mustache and open mouth.

A few weeks before, we had finished our unit on Natural Phenomenon. Before moving on to a new unit, we did a week of Just for Fun which was light on academics and had more humorous stories and activities. The children seemed to like it, so we decided to continue it on Fridays. That week we were using one of our favorite Sesame Street songs, “Mahna Mahna”, and we thought that creating sock puppets could be a fun activity. After a few attempts, (my first one was very scary looking), Penny Featherbottom was created along with their glorious mustache. I began to make videos with Penny that explored our current topic. The funny thing was when I was filming, the mustache came off accidentally and I just went with it. It later became a huge part of the narrative as Penny tries to get it back through magic and then science.

A sock puppet looking at a computer with science notes and drawings on it.

The children seemed to really enjoy Penny Featherbottom and would sometimes ask for more videos. We didn’t use them much in our Simple Machine unit but when we did our unit Potions and Fantastical Notions unit Penny took on a more starring role. Penny decided to learn magic to grow back their glorious mustache. Once they accomplished that, Penny started messing with my dog (making her turn herself into a dragon) and us teachers (they turned us into vampires). We had a fun Zoom call where my co-teacher, Sara, and I showed up as vampires and the children had to turn us back to humans using that week’s lessons on potions and incantations. Penny was then asked to no longer use magic and they made an apology video for the children. We wanted to build on what we have been learning all year about making amends. People sometimes make mistakes and it is important to recognize and own that and then figure out how to best make amends. Penny’s final video/PowerPoint was about turning to science as their new interest which led to them wanting to further their education at Sock Puppet Academy. 

An educator holding up and interacting with a sock puppet.

I had a lot of fun making the videos but did encounter quite a few challenges as I’m not very technologically adept. I found most of the video editing sites wanted you to pay for monthly membership and the one on my computer was very slow. Sometimes I would use photographs of Penny instead of a video and added those to the PowerPoints I used during lessons. We’ve been adding audio to our PowerPoints and that has made some of our files very large which led to lots of other tech challenges. There were also times when I had promised the children a video but did not have it in me due to these stressful times. Our families were very understanding when that happened. I went into this wanting to create something that brought joy so I tried to make sure I was feeling joyful when making the videos. 

My main advice to anyone wanting to create something similar is to have fun with it. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and I found that the more absurd I got with it, the more fun it was. Penny Featherbottom became part of our online class community, and even infiltrated some children’s home life. For example, one child started blaming everything that went wrong at home on Penny’s magic. Another created their own sock puppet characters, Pip and Pop, and made a delightful video with some impressive voice work!

Distance Learning Discoveries

Similarly to most schools in the world, SEEC was thrown a huge curveball in March when we closed the doors to our centers and embarked on a virtual journey with the youngest of children. Faculty and families alike worked to find best practices for our children to maintain relationships and engagement while connecting through a screen. Much of our philosophy focuses on experiencing the world in person with strong social interactions, so we wrestled with how this would translate to a whole new platform. Like many others dealing with this new normal, we have been actively trying out new strategies and assessing their success as we go. We wanted to share our successes, failures, and reflections from the past five months through a blog series. Below are some of the themes we will expand on in the coming weeks.

Create a Routine

Children thrive when they have a routine. Knowing what is coming next gives children a sense of control and comfort especially in the midst of a sudden, major, lifestyle change. So it’s not surprising that our faculty found it helpful to outline the plan of the day at the start of each lesson. In addition, our teachers often began each session in the same way, for example, singing a hello song, or doing some deep breathing, and ended in the same way. These subtle cues helped children adjust to adapt to the new “classroom”

A young child sits on a chair looking at a computer in which a photo is displayed of a man playing a trumpet.

