Reopening Early Learning Centers during COVID Restrictions

Child wearing face mask going at reopen school after covid-19 quarantine and lockdown

A guide for leaders, teachers, and families of young children to successfully transition back to school during COVID restrictions

Reopening Early Learning Centers during COVID restrictions is a complicated and dynamic endeavor.  In order to strike a balance between supporting the growth and well-being of our children and ensuring the health and safety of children, staff, and our communities, we must be strategic in our planning, consistent in implementing our processes and procedures, and vigilant about monitoring and revising our plans as necessary. 

Whatever role you play in getting children back to school, it’s important to remember to have grace. We are all surviving unprecedented times and have never done this before.  Teachers, leadership, and schools are doing the best they can do with the resources they are given.  Parents and families are doing the best they can do, given possible financial, work, and social uncertainty. And children are doing the best they can do, given many transitions, uncertainty, and anxiety.  Reopening early learning centers during COVID restrictions comes with many unknowns – for everyone! Together, we can ensure children grow academically, socially, and emotionally. To all of you: communicate consistently, monitor regularly, revise when necessary.  And most importantly, remember – we are all in this together!

Working as a community will ensure a successful reopening and help centers to remain open. It takes a village to raise our children, and we each play a part in their success.  In this article, we will discuss resources and ideas for leadership, teachers, and families to help transition to a successful reopening of early learning centers during COVID restrictions.


Tips and resources to help leaders facilitate a successful reopening during COVID restrictions:
  • Include teachers’ voices in policy and planning. Teachers are pivotal in the success of your reopening.  They are “boots on the ground” when it comes to implementing changes. They have the training, knowledge, and experience to understand the feasibility of what works and what may not.
  • Build relationships with families – even before you open! Update families about safety protocols, discuss “the plan” for reopening with them.  Here’s a link to some templates to use for your Communications Plan.  Also, The Head Start Early Childhood and Learning and Knowledge Center has these tips to assist with a smooth transition.
  • Daily communication with families with pictures and stories of daily experiences will help families to feel more comfortable with the transition and allows them a glimpse of their child’s day. The Power of Documentation discusses the purpose, the audience, and the dissemination of documentation in the Early Childhood classroom.
  • Ensure safety of the entire school community (learners, families, teachers). Work with UNICEF, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state departments of education, and local government to guide your decisions.
  • Remember: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Seek guidance from a variety of agencies such as the International Task Force on Teachers for Education and NAEYC’s Questions and Considerations Using the Early Learning Program Standards.
  • Prioritize and learners’, teachers’, and families’ psychological, social, and emotional well-being. Here are some specific resources for each group:
  • Work with teachers to adapt approaches to teaching and learning, given guidelines. See this Guide for Social Distancing in the Early Childhood Classroom.
  • Help teachers to adapt to new protocols, routines, and responsibilities.  Also ensure they are reasonable! Be realistic about how much can be done and aware of teacher burnout, which brings us to this one:
  • Make sure there are enough teachers to do the work, and that those hired are qualified to do the work.
  • Provide resources to educators, whether that be PPE, time, technology, or materials.


Tips and resources to support teachers in reopening during COVID restrictions:
  • First and foremost, have grace with yourself.  This is the first time you have done this! Know there will be lots of trial and error. And that’s ok. 
  • Keep a positive outlook.  One way to do this is to practice daily gratitude. Research shows practicing daily gratitude can “significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction” (Robert Emmons). 
  • Try new strategies.  We are in unprecedented times, which calls for innovation.  You know that thing you’ve always wanted to try with kids? Do it now.  You know what Plato says: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
  • Be honest with children about safety but try to do so without invoking fear. Be sure the conversations about COVID are age appropriate, and let them know that it’s natural to feel anxious/stressed/scared, and you care about them, and you’ll get through this together.
  • Know and understand the COCID restrictions and guidelines. Muriel Wong outlines some of these guidelines and suggestions for new practices in the early childhood classroom.
  • Find new and fun ways to connect with kids. Education is all about relationships! So, have fun with art, technology, music, and personalized check-ins with kids and families to create community and build connections.
  • Establish a consistent routine for children and communicate with families about what will be the same, and what changes will be implemented in your classroom.
  • Host a virtual tour of your classroom prior to reopening. Introduce yourself and encourage students and families to introduce themselves in a creative way.  bitmoji classrooms add some fun and personalization to your online introduction. Here are some examples of PreK Bitmoji classrooms.
  • Plan for effective communication with students.  Did you know that “non-verbal cues carry 55 percent of emotional content of messages we send to children” (Sokol, Reimann; 2020)? Wearing masks makes it difficult to read expressions, for you and the children. Incorporate visual cues so that children can identify, discuss, and regulate emotions, follow procedures, and communicate effectively.


Guidelines and resources to help families and child(ren) transition back to school during COVID restrictions:
  • Remember: transition is sometimes tough. And there’s been a lot of it lately.  Be patient as your child goes through another transition.  Be open to talking about worries, challenges, and excitements.
  • Re-establish daily routines such as bedtime and mealtimes and discuss how the new schedule will look from the beginning of the day to bedtime.
  • Discuss changes children may see when they return to school.  Rehearse any new routines or expectations prior to the first day.
  • Validate your child’s worry by acknowledging fears, but remind them about the positives that come with going to “school,” such as seeing friends and teachers, playing, learning, doing art, etc.
  • Set aside special time with your child.  You’ve both had busy days. And with a new schedule away from you, your child may feel like they need your attention. Find a time to do something together, such as reading a book, playing a game, or just cuddling. 
  • Expect some behavioral challenges.  Transitions often bring emotions young children don’t understand or know how to communicate, so they may use behavior to tell us how they are feeling. 
    • Ages 0-2:
      • Babies don’t understand consequences of their actions, they just like to see reactions.  Toddlers may be testing out new skills and may struggle with feelings like frustration and anger.
        • Raising Children has some video resources to help you to respond to young childrens’ stages of development.
    • Ages 3-5:
    • Ages 6-8:
      • School-aged children may experience behaviors such as distraction, ignoring, defiance, lying, or whining.
        • This resource includes positive reinforcement strategies along with prevention strategies
        • Also, Love and Logic is a great strategy using choice, natural consequences, and love to guide children’s behavior
  • You’ve spent the last 6-7 months being caregiver, teacher, and playmate to your child(ren). You may experience anxiety in sending them back to school, loss of control (of your schedule, for example), or loss of connection with your kids.  This is all normal, and part of the transition for you. Ann Douglas shares Back-to-School Tips for Parents during a pandemic.
  • The pandemic has given some families the gift of time together.  Just because school is starting doesn’t mean that family time must end.  Here are 30 Fun Family Activities to Do While Social Distancing.

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