April 1, 2020

Playful Home Learning Series: #4

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, this post is the fourth in a series about playful teaching and learning during prolonged school closures. That we are talking about play and playfulness during this global crisis doesn’t mean we don’t take the situation seriously. We are deeply saddened by the ongoing loss of life and toll this outbreak will continue to take. Yet as educators who understand the value of learning through play, we feel a responsibility to help playful learning continue for the many children who will be learning at home.


Para leer esta publicación en español, visite el sitio web de aeioTU

An early childhood organization’s courageous response to COVID-19

Maria Adelaida Lopez, Nehyi Quintero, and Laura Guzman are part of the leadership team of aeioTU, an organization based in Colombia that works with 26 centers throughout the country, providing comprehensive services to 20,000 young children and their families mainly in vulnerable communities. Since March 16th, childcare centers and schools in Colombia have been closed due to COVID-19. Implementing “aeioTU at Home with You," the organization has worked tirelessly to support families’ mental and physical health and continue playful learning for children. We reached out to Maria, Nehyi, and Laura because of their insights into the unique challenges faced by early childhood educators working with low-income families. Our conversation left us impressed by how aeioTU continues to pay attention to families’ cultural contexts and strengths, thus empowering communities. We also learned how an organization that takes a playful approach to their own learning can quickly adapt to extremely challenging conditions. Here is an excerpt of our conversation:

As leaders of an organization, why is it important to continue playful learning when the centers are closed?

Maria: This has been an opportunity to reinvent. We are learning every day. We’ve been taking all the necessary precautions and doing prudent planning for the whole team to be clear what our day by day and weekly objectives are. As leaders, we have to help the whole organization embrace this complex and uncertain situation. To rethink our ways to relate to each other. To relate to ourselves. To communicate. To stay connected. To be present. As leaders, it is most important to be present in the life of each of us. And to know that together we can do better. That together we are able to embrace the situation and help each other. To be positive. To take risks. And to be present in the lives of the educators and families, and of course, in the lives of the children.  
Something I’ve learned working closely with the Reggio educators and community: keep our spirits alive and our playful dispositions. The playful dispositions help us to embrace the situation from a place of love, positivism, giving to others, and being proactive when we can. Not to panic. To make the best of the situation.

How are you thinking about keeping learning playful while children are at home?

Homes are unique contexts

Laura: We need teachers to recognize the contexts of the homes. To know the materials that are in the home. And recognize that home is not school. We need to respect the times of the families and the different moments of parents and children, in the relationships and ways of playing. What are the families’ daily routines and what do they have to do? And helping parents realize how kids can be part of these in playful and learning ways.
exploring natural materials (photo courtesy aeioTU)
painting with food (photo courtesy aeioTU)

Two-way communications between families and educators

Nehyi: Our central message to families is that we can spend this time in a calm, pleasant way. We just have to adapt. It’s important to help families not feel isolated; that we are with them. We are present.
Maria: It is important to understand the cultural aspects of the families. To be very respectful of family context. So we need to listen and learn from them.  
Nehyi: It isn’t the same for everyone. If teachers are in constant conversations with the families we can understand their situations and we can help them understand what play means and entails. So we are giving tips and ideas and we are also asking: What kind of stories has she (your child) liked the most? What materials is she interested in? What isn’t she playing with? So we can give new ideas to parents and help all of us be focused on the child and the child’s interests. This makes activities meaningful to the child and so then the child will be learning.
Laura: We need to help families understand the power of learning through play. Parents are worried about staying with children for the whole time and some think they have to rely just on videos or TV to occupy them. We (parents and educators) need to believe in the ability of children to learn individually and collectively. Therefore, it’s valid to provide scenarios where children explore, create, imagine, investigate, question and even get bored. This opens up new ideas, possibilities and scenarios of play provided at home. We need to figure out what kinds of play can be developed in these new contexts–what types of play can be developed in each place at home and every moment of the day. There must be a balance between the times and roles of those who are part of home, seeking a harmonious wellness among those who are part of it. Quality, significant scenarios can strengthen the emotional ties and the discovery of the creative capacities of both children and adults.
Nehyi: We have a book we created 4 years ago with 1000 small tips for families to accompany children’s development from home. We are using these tips and sharing with families via phone calls and social networks. [You can see their ideas on instagram and facebook.]
painting with water (photo courtesy aeioTU)