Community Connections

While we may all be physically apart from each other, we still need to connect with our community through authentic interactions. We’ve had other school community members join video calls to share their expertise in a topic that the class is learning about. For example, one of our preschool classes was learning about gardening and produce. One of our toddler educators is a gardener and was able to join them from her home and share some of her plants and tools with them. Other ways to connect to the community include sharing related videos and images of community members and safe, nearby, locations that families could visit.

Make it Silly

Life is challenging right now, for parents, teachers, kids, everyone. Our faculty wanted to lighten the mood, so they kept the silliness and fun flowing even while virtual. Some silly strategies they employ are creating characters who appear on the video calls, playing music and having a virtual dance party, and having a week of theme days such as crazy hair day or dress like your favorite book character day.

In addition to needing to keep the silliness, our faculty also quickly recognized the children’s need for plain, simple, social interaction. Some of our preschool classes began having virtual snack time where children signed on and ate their snack and chatted together like they would at school. This has become very popular among the children and it often lasts far longer than the teachers anticipate!

Maintain Relationships

Strong relationships are essential to meaningful learning experiences in early childhood. While more difficult to foster through screens, it is possible! Besides one-on-one video calls between teachers and students, our faculty incorporates photos of the children in their lesson presentation. The children love to see themselves in the presented topic, and are able to reflect on past learning. Each of our classes also has a shared photo album where families can upload photos from the week. This allows children to see each others’ learning and feel a connection with their peers.

A young child sits in front of an open cabinet, pulling out bowls, measuring cup, and pans.

Incorporate Objects

A cornerstone of our practice is the use of objects to teach children. We often venture into the museums to observe and learn about artifacts or artworks related to our curriculum, but we also frequently use everyday objects and find that they’re also a powerful tool. While we’re away from the museum, teachers have asked children to bring their own easily accessible objects to the class, which has served several purposes. First, children became more invested in the session because they had something to share to the experience. Having an object also allows for tactile learning that is so important in early childhood when a teacher cannot physically facilitate that from a screen. Sharing objects also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world.


We’re taking everything we’ve learned and incorporating it into Virtual Family Workshops this fall. To learn more and register, check our Family Workshops page. Also, be sure to check back for more blogs expanding on the above themes.

Honoring My Child’s Interests

This post was written by Maureen Leary, Director of Toddler and Kindergarten Programs

Value of Virtual

When the Smithsonian closure due to Coronavirus health concerns was announced in mid-March, none of us had a clear sense of how long it would last. Once it became obvious that it was going to be more than a few weeks, SEEC faculty immediately transitioned to conducting distance learning through online platforms. Teaching young children this way is neither ideal nor intuitive, but we knew we needed to quickly develop these skills to better support our families. At SEEC we believe it’s important for us to offer virtual interactions for a number of reasons. It provides personal connections during a time when we can’t experience them directly; it offers an anchor point for themes and topics that families can explore in their own way and on their own time; it inserts some amount of structure into the days and weeks that have been completely upended; it allows children to retain a level of comfort and familiarity with peers and educators during what has turned into an extended closure with no definitive end.

The Challenges of Virtual

Many families are craving the connections and routines that suddenly disappeared from our lives, and appreciate the opportunity to see each other virtually. That said, we also know that consistently participating in these interactions can sometimes be a challenge. Maybe your child is tired, hungry, grumpy, or just uninterested. It could be that you have a work conflict and you can’t prioritize your child’s meeting over your own. Perhaps you’re feeling overstretched and just don’t want to add one more thing to your day. Skipping your child’s scheduled activity might cause feelings of guilt and worry, and cause you to wonder if it’s ok to be missing these online interactions.  At SEEC our answer is always an emphatic yes. We encourage families to follow their children’s leads on what helps the day go smoothly for them. It might be that they’d rather go outside during a virtual circle time, or that they just have no interest in it at all. Maybe they refuse to talk or get frustrated with how the conversation goes. All of this is developmentally appropriate and totally ok. Enrichment can be found in so many ways, in moments small and large, and doesn’t always have to be carefully orchestrated. What’s really important right now is that all of us, children and adults, feel cared for and supported.

