By Julie A. Della, Supervisor/Educational Consultant | Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8

I recently read a quote stating, “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of the parent.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, many parents have been tasked with providing education to their children at home. This can create quite a few tension headaches for both the parent and the student, but what about the preschooler who doesn’t understand why the theme of the day is pajama day….for the past 45 days? Pair that with the ongoing theme of crazy hair day and the fact that your five-year-old is better at Fortnite than you.

Each day can bring new challenges for parents and early childhood educators. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we know how important it is to support young children's physical needs, and addressing their emotional health needs is just as crucial. It's likely that they will not understand why they can't play outside, as usual, with their friends on a sunny day or why washing their hands so frequently is so important.  So, how do you support the social and emotional development of the youngest generation?

Although I do not have preschoolers at home during this pandemic, I have one pre-teen and two teenagers, so we are in the same boat. My boat, by the way, has many holes, is dilapidated and is sinking…..quickly, or perhaps it already sank! 

As the Captain of this sinking vessel, I’ve needed to quickly adjust to working full time from home, while being a single mom and still holding down the role of housekeeper, laundry service, deckhand, and of course, chef. But as an Early Intervention Preschool Teacher for 23 years, I know social and emotional development even outside of a pandemic is crucial to young learners.


So, what are some ways you can support your children's emotional needs as we all navigate these uncharted waters?

Children's responses to stressful events are unique and varied depending on their age and circumstances. They are sharp observers, and they notice and react to stress in their parents and other adults around them. Some children may be irritable or clingier, while some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating. New and challenging behaviors are natural responses, and adults can help by showing empathy, patience, and love.

Keep children busy When children are bored, their levels of worry and disruptive behaviors may increase. Children need ample time to engage in play and other joyful learning experiences without worrying or talking about the pandemic. Art is a wonderful way to help children express their feelings and emotions. Children can paint a picture, have a dance party, or make up a play for family members.

Ensure that you are being a sensitive and responsive caring adult When everyone is under the same roof 24 hours a day, it can get stressful under the best circumstances. It's important to be sure you are sensitive and responsive to your child. Mealtimes and snack times provide great time and space for conversations about topics of interest to your child, as well as a focused time to discuss how they may be feeling that day.

Make time for self-care too! Children's well-being truly depends on your well-being. It's so important to take care of yourself, now more than ever. Consider the things that make you happy. Is it exercising or meditating? Maybe reading a book or taking a walk outside? Whatever it is, make the time each day to recharge your own batteries. Show your child how you take time for self-care. Take them on a walk with you. Show them how to take deep breaths.

Try some of these ideas and check out the resources! Be well, stay safe, and keep your boat afloat!

By Jennifer L. Anderson, Director of Professional Learning and Organizational Development, School Climate Level 2 Regional Coordinator and Safe Schools Regional Coordinator with Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8, Pennsylvania

As educators and leaders, we’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time and effort over these past few months becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable in learning new ways to teach. Throughout these efforts of constant crisis management, our primary focus has been on only a portion of the full learning and developmental needs of our learners. The tireless efforts of our educational professionals have certainly not gone unnoticed with the constant flow of virtual meetings and facilitation of virtual learning; not to mention the need to quickly gain access to and learn how to use various learning tools, communication tools, learning platforms, and learning management systems all while recalibrating to our own new realities of working from home and all that that brings.

So, what are we missing?

With the intense focus on the “doing of learning”, it is just as important that we intensely focus on the “why of learning” and the health and wellbeing of our young learners and that of our entire learning ecosystem. Here is the why...

“With shelter in-place measures and widespread organizational closures related to Covid-19 likely to continue for an extended period of time, stress and associated risk factors for family violence such as unemployment, reduced income, limited resources, and limited social support are likely to be further compounded.” (Campbell, 2020)

So, when the declaration for school closures and social distancing were announced and everyone retreated into their homes, for some this was comforting and safe, while for others, it might have felt like a prison sentence.

While many children can retreat to the comforts of loving families and warm and supporting home environments, other children on the other hand, will experience a stark contrast resulting in violence, abuse, addiction, and neglect.

According to a May 21, 2020 news report by the New York Times, jobless claims reached 38.6 million in just these past nine weeks.


