SINGAPORE: Come Monday (Jun 8), younger preschool children are set to return to school, following the heels of their K1 and K2 seniors who resumed classes this week.
However, this may be easier said than done as parents of these younger ones find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.
Up until recently, preschool-linked COVID-19 cases were still emerging.
After the initial celebratory moment when partial and staggered school re-opening was announced, the unspoken question of how to keep our children safe flooded our minds.
There are competing factors at play. On one hand, parents would love to reclaim some personal time, even if it’s just for three hours a day.
On the other hand, the safety of our offspring cannot be ignored even if preschools are going the extra mile to assure us that all precautions have been taken.
Getting our kids to adhere to these social distancing measures is another consideration. How many two or three-year olds can have a mask on their faces for three hours or more?
Parents have their work cut out for them in getting their kids social distance-ready for school.
MAKING A CALL
In the first few hours of the news breaking that circuit breaker will be ending and schools re-opened, many parents were busy texting friends and fellow parents, checking to see what everyone’s plans were.
Some also started shopping for child-sized disposable masks and face shields online.
There are also parents who are adopting a more cautious, wait-and-see approach.
A friend whose child in Nursery 2 (N2) has a pre-existing heart condition, will not be sending him to school.
READ: Commentary: Don't stress over your kids' education this circuit breaker. There are other ways they are learning
She has calculated the risks and rewards involved and figured that it will not be worthwhile.
Some parents will similarly choose to opt out of school for now, which is understandable given that there is less academic learning at stake for younger preschoolers.
However, she acknowledged that it will be a matter of time, and the final decision of when to resume school will be dependent on the number of community cases and the peace of mind from knowing what the preschool is doing to maintain safe distancing measures.
She elaborated, “Knowing that the school has a plan that is communicated well and implemented effectively helps.”
For parents with similar considerations in not sending their young ones to preschool for a prolonged period of time, they need to bear in mind that there are implications.
Although the younger ones may not do much academic learning at this stage, it is the overall development and growth that they get during this period that matters.
According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the period from birth to eight years old in a child’s life “is a time of remarkable growth, with brain development at its peak.”
“Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is more than preparation for primary school. It aims at the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs in order to build a solid and broad foundation for lifelong learning and well-being.”
Moreover, there is also the consideration for our children’s need for socialisation and normalcy.
As Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung puts it, “COVID-19 will be with us for some time…We can’t keep our kids at home for so long. It will severely impact their socio-emotional well-being and their whole person development.”
PRESCHOOLS DOING ALL THEY CAN
To ensure that our little ones are kept safe during this risky period, preschools are doing the necessary, with some going the extra mile.
For example, another friend shared that her child’s preschool has rejigged the curriculum to focus more on outdoor activities and learning, in the interest of social distancing.
Having prepared masks for her N2 child, she is not overly worried about any perceived health risks and is choosing to focus on the things she can do such as reminding her child that his school experience will now include new habits of wearing a mask and washing his hands more often.
Spending more curriculum time outdoors makes sense if the physical environment allows for different groups of children to be outdoors at different timings.
Studies have indicated that coronaviruses do not thrive in hot and humid environments, though these are not conclusive. They are also less likely to spread in well-ventilated areas.
Most preschools have also adopted staggered reporting and dismissal timings. They have also tried to space out their children through using long tables and larger spaces such as the assembly hall.
So far it seems like the slightly elder children are coping well.
Jasmine Koh, Centre Director of MapleBear Hillview, said, “Surprisingly, majority of the K1 and K2 children are happy to wear their masks for the entire time that they are in school. They do remove it during mealtimes, nap times and active playtimes and hence, we have taken time to practise safely removing and storing the mask.”
“We have also provided a MapleBear face shield for children to use when they are uncomfortable or need a breather, which will also come in handy for the younger children who may need a little more time to adjust to the change.”
EVERYONE HAS A PART TO PLAY
Schools are doing their best to implement safe distancing and stringent hygiene practices, but to be clear, everyone is treading new and unfamiliar ground here. So we can’t fault parents for their apprehension.
While the government has provided guidelines, it is still up to each school to translate these new rules into clear protocols that work in their day-to-day operations and interactions.
A friend of mine noticed on the first day of dropping off her K2 child that a teacher was using gloved hands to pull down her child’s mask to do an oral check, a standard procedure to guard against HFMD.
She immediately raised a red flag, suggesting instead that each child be allowed to pull down their own mask. This minimises the risk of a staff unknowingly passing on germs from child to child.
So apart from teaching our kids how to don and keep a mask properly, as well as how to wash their hands and sanitise them, parents need to be alert to any unsafe practices that we see around us and provide constructive feedback.
CHILDREN WILL ADAPT IF PARENTS LEAD THE WAY
As we prepare to send our youngest ones out of our nest, it will undoubtedly be a tentative and quivering step into the unknown.
We may find ourselves like a broken recorder, repeating the new rules of COVID-19 life again and again – “hands away from your face”, “wash your hands”, “keep your mask on at all times”.
Preschools would do well to help ease some of the anxieties by communicating regularly and implementing their measures diligently.
It is a formidable task ahead for teachers so parents also need to respond with patience.
Preschoolers may struggle with wearing a mask for the entire duration of school but they do have strengths that will help set them up for success: Adaptability.
They may be young but they are amazingly adaptable to changes in the environment, given some practice and encouragement.
If we keep a positive outlook, and partner our children’s schools effectively, we may find our kids more receptive to change.
But we must first shore up sufficient mental and practical resources and manage our own anxieties well. Only then will our children stand a good chance at adapting and thriving – even amidst this crisis.
June Yong is a mother of three, an educational therapist and owner of Mama Wear Papa Shirt, a blog that discusses parenting and education in Singapore.
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