Tips for Virtual

If you do choose to participate in an online “circle” here are some helpful hints compiled from conversations we have been having with our SEEC community. 

  • Some children are camera-shy. Don’t insist that they talk or even appear on the screen. Giving them repeated exposure to the format and letting them develop comfort with it at their own pace is likely to increase their participation. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok, too!
  • If your child is reluctant to talk but does want to be included, suggest they give a virtual high-five or a thumbs up as a way to connect with others.
  • Check with your child’s teachers about scheduling some one-on-one screen time. Even just 10 minutes of individual attention this way can pay big dividends. 
  • Some families have found it’s easiest to pair distance learning with snack time, so the child is staying in one place and not becoming distracted by other surroundings.
  • Alternatively, if the weather’s nice and it’s hard to be inside, try bringing your screen outside and participating that way. We’ve seen toddlers actively engage in circle time while also riding a tricycle down the street!

Screen Time

One final, related note: a recurring concern with the current environment is that young children are getting more screen time than is recommended. This is an issue we are always thinking about, and while we agree it’s best to limit screen time for young children, we do believe that distance learning offers important benefits, especially as we practice social distancing. At SEEC, we generally advocate for the limited use of screens when they are a single element of a larger, interactive experience. Of course, there may be families who opt out entirely of distance learning for the screen time concern alone, and that is also a decision we respect. We always want families to do what feels right for their own well-being, and it certainly won’t be the same for everyone. We encourage you to trust your instincts, be responsive to the needs of your child, and reach out to your child’s educators if you have any questions or concerns. 

Let’s Talk! Talking about Race with Children

Please welcome guest blogger Anna Forgerson Hindley of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.  As the Supervisory Early Childhood Education Coordinator at the NMAAHC, Anna Forgerson Hindley’s work focuses on positive identity development, interrupting structures of racism and prejudice, raising healthy, courageous and compassionate children in a highly diverse and inequitable society and introducing African American history to young children in age-appropriate ways. She holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from The George Washington University.


The beginning of a beautiful friendship: NMAAHC + SEEC

As the head of the early childhood education initiative (ECEI) at The National Museum of African American History and Culture , I am thrilled to connect with SEEC as a guest on this blog. Our two organizations have a special relationship full of mutual respect from which we continually learn from each other. SEEC’s nearly 30 years of teaching young children in museums and philosophy of learning through objects has shaped how we design programs for children at NMAAHC. In turn, as SEEC increasingly commits to anti-bias education, we have been able to support their efforts through trainings and by being a resource when questions emerge about racial identity, race, history and bias.

SEEC educators are masters in using objects, art and community spaces to broaden children’s understanding of the world. They were eager to visit NMAAHC when we opened last fall to explore learning opportunities for young children yet had questions – thoughtful, important questions – they sent to me.  The following question is just one of the many they submitted but is what I am asked most in my work. If you are reading this, you likely have a young child – or many young children – in your life. Whether you are a parent or an educator or both, you may have grappled with this same questions.

  • How do we talk about race with young children?

This question and the follow-up professional development I led for SEEC staff last February inspires what I share with you now.

Indoor waterfall with people taking pictures of it
The National Museum of African American History and Culture’s contemplative court offers visitors a quiet space for reflection. Copyright NMAAHC.

This is a personal, lifelong journey

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Frederick Douglass, Abolitionist

Part of NMAAHC’s mission is to be a place of healing and reconciliation and to provide space to have constructive and respectful conversations about race and identity. As I have developed the early childhood education initiative at NMAAHC, I have deeply considered what this means for our youngest visitors – and continue to think about every day!

The work of early childhood education has the power to affect what society will be in the future. We can help build strong children who will grow to make the world more equitable, just, and kind. Never doubt that the work you do – as a parent or an educator – is important and POWERFUL!

