Editor’s note: April 13-17 is Week of the Young Child, an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and AzAEYC celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, and families. Raising Arizona Kids is proud to be collaborating with the AzAEYC all week to share insights and tips from Arizona’s professional community of early childhood educators. Yesterday’s post was “Artsy Thursday.”
Family members are the first relationships in a child’s life. They are teachers, role models, and protectors as a child experiences the world around them. The family environment creates a secure foundation where a child can flourish.
As we navigate these unprecedented times amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, family is even more profoundly important than ever to the development of children. But even in difficult times, you don’t have to be a super parent to raise healthy children! Families experience new things together, work together, learn from mistakes, and keep trying.
There are no experts at raising children in a pandemic — this is a new experience for everyone. There is no right or wrong way to continue operating in your family structure. The important part to remember is to think about what children are seeking as the world around them shifts: consistency and security.
How do families provide those things?
Consistency and security come through interactions with family members who are responsive and attentive to their needs. Even though the world is unpredictable right now, children need to experience predictability within their family environment. They need to be reassured that although they cannot continue their routines outside of the home, they can still rely on their family.
Adults certainly have many challenges in balancing grownup responsibilities with attention to meeting children’s needs as we shelter in place. While each family has to find their own balance, there are many fun and playful opportunities for children to maintain the connection with family, both within their own home and those at a distance.
Here are some ideas:
Follow family play plans. Maybe coming up with ways to keep your family engaged and connected is a little bit outside of your comfort zone. That’s OK! The internet has countless resources on how to keep your family playing together. Truce offers a series of family play plans.
Make movie night a little extra special. Streaming devices and services offer many quality movies for young children. Add a little extra excitement to movie night by pulling a mattress into the living room or perhaps create cars out of cardboard boxes and make it a “drive in.”
Get silly. Have a dance party! Dress up in crazy outfits and set up a photo shoot. Stage a family talent show. Use your imagination — your children will embrace it.
Make family portraits. Not an artist? Not a problem! Gather paper and whatever art materials you have available: markers, crayons, or even just pens. Create portraits of each member of your family. Don’t forget those who live outside your home. Use photographs to help children remember what their loved ones look like and reference them to make your collection of family portraits.
Write “Tales of the Family.” This idea requires some creativity, but the payoff is a fun, entertaining way to stay connected. One person buys an empty notebook and starts off. They use the notebook to write about their life in story form, then pass the notebook on to someone else. That person writes their story and then passes it on again.
Identify a member of your extended family to be your child’s pen pal. Use this as an opportunity to connect with a loved one your child cannot see in person, practice writing skills, and maybe even learn about the postal system.
Incorporate technology. There are numerous apps that allow children to safely connect with family members outside of your home. Facebook messenger for kids is particularly child friendly. Schedule phone calls with loved ones. Consider asking them to read a story to a child or make the experience somehow interactive.
Just make memories! Sometimes the pressure of planning family activities is overwhelming when you’re trying to juggle work, household duties, schooling, and other obligations. You can still engage with your children and offer consistency and security through the basic activities of life. Ask them to sort laundry with you. Bonus: sorting is an early math skill! Have them help you cook dinner. Bake dessert together. They’ll be learning life skills while they spend time connecting with you.
In a time where things are anything but normal, children need the security of family more than ever. Sometimes that can mean fun experiences and other times it’s simply being there for young children. As Mister Rogers once said, “There are many ways to say I love you. Just by being there when things are sad and scary. Just by being there, being there, being there to say I love you.” With family, sometimes just being there to say I love you is enough.
Ann Marie Marino serves as program director for Jumpstart, an early educator professional development program, and is adjunct faculty in the education department at Mesa Community College. She AzAEYC’s vice president for professional development.
With a Desert Twist!
Watch: Sesame Street Nature Walk
Read: “Listen to the Desert” by Pat Mora
Sabrina Ball has been involved in early childhood education for the past 30 years and is the director of Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool, a Reggio inspired, NAEYC accredited preschool located in Scottsdale. She is also adjunct faculty at Paradise Valley Community College, a NAEYC Accredited Higher Education Program in Phoenix.