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Gan Hayeled: A Note from Noah

04/27/2020 12:05:42 PM


Dear Gan parents,
Happy Monday! I hope you are hanging in there OK these days. With yesterday’s rain, we deemed it a de-facto pajama day at our house and spent the day organizing and re-organizing buckets of baby and children’s clothes. I know, I know, so exciting.
I’ve been thinking about a lot of the questions we’ve heard from Gan parents recently, about the “how” of parenting during a pandemic. How do we approach a conversation about the virus with our child? How do I keep my child learning? How do I engage my child in activities at home? My last two notes on learning-at-home focused on simple things we can be doing without adding to our burden (here and here). This time, I’ll respond to these common questions and rely on some tried-and-true strategies from our knowledge base as early childhood educators (I really do think you will find them helpful!).
But first! We were so pleased that 40+ parents and teachers tuned in this past Thursday night for Stephanie’s webinar on our child’s social and emotional development during the pandemic. There are three ways you can access the webinar: watch the video recording; check out the slides; read through the chat. And, check out Darci’s “Ten Ideas” each week for new at-home activities. I can’t wait to do the first two (“Tape Escape” and “Hot Rocks”) today with my kids (they’ve got #8 down already!). And as always, continue to use our homepage for all information about our content, routine, and connections during the pandemic.
Now, some questions and strategies:
How do we approach a conversation about the virus with our child?
Ready or avoidant: Children are either “ready” or “avoidant” for the conversations we’d like to have with them. Have you ever tried to open up a conversation with your child about something you know they are feeling “big emotions” about (grandma died; school is closed due to pandemic; their best friend did something cruel to them), only to have them completely shun the topic? We’ve all been there: So, honey, I noticed you were crying a lot this morning after we left the hospital. Can you tell me about what you were feeling? (blank stare as your child falls on the couch, starts laughing, and then idly begins to play Magnatiles). And then, suddenly a day later, they are “ready” – Mom do you remember we were at the hospital yesterday? I was crying so so much and dad was there and we ate muffins and I said “goodbye” to grandma and we read a story and remember it was raining? I was really sad yesterday. I was crying so so much. Same kid, same topic, same emotions – but “avoidant” at first and “ready” only hours or days later.
You might have been met with an “avoidant” child around the pandemic and school-closure – from our adult-minds, the crisis demands conversational attention so that we can process emotions. But for children in an “avoidant” state, don’t even bother pushing it. What we do as teachers for subjects like this is gently mention the topic in an objective way, during an idle time like snack or walking around: This is the 7th Friday that school is closed. That’s a long time! Then, we’ll look for cues for if the child is “ready” or “avoidant” and follow their lead. It may open up a meaningful conversation and allow for big emotions to come out right then. Or, more likely, it might just provoke some early thought-germination for our child; hours or days later, they might bring it up again, in their own rhythm, when they are ready. The hard part is waiting patiently, trusting that if we’ve opened the door but not pushed our child through it, they’ll come to it on their own when they are ready.
How do I keep my child learning?
Questions not answers: Knowing and thinking are very different things. Thinking is what happens when we are confronted with the abundant complexity of the world and struggle to navigate our way through it; knowing is having a map. I “think” this way might lead somewhere vs I “know” this way is the right way. As early childhood educators, we place an emphasis on thinking – on slow, patient, painstaking thinking. We push children into the ambiguity of not-knowing by responding to their curiosity with questions to prod their thinking further: Why do YOU think it did that? How else can you try it? Have you ever seen that before? I wonder – why does it work like that? Sometimes we might drop the questions and instead reflect back to the child what they’ve already told us by their question. A question of, My tower is wobbling, can you show me how to make it straight? might be met with, Your tower keeps wobbling, right. Hmm. We generally trust the child’s curiosity to push them to keep thinking, and we know that us simply paying attention to their questions – without even answering them – adds more fuel to their motivation. Early childhood teachers are better poised as “question-askers” instead of “question-answerers.” Adult answers to children’s questions are shortcuts to knowledge but they skip right over the thinking.
How do I engage my child in activities at home?
Eat an apple: This is a core (pardon the pun) lesson at the heart of all training for early childhood educators. If you want a child to learn what an apple is, you have a few options. You could talk about it (1), show a picture (2), pass an apple around the circle (3), or give each child an apple to eat (4). The last one, of course, is where we sit squarely in preschool. Discussion about an abstract, non-present topic (1) rarely gets us anywhere; symbolic or pictorial representation (2) is only a smidge better; engaging touch and smell (3) is better but still not ideal. The only way to truly learn what an apple is, is to eat an apple (4). This is why children learn math in the block corner instead of on worksheets, and why making sandwiches for a local shelter is a stronger lesson then reading a book about values. Children are engaged in a tactile relationship in the world; their senses lead and guide them. Their senses engage them.
While we are home during this pandemic, the same applies. Our children are learning about the “apples” they are eating right now, because that is what engages them. Some of our current “apples” might be trees and flowers blooming, or birds and bumblebees flying around – if you’re lucky enough to have a yard or balcony. Inside, these “apples” might be unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, organizing socks, using a screwdriver and hammer, or taking out the garbage. In our current, unique learning context, our children will learn best (as they always do) about whatever they can get their hands on and engage their senses with. Garbage day means that, well, the “lesson of the day” is all about garbage; laundry time means the activity is laundry. “Eating the apple” here is the child taking out the garbage and doing the laundry – this is their engagement. This might re-calibrate for each of us what our learning and activity goals for our children are and allow us to focus on the “apples” we have in our homes instead of reaching for abstract goals or activities.
As always, please stay in touch. Our ears are open – our teachers and school leadership continue to work hard and collaborate to offer meaningful content, routine, and connection to you for the duration of the pandemic. Please reach out if you have any questions or thoughts to share.


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