While it may be easier to build strong children than to repair broken men, it does not mean the work we do is easy. In fact, when we commit to respecting and embracing differences and acting against bias and unfairness and focus on positive identity development for all children, the work is often hard, at times emotional, and requires us to look at our own identity, bias, and baggage.

All of us must reflect on these things so we can begin to peel back the layers to get clearer about our experiences throughout our lives and the assumptions we make now. The following questions may help as you reflect:

  • When were you first aware of your race?
  • What do you remember from childhood about how you made sense of human differences? What confused you?
  • What childhood experiences did you have with peers or adults who were different from you in some way?

Once we reflect on where we have been, we can start to understand the assumptions and potential bias we hold. As a white educator, I have the responsibility to continually examine and think critically about race, justice and my own privilege. I encourage you to take time to reflect on yourself before you start to think about the children in your lives. Be kind and honest with yourself, knowing this is a lifelong journey.

People pointing and smiling
Participants at the NMAAHC’s educator workshop, Let’s Talk! Teaching Race in the Classroom, unpack their own racial identity and reflect on where they are in their journey. The work is serious but it is also constructive to have a sense of humor and connect with each other. Photo credit: @keredding, http://keredding.com/ Redding Photography.

Teaching race with young children

My friend and mentor, Julie Olsen Edwards, explains that the notion of race is a social construct designed to fraudulently divide people into groups ranked as superior and inferior. The scientific consensus is that race, in this sense, has no biological basis – we are all one race, the human race. Racial identity, however, is very real. And, in a racialized society, everyone is assigned a racial identity whether they are aware of it or not. Young children are not immune to this.

At NMAAHC, our programs explore, celebrate, and uplift differences while simultaneously seeking ways to connect with the ways we are similar. Part of this is to support understanding and the development of each child’s healthy racial identity, although we do not always directly discuss race. Talking about racial identity and race looks different at different ages. The conversation must be layered throughout childhood in age appropriate ways that connect to what is happening developmentally.

Children are not colorblind. Talking about race with young children honors who they are as learners but the conversation looks vastly different for a one year old than it does at five. I recently sat down with Julie Olson Edwards and Candra Flanagan, coordinator of the student and teacher initiative at NMAAHC and my thought partner, to think about what this means for the different stages of early childhood.

Knowing that infants recognize race at 6 months of age, it is appropriate, and beneficial, to talk about how we are different while uplifting the message we are all the same. We all play but some of us like blocks and some of us like books! We all have bodies but all our bodies look different! This age is a time to celebrate the diversity of humanity and create a healthy, positive emotional framework when discussing identity.

Between two and half to five years of age, children are sorting, organizing and classifying to make sense of their world and their language is expanding rapidly. Children are able to begin to understand the complex social construct of race when we introduce skin color and where it comes at this age. We get our skin color from our biological parents. There can be different shades of skin color in the same family. Every person’s skin is different and every family is unique – isn’t the diversity around us beautiful!  At this age, children begin to recognize justice and fairness in their own lives so purposeful and thoughtful conversations and explorations allow children to construct personal meaning about these concepts. Although conversations about fairness and justice at this age are appropriate, children need to have a solid sense of identity, race and self before talking about racial injustice.

Child holding a glue stick, pasting images to a piece of paper
Two children cutting out images and placing on construction paper
Prior to opening, the NMAAHC’s early childhood education initiative facilitated programs in communities around DC-MD-VA. These toddlers attended the program, “I AM…creative!” and created their own collage using photographs of all different children and historical images. The style of art was inspired by the artist, Romare Bearden.

By 5, 6, 7 years of age, children are able to have conversations about injustice and being treated unfairly based on identity (race, gender, etc.). Before you enter this conversation, reflect and center the goal to respect and embrace differences and prepare children to act against bias and unfairness. If you are an educator, consider the following questions: Who is in the classroom? Who is the only? Who are the few? And who is the teacher in relationship to the students? Inherent in labels of race is hierarchy and built in power dynamics. If the previous layers of honoring difference and establishing sameness, celebrating all the different shades of people, and an understanding of where skin color comes from are not in place, jumping to a conversation of racial inequity and injustice may leave children confused or worse.

