The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us spending the better part of 2020 confined to our homes. Businesses have been shuttered, parents have become stay-at-home teachers, and schools have shifted online.
Managing our lives from home has been a unique challenge but now, a different challenge lies in the road ahead for some of us. Infection rates are gradually dropping in countries where strict social distancing measures have been enforced for months, prompting the gradual easing of these measures. Amid these new developments, preschools are reopening, and some parents have reservations about sending their young children back to school.
In a few short weeks, this pandemic has completely changed life as we know it. So, while we all understand that school is important, it isn’t unreasonable to want to play it safe, is it?
Is it that important to send my child to preschool?
We believe it to be extremely important. Preschool is a child’s first step into their schooling years. This is where they learn to make decisions, to behave in a classroom, and to be respectful of others along with learning their ABCs.
Amy Flynn, the director of the Bank Street Family Center in New York City, says that “what preschools do that less formal classes don’t is teach kids how to be students. Your child will learn how to raise her hand, take turns, and share the teacher’s attention.” Preschools do teach introductory math and pre-reading skills (that some may argue can be accomplished through homeschooling). However, preschools uniquely offer children a classroom setting where they get to interact with peers and learn what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour. The social environment that a preschool class creates for children to achieve these specific developmental milestones isn’t one that can be recreated at home.
A preschool education is crucial for equipping children with the learning tools and social skills they need to be successful in their next decade or so in the schooling system.
How safe are preschools?
Preschools are among the most diligently disinfected places at the moment. Government-mandated hygiene guidelines require that preschools are disinfected to prepare for students’ return and cleaned daily, with a focus on communal spaces and frequently touched surfaces.
Besides, preschools that are reopening are only allowed to do so because their region has reported low or no detected community transmission cases for a prolonged period of time. To further err on the side of caution, in countries like Singapore, preschool staff are mandated to undergo precautionary COVID-19 testing, with a “risk-based testing system” to be put in place after preschools have been reopened. In addition, students are resuming school activities on staggered schedules to minimize the number of students gathered. As an added measure, students and staff are encouraged and/or required (varies from country to country) to wear face masks or face shields at all times.
What more can I do to protect my child?
Besides regular hand-washing, the most important habit to cultivate right now is staying informed. This includes keeping up to date with school communications and news from your government on hygiene recommendations. Learning the hygiene protocols in your child’s preschool may alert you to any oversight or reassure you that your preschool is doing everything it can to be a safe and conducive learning environment.
While we seek out more information, we need to ensure that we logically evaluate that information. If your country is reporting a small spike in the number of positive COVID-19 cases among preschool staff, your first instinct may be to fear that preschools are a viral hotspot. However, looking at the bigger picture may reveal that the reported increase may be due to the fact that there is concentrated testing done for preschool staff. It may also become apparent to us that those cases are unlikely to have spread through the preschool community or premises as school closure has been in effect for multiple weeks.
Health-monitoring also needs to continue beyond the preschool doors. Parents can do their part by conducting temperature checks at home every day and keeping an eye out for other symptoms in their children. At worst, it can lead to early detection and treatment of illness, and in any case, these checks can limit the spread if symptomatic children are isolated early.
The search for a vaccine continues, and while there is the worry that easing measures too early could trigger a new wave of COVID-19 cases, the world is looking for ways to resume “normal life”.
We may be in an age of reinventing normal life, but if there is one thing that still stands, it’s the resilience of our communities. We will get through this together.