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Oregon Family Magazine

“Sharing” is paused, for now…

09/01/2020 ● By Beth Casper
When stay-at-home orders hit in March, child care centers and preschools creatively adapted their programs to new protocols—ones that are not intuitive for young children.

Preschoolers typically are instructed to share, show care and concern by sitting down next to a friend, and offer to help another child pick up toys.

COVID-19 means that teachers issue reminders to keep distance, wash hands often and keep hands and toys to themselves.

On the national podcast Telescope, Eugene Family YMCA Preschool Teacher Melissa Belnap tells the story of how she adapted her preschool program to continue to nurture the healthy development of children while also safely responding to a global pandemic.

“We have lots of blue tape all over our floor and on our carpet,” she explains on the segment, Pre-K in a Pandemic. “Everywhere there is a blue X, it gives you an example of where you can stand or where you can sit on the carpet and play with your toys 6 feet away from your friends.”

Teachers are navigating the emotional toll the distance and stress takes on children.

Melissa says that children’s stress and anxiety often comes out in difficult behaviors.

Since she’s been in early childhood education for more than 10 years, Melissa understands. She knows to respond calmly and with curiosity.

“How can a 4-year-old verbally articulate their fear of an unseen virus when adults are having trouble coping?” she asks.

Melissa tears up when she shares a story of one of her students, Dylan, who ran from his table when Melissa’s co-teacher Kelsey coughed. When Melissa was able to calm him down, he told her that he worried Kelsey had the COVID-19 virus and would die.

“It was heartbreaking,” she says.

Since then, Melissa has worked through her students’ emotional trauma, but she is prepared for more when preschool starts again this month.

The Telescope podcast began in March at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Three days a week, Telescope delivers stories of how people are learning to live through this pandemic and create a "new normal."

Three episodes are focused specifically on education. Find them in your podcast app or here:

Eugene Family YMCA Preschool Teacher Melissa Belnap kneels to listen to her student Dylan. Melissa has taken extra care to respond to her preschoolers who are navigating new rules and emotions related to corona-virus.