Two smiling children writing
Participants at NMAAHC’s early childhood family day create self-portraits. Photograph credit: Leah Jones, NMAAHC.

Other points to consider:

  • Keep practicing. You are going to make mistakes. Pick yourself up. It is going to feel really awful because it is most likely that your mistake will be at the expense of someone else. It will certainly be in front of others. Apologize. Make amends. Keep practicing. Keep going. I practice this every day and still mistakes. Recently I coauthored an article with Julie Olsen Edwards about inclusivity in museums and interrupting racism with children. One of the main examples I use is a book that I happen to love – but also happens to strongly reinforce gender stereotypes. I was so focused on one aspect of identity (race), I unintentionally forgot to consider the importance of intersectionality. Learn from your mistakes and keep going!
  • One does not equal all. For young children, how we as adults speak impacts how children view and understand self and others. Generalizations, even if they say only things that are positive or neutral, communicate that we can tell what someone is like just by knowing her gender, ethnicity or religion. Thus, hearing generalizations contributes to the tendency to view the world through the lens of social stereotypes. Another pitfall related to generalizing, which often occurs in classroom settings, is when a child is asked to be a spokesperson for their race, culture, gender or religion. Let me say this in a different way, do not single out a child to speak for all girls, all Muslims, all Chinese Americans, the entire Latinx community, etc. This is particularly damaging when a child is asked to share without even volunteering to speak.
  • It’s not just black or white. The United States is a highly diverse nation full of people from every race, culture and ethnicity. This is one of the strongest characteristics of this country and is one worth celebrating. Yet, particularly in conversations about race, we often are stuck in a binary of white and black. However, many children in our lives identify as biracial or multiracial or those who do not identify as black or white. Biracial and multiracial children can feel conflicted or confused by the “this group” v. “that group” mentality when they identify with both groups. As adults, we are in the position to positively (or, unfortunately, negatively) impact the lives of young children. Which brings me to my final point,
  • Each child has a tribe. Whether we are parents of young children, educators of young children, or both, we are part of our children’s tribe and it is important for the tribe to communicate. Educators, it is not only respectful but necessary to have conversations about anti-bias education with the families of the children in your class. Parents, your child’s well-being includes the development of a positive sense of self and a healthy racial identity. Ask your children’s caregivers how they plan to support this for your child. The more we can come together as a tribe around our children, the better we all will be for it.
Illustrator Jerry Pinkney giving a child a high five
Families attend NMAAHC’s StoryTime with children’s books author and illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Photograph credit: Leah Jones, NMAAHC.

While this is hardly a comprehensive list, hopefully it either helps you begin or inspires you to keep going so we can achieve together what we hope to see for the young children in your lives – a fairer, more inclusive, and equitable world.  As with any complex subject, there are countless questions, things often get murkier before they become clearer, and a single blog post certainly isn’t going to have the space to get as deep as we’d like. Yet every journey consists of many steps so let us embrace this moment as our next step towards creating a more equitable world.

Author’s note: I would like to acknowledge Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise-Derman Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards. The framework and goals of anti-bias education is central to the work we do at the NMAAHC in early childhood education. In particular, Julie’s experiences, vision and teachings have guided me in my understanding and her words and wisdom are peppered throughout this article. The reflection questions I have shared are adapted from the anti-bias Stop & Think exercises. I would also like to thank Candra Flanagan for being my thought partner and for her work with students in 3rd – 12th grade. Her editing, perspective and friendship has profoundly shaped my work.

