Do Families Feel “In”… Even When Having to Stay “out”?
During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, reopening has been very challenging for Italian early childhood education and care centers. Some practices and spaces had to be modified to comply with COVID regulations, including limiting the presence of families inside the centers . Before the pandemic, families could enter the classrooms, stay with children and talk with teachers as long as they wanted. Currently, with the pandemic restrictions in place, families are not allowed to enter the classroom and they have to stop at the door.
Within these ‘imposed changes’, EDUCAS project has been an opportunity for the Italian ECEC centers (Gelsomino and Maria Vittoria), led by the University of Parma, to reflect on the space in which welcoming moments are now taking place: the entrance door.
During the reflection sessions held within the project, some of the questions that teachers raised were:
- How can a still/static/narrow space be an inclusive space for families?
- How does a warm, authentic, inclusive relationship with families happen in a boundary space for them??
- How to turn this space into a space without boundaries?
The teachers and the researchers reflected jointly on the new welcoming space through written- and video observations. What was found?
1. How welcoming happens
The welcome takes place through triadic exchanges between parents, children and teachers
“The child explains the experience he had at school the day before: ".... We did an experiment, I told everyone I was the scientist!". The father, smiling, confirms what the child said. The teacher then shares some things about the experiment and invites the child to enter.” [Erica, teacher of children aged 3-6]
(See photo 1 on the left)
The welcome takes place through the children’s help
“Elia arrives at the door with his mum. Gianluca runs towards him, followed by Ettore. Elia smiles and tells his mother: "Look, mom, these are my friends! ". Gianluca invites him to come in, go and play together.” [Nicole, teacher of children aged 0-3]
(See photo 2 on the right)
The welcome takes place through welcoming differences
"Although the welcome takes place at the door, each parent has found his/her way: there are those who open the door and stand in front, having a chat with the teacher; some open the door and stop in the middle, waiting for the educator to come; some wait for the educator to open the door and let the child in; some open the door, greet quickly and leave". [Marta, teacher of children aged 0-3]
2. Learning opportunities
The new welcoming space offers children new learning opportunities. Some observations are shared below.
Learning to wait their turn
"Parents and children have to wait their turn in order to keep a physical distance and avoid creating too much bustle near the door." [Francesca, teacher of children aged 3-6]
Learning to observe different ways to say goodbye
“The door becomes a precise focus, which catches the attention of children. This new narrow space for welcoming brings attention to the “goodbyes” and children have more opportunities to observe how the different parent-child couples live that moment.” [Sara, researcher]
(See photo 3 on the right)
Learning to respect the needs of others
“Anita sees that Arianna is arriving , so she runs towards the door to welcome her, followed by other children. But as soon as Arianna sees her friends coming, she starts crying and hugs her mum. I understand that’s a very delicate moment for Arianna so I ask other children to leave me for a moment with Arianna and her mom , and that we would join soon.” [Nicole, teacher of children aged 0-3]
Learning to be autonomous
“Every time a family approaches the door, the teacher has to step away from the class and the children in the classroom have to stay by themselves and be autonomous while waiting for the teacher, who is welcoming other children, to be available again." [Margherita, teacher children aged 0-3]
(See photo 4 on the left)
Learning safety routines
Gianluca says, “Come in to play!” but Elia stops at the door and says "No, I still have to wash my hands, and the nanny has to measure my temperature."
“I’m happy to have found and created a "ritual with families " that transmits serenity to the child, to the parent, and to myself.” [Nicole, teacher children aged 0-3]
EDUCAS offered an important opportunity to reflect on the new welcoming space for teachers and researchers jointly. Very interesting thoughts about the opportunities this new space offers have emerged through written and video observations, which had been very precious tools for teachers to reflect on their practice. After reflections, the welcoming space will be redesigned and the same tools will be used afterwards to further reflect on the importance of space to be child and family-friendly and welcoming.
Authors: Ada Cigala, Professor, and Sara Berti, PhD, University of Parma, Italy
Picture 1 and 4: Concetta Scarafilo, pedagogical coordinator Nido e Scuola dell’Infanzia Gelsomino (Parma)
Picture 2 and 3: Claudia Ciccardi, pedagogical coordinator Nido Françoise Dolto – Maria Vittoria (Torino)