The socio-economic strain on American families inevitably impacts our children as an echoing effect from the lack of financial and social stability within our personal lives and within the communities that we live. There is no reprieve. There is no release. There are no faith-based communities to lean on, no gyms to work-out our stress, and no social gatherings to share our common experiences.

In a recent NPR interview with Suzanne Dubus, CEO of The Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center - near Boston, reports of domestic violence have risen in recent weeks. “And when they are reaching out, the domestic violence has been escalating or they are in really kind of severe states of trauma and stress and fear. And so it takes a lot to try to figure out what's the next best step.” (Simon, 2020)

However, despite the increasing reports of domestic violence, many child welfare organizations are noting a significant decrease in reports of child abuse or neglect.

“Unfortunately, this decrease may be a result of fewer opportunities for detection as opposed to an actual decrease in incidence. The closures of schools and other critical community organizations has limited key community partners in their ability to detect and report abuse. In the United States, 67% of substantiated child abuse or neglect reports come from victim-serving professionals and 19% of these reports come from education personnel.” (Campbell, 2020)

This alarming call to action is only further illustrated by the dramatic increase in pediatric mental health visits to emergency rooms as a recently published study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. (AAP, 2020) The study reports that from 2007 - 2016, “the percentage of children who showed up in hospital emergency rooms for mental health disorders rose by 60% and visits for self-harm increased by 329%.” We have a moral and ethical responsibility to be the caretakers, advocates and guardians in the virtual space just as we do in our brick and mortar spaces.

It is through the observation and responsiveness to the social, emotional and physical experiences of our learners that academic instruction can most effectively be facilitated. So, how might we ground our learning experiences in relationship and connection?


SOME PRACTICAL IDEAS:

Provide Safety and Opportunities to Connect with Learners Each Day...

  • Co-create routines for learning in the home with learners and their parents;

  • Check in and connect with your learners every day;

  • Use the polling feature in Zoom to gauge how your learners are feeling that day;

  • Use a check the temperature activity at the beginning of the day’s lesson. Pinterest has great ideas;

  • Send your learners a postcard in the postal mail or an e-card.

Bring Joy...

  • Hold a virtual spirit week;

  • Surprise your learners with a brain break by posting an assignment disguised as a personal message or recognition for their persistence on a project;

  • Acknowledge feelings of lose during milestones such as graduation, plays, birthdays, and also highlight what they are gaining; help them see the positives;

  • Teach gratitude.

Provide Ample Avenues and Regular Opportunities for Conversations...

  • Be available;

  • Set-up quick check-in calls or video chats with your learners;

  • Send personalized videos to each of your learners saying hello;

  • Post virtual office hours.

Be a Source of Calm...

Provide Grace...

  • Provide flexibility in when assignments are due;

  • Be empathic to the unique circumstances of your learners.


The coronavirus pandemic has abruptly jarred and disrupted school communities through constant waves of challenges that are single-handedly dismantling our well-established educational system. The newness and uncertainty keeps coming without solace; no respite...for any of us. Not for students. Not for teachers. Not for families. Not for businesses. Not for communities. We cannot simply leave it on the desk at night and return to it tomorrow because it’s in our homes too. We can’t even block out some days on the calendar for a much-needed vacation and just leave on a jet plane for a few days. We are in constant survival mode; and with that brings feelings of fear, confusion, skepticism, hesitation, uncertainty, loneliness and hopelessness that consistently swirl in our hearts and in our minds. As a community of learners, from our youngest children to the most senior leader, how we respond ultimately shapes or reshapes what we know of and how we “do” learning. And I would bet for the majority of us, it feels like we are stepping straight out of college and into the “classroom” again for the very first time. Just remember, with the intense focus on the “doing of learning”, it is just as important that we intensely focus on the “why of learning” and the health and wellbeing of our young learners and that of our entire learning ecosystem.


SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics. (May 11, 2020). Study: Dramatic increase in pediatric mental health visits to emergency rooms signals need for preparedness. https://services.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/pediatrics2/2020/study-dramatic-increase-in-pediatric-mental-health-visits-to-emergency-rooms-signals-need-for-preparedness/


Campbell, A.M. (2020). An increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaborations to save lives. Forensic Science International: Reports. Volume 2, December 2020, 100089.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2665910720300384


NY Times. (May 21, 2020). Jobless claims reach 38.6 million in nine weeks. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/business/coronavirus-stock-market-today.html#link-5635d863


Simon, S. (April 18, 2020). Reports of domestic violence rise in recent weeks amid coronavirus lockdowns. https://www.npr.org/2020/04/18/837855166/reports-of-domestic-violence-rise-in-recent-weeks-amid-coronavirus-lockdowns



KNOWLEDGE EXTENDERS:


by Don Arotin, Educational Consultant and PBIS Independent Facilitator, Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8


Juggling Life

The impact of COVID-19 has been extensive. It has affected everyone and most facets of life as we once knew it. With the formal declaration of social distancing and mandate in Pennsylvania that schools close their physical doors, most teachers and students were forced to experience teaching and learning in ways they never thought; virtually.

Image by geralt from Pixabay

On a personal level, it changed the way my family does things. My wife and I are both educators, and we have 3 sons in the public school system. During the first few days of the school closure, our boys had a lot of free time on their hands, as the plan for carrying out their studies, at home, was murky, at best. So, with no school building to attend or school work waiting to be done (yet), they embraced their newly imposed freedom. They quickly developed habits like sleeping in, staying up late, snacking all day, as well as doing other typical things boys of their age do in their free time like playing video games, listening to music and drawing. My 9-year-old even learned to juggle! As you can see, things were great for them! In their minds, it was an early start to summer vacation. In my mind, it was… different.

Blog author, Don Arotin is hosting a free webinar: Moving from the School to the Virtual Classroom: Foundations of PBIS in a Virtual Setting in the Home.

Click here to join this 1-hour webinar at Noon (Eastern) on Tuesday, May 19th!

Prior to the global pandemic, our school and home routines were intact. Each of us was in sync with our daily schedule. Most of the time, everything went smoothly, everyone was content because everything was predictable. Along came COVID-19, and with each day our routines began to fade. With the school closures and the governor’s stay-at-home order, all of our life happenings were now taking place in our home. My wife and I were now working from home, and my boys were about to embark upon the world of distance learning. For my wife and me, this was somewhat of a difficult transition, as we were underprepared for helping to educate our boys in our own home. Working/Schooling from home required us to restructure our lives in order to successfully manage our current obligations.


The Need for Structure at Home


My wife and I are educators. As educators, we knew what we had to do. We needed to focus on providing structure and predictability for not only our boys’ days, but also our days. This, of course, involved creating a daily visual schedule. Being familiar with Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), we understood that people need and seek structure in their lives. We also knew that people, especially kids, do their best when they have predictable and consistent routines. Schedules can benefit anyone, especially individuals who lack organizational skills or those who don’t adapt well to change.


Structuring our Lives


As a family, we came up with the following schedule:

7:00 - Wake up, breakfast, hygiene, get dressed (no pajamas… ok, maybe)

8:00 - Start work day (mom & dad)

9:00 - Start school day (boys)

10:00 - Check-in Time with mom or dad (How are you doing? Do you need anything?)

11:00 - Stretch / Exercise

12:00 - Lunch & independent activities of choice

1:00 - Independent Reading Time

1:30 - Complete school assignments

2:30 - Daily summary (Record today’s progress and plan for tomorrow’s assignments, if you know them)

3:00 - End of school day

4:00 - End of work day (mom & dad)

4:30 - Dinner: Everyone shares at least one thing they learned today, or a good experience


This schedule proved to be successful for all of us, with the exception of my 9-year-old, who tweaked his schedule to wake up at 6:23 each morning, because he wanted more time to “live” before school.

So, if your home is feeling a little chaotic right now, as a family, consider creating a visual schedule. Use a piece of paper or a whiteboard to create your family's schedule. Using a clothespin to visually show where the family is on the schedule throughout the day. Your kids can help to move the clothespin too! Remember to start slowly. Maybe only the first few hours of the day are structured and then the afternoon is a little freer.


Schedules will vary among homes and individuals. Take your time in developing a schedule and make sure everyone in the household has a role in its development and use. Be sure to always allow for some flexibility in your child’s schedule as learning, no matter where it takes place, should be a positive experience.

For more information on creating structure and predictability through PBIS, visit:

PBIS Apps https://www.pbisapps.org/community/Pages/TeachbyDesign.aspx

PBIS.org https://www.pbis.org/resource/supporting-families-with-pbis-at-home

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