Quarantine Tantrums

This blog was authored by Katie Heimsath, Director of Preschool Programs

The Impact of Quarantine on the Family

As adults, we have access to information and possess the cognitive skills to understand what is happening in the world. At SEEC, we often talk about the importance of talking to children about difficult subjects. Giving children the language to identify and express what they might be feeling or are curious about makes it easier for them to navigate complicated situations. Even though young children might not yet be able to understand the complexities of a global pandemic, they recognize when something feels different and are perceptive to the changes in our attitudes and emotions.

Living and working at home during quarantine is no easy feat. Our lives and daily rhythms have been turned upside down and most of us are feeling stretched and limited in one way or another. Many of our SEEC families have reported an uptick in meltdowns and tantrums from their children

Typical tantrums can stem from a predictable or obvious problem, like if a child is hungry or overtired.   Our current situation adds a new layer of emotion for children and adults alike: we miss our friends and being able to go out in our communities, we’re worried about our health, and we are adjusting to new routines. To add to that, no one knows when it will get “back to normal.”

How Can I Help My Child?

The best way to help your child is by being there, both physically and emotionally. Being close in proximity helps children regulate their emotions and feel a sense of security, so it’s no wonder that picking up a crying baby is soothing to them, or that some children feel better after getting a hug. If it seems like it would help, offer a hug or your lap to sit in while your child works to calm down.

In addition to the emotions, a tantrum generates a lot of tension and energy in a child’s body. Show them ways of releasing tension like taking big, deep breaths. Help them focus their energy on something calming like watching the clouds, or redirect their energy by mashing some play-doh.

It is important to also acknowledge your child’s feelings. Young children are still learning how to identify and understand their emotions, and giving a name to a feeling is one way to reinforce this learning.  If they’re pre-verbal, try helping out by saying, “you look like you feel sad” or “you didn’t like when that happened.” If you can objectively narrate what happened, it can help the child feel heard and understood. If they’re verbal and able to tell you what they’re feeling, your role is to sympathize. If they told you they were feeling sad because they couldn’t eat snack with their friends at school, you could say, “I feel sad about that sometimes, too. I like eating with my friends. We both miss our friends.”

Emphasize that you’re there to help and problem-solve together. For younger children, you could offer one or two suggestions for moving forward. You could say, “It made you upset when you fell. I can help you up,” or “You didn’t like it when your brother took your toy. You want a turn. Say ‘me next!’” For older children, ask what would help them feel better or give them a suggestion. Then do it together! For some of the quarantine specific situations, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know the answer. Say something like, “I don’t know when we’ll go back to school, and that’s frustrating for me. I don’t like it when I don’t know when something will end! But, there are people working very hard to figure out that answer, so I know they’ll tell us when they can.”

Adults Feel Stressed Too

In a perfect world, we could all follow three easy steps to help our children get through a meltdown. We’re not in a perfect world, and we’re not even in a situation that feels normal to many of us. If you’re stressed or you overreact during your child’s tantrum, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Simply acknowledge what happened with your child! It’s powerful for a child to observe a person they love showing how they handle their big emotions. Remember, as adults we unconsciously regulate our emotions to make it through tough situations. If you have an opportunity to make that visible to your child, they’ll have one more example of what they can do to cope. It is also a chance to give yourself grace and a powerful reminder to your child that there is always an opportunity to try again.

My Child is Throwing an Epic Temper Tantrum… Now What?)

Routines During Quarantine

This post was written by Melody Passemante-Powell, Director of Infant and Toddler Programs.

Routines

Schedules are a big part of most of our lives, and most people recognize the importance of these routines, especially for young children. Quarantine has turned everything upside down for many families, and some are wondering, how much of a routine should we try to maintain? To help you think through this we have posed  some questions to consider first, and then outlined some tips and ideas based on structure level and age group.

Questions

What are my family’s needs? All families are different and it is important to recognize that one size does not fit all. Some thrive off of rigid schedules, while others need a lot of flexibility, and most of us fall somewhere along the middle of this spectrum. Think through what works well for your child(ren) and what works well for the adults in your home. These don’t always align so finding some sense of balance is the overall goal.

