As educators, we have never wavered in the belief that social-emotional learning is critically important. We’re now faced with how to respond effectively to children’s emotional needs in the age of social distancing. It’s imperative that we help young children understand the feelings that come with the changes in their home and school routines and furnish them with tools to build resilience and reduce stress
As teachers, we’re used to facing challenges with patience, flexibility, and, most importantly – creative solutions. In some ways, we were already armed and ready to handle a pandemic! We’ll do what we do best, modify our environments, adapt our routines, and find ways to make children feel that the world is still safe. Do what you can to keep the fun in learning and keep the play social and safe!
Safe Social Play
Here are some tried and true toddler and preschool activities with some modifications that promote socialization in a socially safe way.
- Parade – Have a music parade. Children all face the same direction and move in a wide circle around the room. This shared experience gives children a sense of community, encourages physical activity, and keeps them engaged at a safe distance.
- Easel Painting – Easels create a natural barrier, yet children still feel the comradery of someone being close to them doing the same activity. If you have two easels, place them so that children are positioned back to back, which will give them a sense of shared experience while being safely distanced.
- Color Scavenger Hunt – Scavenger hunts offer another play activity with built-in safe distancing. Hide colored collage materials widely around the room (scraps of colored paper, colored feathers, pom poms, etc.) Each child has a personal collection bag and finds 6-8 items to collect. After they complete their collections, give children individual times to glue their findings onto large mural paper. In the end, you’ll have a community project that demonstrates that we can work safely and collaboratively to make beautiful creations.
- Puppet Shows on Demand – Bring out your best dramatic self to perform puppet shows using scenarios representing the emotional challenges children are facing with social distancing and new school routines. Let the puppets show the sadness or fear when their mom drops them off at the curb or the frustration they feel when they can’t play dress-up with their friends in the housekeeping area.
- Touch-Free Obstacle Course – Set up an area in the classroom or outside as an obstacle course designed so that children can have a safe, shared physical activity that exercises the mind and body while teaching self-control. Children exercise patience as they wait for their turn to go through the course. Set up stations that require body movements without hand touches. For example, walk around a hoop, jump from one marked spot to another, bend under a rope, sidestep between 2 chairs, etc.
Fostering Emotional Awareness
Besides helping children interact and cooperate in socially safe ways, we need to intentionally provide opportunities for children to express their emotions as they adjust to changes in their daily routines.
Do a quick inventory of your classroom to see if you have materials that can prompt conversations about feelings and emotions. What books are on your shelves that tell stories of children facing social and emotional challenges? Are their photographs posted with a variety of facial expressions? What toys on the toy shelf could stimulate discussions about feelings and help children expand their vocabulary on this subject?
Check out our collection of materials and resources that can supplement what you already have in your classrooms.
Creating a Sense of Calm
Providing children with appropriate tools and strategies can help them self-regulate and gain a sense of control, especially when their world is upside down. Yoga and mindfulness are two highly effective strategies for fostering those skills. Both yoga and mindfulness can be used anywhere and anytime. Teach children the basic techniques and provide plenty of opportunities for children to practice throughout the day. Create a quiet, calming space in your classroom and include frequent breaks.
If you’re just getting started with yoga and mindfulness yourself, incorporate these resources into your daily routines and activities. Please share them with families so these practices can be extended to the home environment as well.
We hope you feel relieved knowing that you have done your best to keep yourself and the children safe, playful, and emotionally intact!