What on earth does “social distancing” look like in the preschool classroom, and how is that even possible? How do you get your classroom ready for something like that?
That’s what I’ve been asking myself since March. I’m no longer teaching in the classroom, so I can’t even imagine what the struggle must be like for early childhood educators right now. I’ve seen the panicked, desperate questions in the many preschool groups I participate in on FB; many teachers and childcare workers have worked in centers that never once shut down for COVID-19. They had to make accommodations fast when there was limited information to go on, often with no pay raise and very little recognition for their efforts.
And they are all superheroes.
I wanted to find out more about the kinds of adjustments and policy changes educators and caregivers are having to implement due to COVID-19, so I reached out to Stacy Harmon from Preschool Plans.
Stacy teaches at a private play-based preschool in the San Francisco Bay area, and she was kind enough to share all kinds of advice for ECE teachers who are heading back to the classroom in the next few weeks. I’ll hand the post over to her now, because she explained everything so well.
2020 has brought many challenges and changes to our world. COVID-19 has caused many of us in the education sector to make many crucial decisions concerning the health and safety of our students, their families, and staff. As my school began to reimagine the classroom we consulted the CDC, county health department, and CA Child Care Licensing guidelines. Many of these programs contradicted each other so we chose to follow the strictest of guidelines to ensure the health and safety of anyone who entered our campus.
Children are limited to groups of 12 children with the same teacher for a 3-week period of time. As many of our classes exceed 12 we developed a plan to split the larger classrooms into 2 equal parts to allow 2 separate groups of children in a classroom. Using clear shower curtain liners we were able to accomplish this. Each class made sure to have art, manipulative, literacy, circle time, and writing materials available on both sides of the class. The goal was to limit the number of times staff and children needed to cross through the shower curtains. When that is impossible, such as children using the restroom, we placed colored tape on the floor as a walking guide. This keeps the children on a direct path to the restroom and out of learning space of the other group.
Outside we rented fences that you might find at a county fair or concert to divide our playground. As multiple classes use it at the same time we needed to find a way to create designated play spaces and these fences were an affordable solution. Every three weeks we rotate outside spaces, cleaning all sand toys, bikes, and playground equipment before doing so.
Additional changes to our school include a shortened day. Pre-COVID we were open from 7:30-6 pm and since have changed our school hours to 8-4 pm. This has been done as the teachers cannot leave the group of children they are with, even for lunch, so we take a working lunch and do not exceed an 8 hour day. We use touch-less thermometers to take temperatures as well as daily wellness checks of staff and children. Parents are not allowed in the building and children can no longer bring items from home into school. They must have a disposable lunch, stable jacket that stays in the class all week, and the pre-k classes have eliminated nap as the children would not be able to sleep 6 ft apart.
I have found that reimagining school requires a positive outlook and a trust in children. As teachers we like to plan and prepare for anything, but COVID has taken that luxury away. Having been back for over a month I have seen first hand how resilient the children are, how flexible teachers can be, and how thankful and understanding the parents are. As you plan for your return remember that these temporary changes will do permanent good.
In order to create a walkway to the bathroom and separate the learning space while children wait in line to use the restroom we used 3 ft. high room dividers. They are low enough to see the children as they walk around. They have been secured to the furniture with brackets to stabilize the flexible material.
The sink partitions were handmade by my directors father. We did this so there would be no risk of children touching during bathroom visits. The toilets (not pictured) were already separated by open partitions.
In order to keep our class of 18 under the 1:12 ratio, that now is required in our country for every group of pre-k aged children, we used clear mildew resistant shower curtain liners, pvc pipe, and heavy duty rope to turn our class into two separate learning spaces.
Every child has their own personal play box. These 5 quart clear containers are a perfect for limiting cross contamination and promoting individual play.
We removed the classroom tables to make more space for social distancing and introduced individual trays and foam mats.
Outside we have fences to divide play spaces for each class. This has been very helpful as playing outside with two other classes would be too difficult for the children too keep their distance without the visual reminder.
Stacy, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this valuable information with all of us. I hope it helps some preschool teachers who have students returning to school soon who are wondering where the heck to start in preparing their room.
Everyone: Stacy sells preschool resources over in her Teachers Pay Teachers store, Preschool Plans. Make sure to stop by and see what she has to offer!