What is my family’s capacity? Unfortunately during quarantine many of us are both acting as full time caregivers and working to meet job requirements at the same time. Consider how much the adults in your family realistically have the capacity to implement in terms of routines and schedules while also giving the attention needed to other responsibilities. Also keep in mind how quarantine is impacting your child(ren) and what they have emotional/mental capacity to do on any given day.

How Your Days Might Look

High Structure: You plan your days to closely mirror each other, or if your child in enrolled in school, you can schedule your days to match what a typical day would look like at school. For example, try having meals, outdoor time (if possible), circle time, etc. around the same time of day as they would occur at school.

Medium Structure: You can plan to have some components of the day happen in the same way and at the same time, while still leaving a bit of flexibility in the schedule. One way to navigate this is to look at each day as having a loose agenda, and you can talk through what will happen during the day, but the exact details of when and how each part will happen aren’t planned out in full.

Minimal Structure: You can keep it loose and just see where the day leads you. You can let your needs/wants and your child(ren)s needs/wants guide what happens for the majority of the day.

Tips and Ideas Based on Age

Infants/Toddlers: This age group understands time in short intervals, so it’s best to find ways to break the day into smaller sections vs. talking through what will happen throughout the entire day in one sitting. It can be helpful to use the “first, then” method with this age group, using phrases like, “First we will eat snack, then we will go on a walk.” Visual cues to use as reference when talking about what will happen are also very useful for this age group. These can be in the form of timers, or photos/pictures of what will happen next.

Preschoolers: In general preschoolers can handle a little more complexity in terms of thinking through multiple components of the day. A visual schedule is great for this age (a series of photos of what will happen along with the word label, posted in sequence, or attached to a keyring so the child can carry it around to access what will happen and in what order). Timers are another useful tool, and there are so many to choose from (sand timer, Echo/Alexa, stopwatch, or these sensory timers) so you can use what works best for you. ()

School Age: Most school age children can get a sense of a full daily schedule if you choose to use one. Visuals of some sort never hurt, and if your child(ren) can tell time you/they can create a chart (nothing fancy, you can use paper and a ruler to make the lines!) of what each day or each week looks like based on the day and time. Seeing what their day and week look like mapped out might be helpful for time management and daily planning.

Remember

Do what works best for your family on any given day. There is no right or wrong  way to do this.

Set yourself up for success. If what you are doing just isn’t working for your child(ren), or for you, change it up. The point of a schedule is to HELP everyone, if that isn’t happening most of the time, it is time to reassess!

Resist the temptation to compare. It can be hard to see or hear about what other families are doing, especially if it seems like everything is working beautifully for them. Remember the grass has a tendency to seem greener, but what you and your family are doing on any given day, even if it involves meltdowns and a to do list with zero check marks, is just fine.

Parenting Expectations

Families across the world are hoping to resume their normal lives as soon as possible, but the truth is that our new normal is likely to look very different. Though children may be able to return to school at some point, it is likely that schools could have different schedules and/or additional closures. Parenting right now is hard, harder than normal. So, how much is enough? And as an adult, how do you juggle your own worries and workload with that of your child’s? There is no magic answer, but it is important to remember a few things:

Not all families are alike, don’t compare yourself to others.

Your children need to feel safe and loved – that is probably the most important thing you can do.

There will be days when schedules won’t be followed or there was more electronic use than you would have liked – it is okay.

This is a traumatic situation, it is as important that you take care of yourself as it is for you to take care of your child. You will be a better caregiver for it.

When you let your emotions get the best of you, simply say you are sorry to your child. Caregivers are human and make mistakes – allowing a child to observe that can be an important life lesson.

Don’t feel like you have to take advantage of every lesson and resource you see online. If you decide to take advantage of resources, choose what speaks to you and fits within your wheelhouse.

