In March of 2020, when the stay-at-home orders were first implemented and the teachers and I shifted to serving our preschool families on zoom calls and with correspondences through our online community platform, we initially thought this would be very temporary. We knew we needed to get back to the classroom and playground to really provide the services that children and parents are looking for (we still know that). As the weeks went on, we started to hear from parents that children were struggling with the emotions of being away from friends and preschool. This is to be expected, in this very difficult situation, and my initial reaction was to ask myself what we can do to help these children with this.
If we were in person, we would have validated their feelings and experience through compassionate reflections of what we saw they were struggling with, “You want to be with your friends right now” or “You are feeling really sad about not visiting grandma like you usually do.”
Our in-person preschool practice is rooted in these kinds of engagements. We regularly try to echo children’s sentiments (expressed verbally or physically) as a way to connect and open the door for more conversations and connection. We stay-listen if they are dysregulated and need the time to co-regulate before they can find their words to express what is going on. This is how we show children how much we value them and their experiences. It is from this emotionally connected base that everything else falls into place. Children love coming to preschool, they love being together in a space where they know the adults who care for them see them for who they are, appreciate them and support them in their varied interests, explorations and play scenarios.
This approach takes practice to master, as anything does, when done well. Mastery doesn’t flow from theory, it flows from conscious purpose and reflection, taking the time to put into action the philosophy again and again in many micro moments throughout the day. Conscious skill is built over time. To maintain consistency among staff, we have to purposely prioritize this as part of our ongoing training and reflective practice.
At home, parents understandably have varying degrees of mastery when it comes to this kind of empathy and discourse in moments of frustration or upset. Many are on board with the purpose of this kind of connection and they resonate with the ideals, but parenting is harder than teaching and most parents aren’t working on these interactions as an integral part of their career skill set as we do within our program. Some parents are, and they have learned that this all takes dedication and practice to make it more second nature. I’ve attended so many parenting courses where parents have shared their frustrations with trying to implement active listening, simply because without a lot of practice this isn’t an easy thing to do.
We wanted to be there for our preschoolers in these socially distant moments of upset and say to them that we understood that this was a difficult, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, sometimes happy and connected… time.
This is all context for the reasons and purpose of the first children’s book I wrote for the children in our program to address their upsets around social distancing. After I wrote it, I realized that it could be published so many children out there could benefit from these words and images right now.
So, I wrote a book for children that touched on many good things that could be happening during this stay at home time, as well as addressing the feelings of sadness, fear, and anger that so many children and adults are faced with right now. Parents bought the book and started to contact me, thanking me for the resource, telling me their child opened up after or during reading the book together. After hearing the story, some children sighed a big sigh and went off playing joyfully, or they talked more about how they felt that way too. Some children didn’t say anything right away but were heard later saying to themselves “It’s not forever, it’s for now.” The words became a mantra of sorts, helping children relax and release.
Even the adults would tell me how helpful the book was to them. That it helped them feel some hope and some steadiness in an unsteady time.
Now, both my first children’s book Not Forever But For Now and This Summer I Wonder are available to purchase. This Summer I Wonder addresses the changes this summer and how we are wondering how things will be when or if schools begin in person. This book is also intended as a way to help parents open a door for further discussion when children are ready or interested to do so. Even if they don’t talk about it, it can be very settling to know that others are dealing with the same emotions of concern, uncertainty and wondering.