Maintaining interaction with families during the pandemic: the key for smooth transitions
The world has been facing a completely new way of life in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic influenced the personal and professional lives of everyone, including families and professionals from the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) field. In Slovenia, preschools and schools were closed in spring from March to May 2020, and again from the end of October 2020 till today - February 2021. The majority of children is still home schooling and only the youngest ones (aged 6-8) from regions with a better epidemic situation returned to their classrooms. During the second lockdown, preschools remained open just to provide emergency service to children of parents working as essential workers.
Surely, with children staying at home, their level of interactions with peers and adults has clearly been hindered. Therefore, preschool professionals, along parents, play an important role in continuing to provide opportunities for children to interact, learn and use the obtained knowledge in their life.
In Slovenia, ISSA Member the Step by Step Centre for Quality in Education from the Educational Research Institute, has strong connections with preschools through their Step by Step Network for Changing Quality. These contacts enabled the Centre to receive information about preschools’ adaptability and innovative approaches, with which they endeavoured to maintain the communication with children and families during the first lockdown.
‘Our management was very supportive in our belief that the lockdown should not prevent us from following our professional mission and nurturing our relationships with the children.’ - Preschool teacher
Feedback from the frontline workers inspired us (researchers) to organize an expert meeting on the national level. Such an event was a great opportunity to explore how we can ensure inclusive and smooth transitions from the home environment to the ECEC institution in the uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was of great importance to us, as ensuring that all children and families — especially the most vulnerable — benefit from warm and inclusive transitional practice in ECEC. This is precisesly the key objective of the InTrans project, in which the Education Research Institute (ERI) participates.
The expert meeting was organized online on the Zoom platform and attended by more than 120 professionals from more than 60 institutions, as well as by representatives of the Ministry of Education, the National Education Institute, the National School for Leadership in Education, social care centres, and other relevant organisations from the field of education.
Preschool professionals were offered the opportunity to share innovative approaches on how to maintain the communication with families during the lockdown in spring 2020 and to encourage each other to stay connected. In order to maintain the interaction with children and support parents in finding new ideas while spending more time at home, preschool professionals:
- stayed connected with families through emails, websites or video conference platforms;
- shared several ideas with families for different activities (such as videos with ideas for arts and crafts, sports activities, online story reading, advice on using home environment and materials for play etc.);
- shared photos of how other children from their group are spending time with their families, celebrating birthdays etc.;
- shared information regarding the COVID-19 disease in a child-appropriate way…
The maintenance of interactions with families during the first lockdown was identified by professionals as crucial to ensure a smoother transition from home to preschool. Those professionals, who stayed in regular contact with children and families through online communication, confirmed that children had less difficulties when returning to preschool and it was easier for them to adapt to the required adjustments (such as professionals wearing protective masks, changed learning environment, certain toys and materials not being allowed to be used, potential differences in the structure of the group of children…).
"The maintenance of interactions with families during the first lockdown was identified by professionals as crucial to ensure a smoother transition from home to preschool."
Furthermore, professionals expressed their gratitude for parents who were very responsive during their online engagement. Examples include parents contributing with and sharing news and photographs of children and discussing with professionals about the difficulties they were facing during the pandemic. According to the reports from the field all of this contributed to an easier return of children back to preschool.
‘We found it necessary to preserve our interaction with families and provide emotional support to children and their parents in these times.’ - Preschool teacher
Even though some preschools were very successful in maintaining the communication with children and families, there were still some institutions reporting that they did not want to burden parents with additional engagement. These mixed experiences from the field inspired the researchers at the Educational Research Institute to conduct a short survey among parents, which would give additional value and another aspect to the presentations of the preschool professionals at the expert meeting. The questionnaire was distributed to parents across the country. They were asked to respond whether the initiative from preschools to preserve communication with families is a burden or a welcoming support for them during the lockdown.
At the expert meeting, the results of this survey were also presented. The majority of 1204 parents, who responded to the questionnaire, mentioned that maintaining the communication with the preschool professionals during these times is of great support and importance.
‘It is nice to be in touch with the preschool teacher and the children – they miss each other. And it is useful for us to receive some ideas of what we can do at home.’ - Parent
Yet, a quarter of the participants answered that they do not require additional support. That quarter of parents was represented by parents who have more than one children, some of whom were home schooling and needed assistance with using the computer and distant learning in general. In addition, these parents had to combine these school obligations with their work from home.
To conclude, preschool professionals should be encouraged and supported by the management to maintain the communication with children and parents during the pandemic. In this way, they can provide support to parents, keep the relationship with children and strengthen their feeling of belonging to the preschool group, which can largely contribute to a softer transition of children at their return to preschool after the end of the lockdown.
Authors: Tina Mervic, Mateja Mlinar, Mateja Režek, researchers at the Educational Research Institute, Slovenia
Photo: shixart1985, licensed with CC BY 2.0.