Cheers to all the caregivers out there – our team knows how hard you are working.

Socialization

One of the reasons we enroll our children in preschool is so they learn how to interact and engage with their peers, so it makes sense that many caretakers are currently concerned about their child’s socialization.
It is helpful to remember that not too long ago, many children didn’t attend formal school until they were five. While we recognize that there is value in preschools and play dates, the quarantine isn’t going to erase what gains your child has made in this area. It will no doubt be a difficult transition when we return to our routines, but it will be temporary and you shouldn’t worry that your child will fall behind.

In the meantime, you can do some simple things at home that will help support your child’s development:

Identify Feelings – “I can see you are feeling sad because you are crying.” or “I think the dog doesn’t like that because they barked at you.” You can also use books to have deeper conversations about how characters are feeling.

How Can You Help? – When you identify an emotion, think out loud with your child about what you can do to be helpful. Maybe a sibling could use a hug or maybe there is a household chore that would help the whole family feel less stressed.


Play – Your child doesn’t need to play with their peers to learn skills like sharing or taking turns. As an adult, it is okay to say “I had the toy in my hand and it upset me when you took it away from me.” It might feel a little silly, but it communicates the cause and effect of their behavior.

Talking to Your Children about COVID-19

State Age Appropriate Facts

Regardless of age, you should share the facts about COVID-19. Children naturally begin to fill in the blanks if you don’t share information with them and they often begin to build a narrative that can be scarier than reality.

What Does Age Appropriate Mean?

As an educator or caregiver, you have a sense of what your children can handle. Think ahead about what you want to say to them if you can and remain positive (see below). Don’t dodge their questions, but also don’t add a lot of detail on top of what they are asking. Be clear about what questions children have, they don’t always know how to articulate their concerns, so it’s helpful to restate their questions to ensure you are on the same page.

Reassure Children

Children, even tweens and teens, need to feel safe. For younger children, it is helpful to point out that there are a lot of community helpers who are involved in keeping us safe and healthy right now. The very fact that we are all staying home is something that will help lessen the spread of the virus. For older children, you can share additional facts or try to focus on how communities are coming together to support each other.

Empower Children

Feeling in control is important even for very young children. Explain to them that we all have a part in this and that their role is good hygiene. Establish new handwashing routines in your home/school, children love visual schedules or reminders. Posting photos of when and how to handwash can be very effective. We’ve all been told to sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but why not mix it up and find different songs. Come up with new ways of showing love that might not involve hugging or kissing, like a funny dance. Make them feel in charge and coming up with creative approaches can go a long way for young children.

For older children, you may want to speak more about their responsibility to older generations and how social distancing is one way that we are keeping people safe. If you have the resources, think about other ways you can support your community. Maybe it’s making a meal to bring to a neighbor or sharing on social media about where families can get meals while schools are closed.

Monitor Media

Limiting and monitoring what your children are exposed to regarding Covid-19 is important. You may not think they are listening to the news program you have on or that conversation you are having with a spouse, but they are. Be mindful of time, access and the messages you are sending.

Extra Care

Children of all ages need extra care right now. Depending on your child’s personality and age, take time to check-in with them and show a little extra affection. Understand, too, that a child’s behavior might change during this time because of stress. As caregivers, we want to show some additional patience and latitude.

Dealing with Stress

As adults, our instinct is to protect our children. Realistically, though we are not going to be able to shield children entirely from the anxiety of the Covid-19 situation. As adults, our role it to model  healthy behavior. Think about how your family, your classroom and your community can combat stress. Physical exercise (outdoors if possible), creative outlets like journaling, cooking or drawing and mindful habits like meditating or quiet reading can help feed the soul.

Additional Resources

NPR
PBS
Talking to Children about Difficult Topics
Experiment: Explaining the Importance of Handwashing
Reassuring Children’s Books
Easing Worried Minds