Working with young children has special advantages during this challenging time. Despite limitations that COVID-19 has imposed on most schools, and the challenges it has created for me as a preschool director, the kids still manage to make me laugh with their constant (funny) questions and carefree attitudes. Their smiles remind me of the good in the world.
The difficulties of our current reality can’t be diminished by easy platitudes, but our little ones remind me that there are silver linings.
Even with the virus concerns, recent guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) call for “having students physically present in school.” So I find myself focusing more sharply on the benefits before us.
Smaller Classes = Greater Connections
One of the pandemic’s silver linings is smaller classes. In smaller groups there is a greater sense of intimacy among classmates and between kids and teachers. This lends itself to a faster socialization and a more cohesive classroom community. Children often find it easier to connect with their peers and express their feelings with fewer people around. Even shy students open up and feel more comfortable.
Smaller Classes = More Personalized Curriculum Development
Many classrooms are rooted in emergent curricula, a process where teachers take cues from their students, planning activities and projects based on their curiosities, skills, and needs. I recently watched a few children chasing a spider on our playground. That grew into a broad learning opportunity about spiders and their environment, with amazing string art depicting spider eggs, counting lessons based on arachnids’ legs, and more.
Smaller classes allow children to drive the conversations and enable teachers to more readily capture the interests of each and every child.
Smaller Classes = More Participation
Smaller classes encourage more hands-on participation for kids. Group activities are a huge part of developmental learning for preschoolers.
One teacher told me about a time when she was reading stories during circle time and one of her students asked to be the “reader.” The teacher offered each of the students a turn to present a book to the rest of the group, and now she regularly encourages the kids to become the storytellers.
Smaller Classes = More Time and More Creativity
The smaller the ratio of teachers to students, the more time teachers have to think out of the box, to test ideas, and express their creativity.
In one of our louder classrooms, dance parties have evolved into deep discussions around music. Our children go home talking about allegro and adagio and symphonies.
Another group of students explored music with improvised instruments. After collecting pine cones and sticks on their nature walk, the three-year-olds transformed themselves into a remarkably musical marching band. (They also learned a valuable lesson about repurposing objects!)
Silver Linings Beyond the Classroom
In addition to these academic benefits, our current circumstances have reminded all of us to slow down and notice the most basic things. One parent recently wrote to me:
Your school has undertaken such painstaking efforts to establish cleanliness protocols for little ones, balanced with the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and innocence of inquisitive childhood. Thank you for leading such a beautiful place of love and learning.
Perhaps the most precious silver lining of the viral cloud has been that we have learned to experience and express gratitude.
SHEILA DALVA-HORNBACK is director of Merage JCC’s Aronoff Preschool and a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.