Early Care and Education During a Pandemic: Staying Connected to Children and Families Virtually

COVID-19 has changed the pace of neighborhoods and our daily routines in San Francisco, but access to resources and public services continues to be a significant need for many children and their families. Like food, housing, and transportation, access to high quality early childhood education is a basic need for all families. That has never been more clear than now, as millions of families across the country struggle with how to work and care for their children while schools and early learning programs are closed.

Like many other types of businesses and organizations, early childhood education programs are learning to navigate this new environment so that they can continue to serve children and families. This is the second in a series of articles to highlight the work of San Francisco’s early learning programs.

Part 1: Providing Child Care For Essential Workers | Part 3: High Quality Care Matters, Especially During COVID-19 | Part 4: Resiliency: This Is What Our Emergency Child Care System Represents


 

For the many programs that have not been able to stay open during the shelter-in-place mandate, children and teachers alike are missing their classrooms and peers. To help maintain those special relationships, programs are using tools like Facetime and Zoom to create learning opportunities and to reconnect with their students. 

For early learning teachers, whose work has always been in-person, working remotely can be a difficult task. Connie Luu, director of early childhood education at TEL HI Preschool shares, “We’re doing remote teaching through Zoom online for all of our one hundred families. This is very new to us, so we have had some obstacles learning Zoom. But every day one of the teachers logs online and teaches, and another observes and gives tips. It’s a lot of reflection, to teach us to modify and improve as we go along.”

“We’re doing remote teaching through Zoom online for all of our one hundred families. This is very new to us, so we have had some obstacles learning Zoom. But every day one of the teachers logs online and teaches, and another observes and gives tips. It’s a lot of reflection, to teach us to modify and improve as we go along.” – Connie Luu

Jacqueline Coo, co-director of The Storybook School, has seen a similar focus on embracing new virtual tools, despite initial discomfort. “The first week of distance learning was stressful for the teachers. So we did some training, we worked with them, and gave them more resources. I recently observed a teacher’s movement class that went really well. She did a song and led dance moves with the children, then used it to review body parts. It was totally getting out of her comfort zone and it was really well thought out. I told her I was really proud of her.”

Teachers are doing everything they can to support children at home. Many are engaging children and their parents in virtual circle time, physical activities, and reading books. Programs are also delivering activity bags with instructions and materials to complete learning activities at home. They are thoughtful in their approach to remote services. For example, Cheryl Horney, child development program director at Wu Yee Children’s Services, explains why Magna Doodles were included in their activity kits for preschoolers: “I’ve heard that a lot of families are short on cleaning supplies, and have to do more laundry and cleaning with everybody being home. So, I’ve tried to think of things that weren’t messy, could be reused, and be multi-functional.” 

As in the emergency child care programs, programs offering remote services are concerned for the well-being of their children and families. They work to understand and meet the individual needs of families. Many are distributing food and other supplies to help families facing financial challenges, and some are providing emotional support to parents. 

Their consistent interactions with children, whether class Zooms or individual phone calls, are an important part of ensuring children’s well-being—an opportunity to check in and talk about what’s happening. Dianne Alvarado, director of the Judith Baker Child Development Center, shares, “Each Monday, I lead Zoom calls with stories about all kinds of families who isolate indoors for their health and to return to normal life when it’s safe. We’ve discussed beavers in their dams and bear families staying in their dens to protect themselves in winter.” 

“Each Monday, I lead Zoom calls with stories about all kinds of families who isolate indoors for their health and to return to normal life when it’s safe. We’ve discussed beavers in their dams and bear families staying in their dens to protect themselves in winter.” – Dianne Alvarado

Even remotely, early educators are using their usual tools⁠—stories and activities⁠—to maintain their trusted relationships and help the children in their programs understand and navigate this unique situation. Cheryl says, “It’s hard to do our work remotely when it’s very much meant to be in person, but people have been doing an amazing job at it—and it’s working.”

Thank you to the early educators who shared their experiences with OECE. Some quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

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