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Navigating the New Normal of COVID-19 in Child Care Centers

by Kerry Regan, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher

It is now clear that this pandemic will be a part of our future as the impact of COVID-19 in child care centers is significant. It is our job as teachers to make this transition as smooth as possible for children as we adjust to this new normal. One important thing to keep in mind is how this time may have impacted children’s anxiety and stress levels.

Young children are very receptive to adult’s emotional reactions. They are still learning how to interpret their feelings and manage their emotions and therefore, rely on trusted adults to demonstrate basic coping strategies. It is important for us to remain calm as we teach a new set of clear expectations and routines. This is vital to a smooth transition back to daycare.

Although not every child will regress, it should come as no surprise that many little ones will show signs of regression. This is common after an extended break, change in routine, and heightened levels of stress. This regression may be seen in toileting, eating, and sleeping, as well as an increase in challenging behaviors, separation anxiety, and frustration levels. It is important not to shame children for any setbacks you may see. Try to be understanding and acknowledging of their feelings during this time.

There is going to need to be many changes in the day to day schedules of day cares and child care centers. Arrival and dismissal times should be staggered to enforce social distancing. Hand sanitizer stations should be set up at the entrance. It is recommended that temperatures are taken upon arrival. Anyone with a temperature at or above 100.4C should not be admitted and is important to reinforce that children with signs of illness must stay home. Hallways should have arrows on the floor for one-way traffic patterns, as well as tape marked for 6 feet distance.

Teachers and children ages 3+ should wear masks. One idea is to have children ‚Äúcreate‚ÄĚ their own masks. Fabric markers on plain white masks could be a fun way for children to make their masks unique and special, which may encourage them to want to wear them. Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask due to the risk of suffocation. Teachers may consider pinning a picture of themselves smiling onto their clothes so children can see what they look like under the mask. It can be intimidating for young children not to be able to read adult‚Äôs facial expressions under the mask.

Social distancing should be enforced whenever possible. Children should be placed 6 feet apart during both napping and eating times. Large group times should be limited and broken down into smaller group sessions. Consider additional outdoor times. Outside, children can paint on individual easels, kick a soccer ball back and forth, explore with individual boxes of chalk, etc. Playground equipment should be sanitized in between uses. Children’s hand should be properly washed after any outdoor times.

In the child care centers, rugs should be limited as they tend to hold germs. Consider foam floor tiles for comfort and easy sanitizing. Sand, play dough, dress up clothes, soft dolls/stuffed animals, and other soft materials should be limited or removed as they are more difficult to clean. Some suggestions of easy to clean materials include Legos, plastic blocks, cars, trucks, plastic dolls and action figures, and markers.

The Center for Disease Control suggest that disposable gloves should be worn when cleaning surfaces. Cleaning products should contain at least 70% alcohol. Mix 1/3 cup bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water to create a bleach cleaning solution.

Lastly, it is possible that further closures will be necessary. If a child or staff member is confirmed as having COVID-19 in child care centers, consider closing for 2-5 days while working with local health officials to determine appropriate next steps.

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