Collaboration inside and outside of our organization

Maria: For children to have opportunities for playful learning, we also need to listen to their families’ needs. We need to be aware of health and safety situations. As an organization we are mobilizing the social aspects, working with other stakeholders like the psychologists and social workers in all our communities, so we can provide coaching and services to the families. And we need to be aware that most are not able to work and so there is hunger. No one can go out and make a living. So there is a commitment to provide food resources for the families.
Nehyi: Our teachers and psychologists and social workers are working together to develop supports for families, some which teachers can share directly. And teachers can identify which families need additional support.  

What are some of the concrete strategies/activities you are deploying?

Phone calls

Nehyi: Since many families don’t have access to the internet, teachers are making phone calls to families twice a week and sometimes more. They talk to children and their families. We talk to the families and learn about their situations and provide them ideas about what experiences they could be providing to the children. How to use recycled materials for children to play. Also understanding the importance of everyday moments and how play can be present in daily routines. For example, children could be playing by creating stories as they fold the laundry or they could play while washing their hands and seeing different shades of soap bubbles. Teachers are helping parents see that play is just a funnier way for children to do things.
Routines and rules are important to children and parents. Routines give stability. So we are giving advice on how families can make routines together in a fun way. We are advising parents to create a schedule with the children and make collective agreements about the space they are all sharing. Everyone is sharing their home for a long period of time. Rules help everyone understand how to manage this different situation. Families can make these rules and routines in playful ways: using puppets, drawing. You can have different strategies based on what each family likes to do. Of course, for young children this promotes self-regulation.
We also provide health and nutrition advice and guidance on how to cope with being in the house all the time. And if they are having a hard time, families will receive more than two calls a week, from the psychologists and nutritionists as well.


And more!

Nehyi: We use virtual tools for families that have access. For families without access we use Voice Notes where teachers read books and share ideas for activities that they send through social media. For example, provocations of how to explore light and shadow. In some cities we have delivered materials -- printed materials and kits with wood and cloth and seeds for children to explore.  
Maria: We learned that for some families radio is the best way to share information.
Laura: Yes, so we are reaching out to radio stations to share tips and knowledge. We are creating new ways to stay close to the families.

How are you helping families talk to their children about the pandemic?

Laura: We are using the languages of the arts. It’s important to recognize the languages of art because they are very important to play. For example, stories and storytelling and puppets to share with children in a close and empathetic way. And to help us understand what children are thinking and to know their feelings. And thus provide tools that support their emotions.
It is important is to have a dialogue with children about the situation that recognizes their feelings. Being very truthful about the situation. Respectful but truthful; not hiding things that are going on. You don’t have to explain everything, but share in a manner they can understand.
Maria: And to understand that children need touch. They need to kiss you. They need to hug you. Children need that physical presence. We need to embrace this need with love. So not just saying, “I can’t kiss you now” but finding other languages for kissing and hugging. Using puppets and other tools to send kisses. Using expressions and silent languages to help children feel they have been kissed and hugged. A reinventing of ways of being with each other. The situation is showing us different ways of communicating with each other.
Nejhi: We need to help parents understand that children are resilient and they build this resilience from seeing examples. You can explain to children that we need to be at home to take care of each other and to help our community. Without panicking. That by following medical advice the home is a safe environment. This is what the children are going to remember: that we can manage hard situations and we can support each other. We can manage crisis and manage it with love and peace in our hearts and being hopeful.  

We encourage you to read more  about aeioTU and the wonderful work that they do. And here's another helpful resource for early childhood educators looking to support children and families during this time of learning at home.