Date: 11-06-2020

The EDUCAS Project Focuses on Educare Practices During the COVID-19 Pandemic

While the COVID-19 has impacted the activities of the EDUCAS project, partners have found ways to adjust their work.  
EDUCAS aims to create early childhood education and care (ECEC) environments that support children’s development in a holistic way, taking into account the diverse needs of children and families, with special attention to the ones at risk of social exclusion. The consortium is experimenting with visions and methods related to organizing ECEC environments and materials within an educare approach. 
Several challenges have arisen in the three countries involved in the project. The challenges are: 

  • How to stay close to each other and preserve warm relationship when physical distancing and safety rules are in place?  
  • How to stay in contact with everybody in this situation, especially with the most vulnerable ones? 

Right now, the lack of opportunities to work on the ‘physical space’ of our early childhood education and care (ECEC) services is driving more focus to the ‘mental-emotional space’ that we share with families and children.  

To value this ‘space’, we have documented what the ECEC centers involved in the project are doing to keep the connection they have with children and families alive, as well as their plans around re-opening ECEC/schools. 
The EDUCAS consortium has shared a short overview of the measures taken in Belgium, Italy, and Lithuania as well as the inspiring educare practices that emerged during the pandemic. 

An overview of the measures for ECEC/school in each country: 

In Belgium childcare centers and out of school care centers stayed open during the whole pandemic period (lockdown started the 13th of March), in the first phase for children of parents that have ‘essential’ jobs and for families from vulnerable backgrounds. Since the 15th of May, some classes of primary school are open, and since the 2nd of June all kindergarten and primary school classes are open, with more flexible rules concerning physical distance (e.g. no physical distance is foreseen in kindergarten. In primary school physical distance is not required during ‘free play’ time). 

In Italy, the lockdown has been very strict for two months, starting in the first regions on the 23rd of February, and then extended to the whole country. The re-opening began on May 4th, but all ECEC/schools are still closed now, and even in September it is not clear how they will re-open. Some contexts are preparing the organizations of summer camps. A debate is going on concerning when and how to reopen, and protests from parents/teachers/organizations have been taken place, claiming not enough attention given to children and families during the whole pandemic period. 

Lithuania introduced a nationwide quarantine on March 16th, which is set to expire on June 16th. ECEC centers were allowed to reopen from the 18th of May. Some preschools stayed open during the quarantine period for children of parents who have ‘essential’ jobs. Over 90% of public services in Lithuania are available online. Since 2006, 92% of schools have practiced remote teaching. The Lithuanian Education Ministry purchased and leased 35,000 computers for vulnerable families to launch remote learning. Since April, the National TV station offers educational activities for preschool-age children and their parents for one hour. 

Examples of ‘inspiring  educare  practices’ during the COVID-19 pandemic

Keeping contact daily: 

  • We organized the initiative "Lontani ma insieme - Far but Together", to provide thematic daily support through virtual channels as far as possible, to ‘stay’ with the children daily. Video readings, songs, activities, and suggestions are shared with families by chat and open platform (Italy). 
  • We have a blog to post videos/pictures of practitioners/teachers, and possible activities to do at home. Children/families can also post on the same blog (Belgium). 
  • At the beginning of the quarantine, we asked families if they have computers and internet connection. For families without computers, we gave them laptops and tablets. We provided internet connection for families that didn’t have it (Lithuania).  

Remembering the individual relationship:

  • Teachers/practitioners regularly call each child/family to talk with them and ask how they are doing. It’s important to listen to the individual needs of each of them. Some parents want to have a chat, some others need materials and activities, some need a laptop or WIFI connection, some need emotional support. It’s important not to ‘assume’ that all families and all children are the same. It’s important to listen. The strength is to foresee different ways of communication. With some families this works, with some other families something else (Belgium). 
  • Not all parents use online tools, not everyone wants to (or can) log in and share. We need to take diversity into account, maybe now more than ever (Lithuania). 
  • We offer pedagogical support to parents if they want it. For example, they exchange ideas about how to talk about coronavirus with the children (Lithuania). 

Not everything can happen online:

  • Once a week, practitioners/teachers in duo bring a ‘package’ with materials/inspirations for activities at home to each child/family. In this way, practitioners/teachers can also have a face-to-face meeting (from a distance) with each child/family (Belgium). 
  • Since recently, we are planning to invite small groups of children (especially from kindergarten, which is still closed) to school, even by eventually offering to pick them up at home (Belgium). 

Inclusion for everyone:

  • This is one of the real challenges of this situation. Keeping contact with everybody. We try to combine online tools with phone calls and home visits (Belgium).  
  • Once a week the pedagogical coach ‘meets’ online the teachers/practitioners to reflect on the situation, listen to their worries and challenges, find new approaches together. In general, during this period, we are committed to maintaining the relationship with each other and thinking about it: children, parents, educators. This is our idea of care (Italy). 

Contact amongst parents and children: 

  • Teachers/practitioners created online groups for parents to ‘meet’. These moments are very important for families because the exchange is a way to share and support each other in this challenging situation (Italy). 
  • Families/children keep in contact with each other through virtual meetings. We organize virtual calls for kids on Friday. We do a conference call so they can see each other (Lithuania). 

The COVID-19 situation is clearly showing the crucial role of the ECEC sector in supporting the wellbeing of children and families. It shines a light on the challenges that come with promoting inclusion and equity for all in our societies. Additionally, it is showcasing the motivation and hard, loving work that is done by the ECEC professionals – as well as the relevance of the interconnection between ‘education’ and ‘care’. It underlines how the socio-emotional wellbeing of children is at the core of their ‘learning’ and how essential interactions and relationships are in the lives of children and families.  

As one of the practitioners says: "This situation shows that care is a crucial part of the identity of our job, and this is just fantastic!". 

The political choices taken by each country in this emergency show the ‘place’ given to children and families in our societies. We hope that the voices of professionals, children, families will be increasingly heard and valued, influencing the ‘spreading’ of an ‘educare culture’ on a political level. 

Photo courtesy of ©Caroline Boudry