The Village Early Childhood Education Center's virtual communications provide educational ideas and a sense of connection while the facility is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carter, 3, collects household items that begin with each letter of the alphabet, a lesson provided by Miss Hannah, the older toddler lead teacher.
The next time the kids at the Village Early Childhood Education Center see Ms. Scotlun in person, her hair will be purple. Ms. Ashley’s will be blue. Ms. Nancy’s? Yellow.
It will surely be a sight to see, and parents and educators alike are excited for the day when normal operations can resume at the Village.
The center, located in downtown California, Pa., and affiliated with the Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education at California University of Pennsylvania, has been closed since mid-March as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, the 28 staff members at the facility, which welcomes children from 6 weeks old to school age, have been busy communicating with families via social media updates, electronic newsletters, and Zoom meetings with their class.
Teachers and assistants also have been busy updating their portfolios, preparing for reaccreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children and engaging in other professional development activities.
“We have been trying to stay engaged as much as possible with children and families,” said Ashley Roth, the director of the Village’s Liberty Avenue location and assistant director at its Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education location on Cal U’s campus.
One fun way to do just that was an online vote for what color teachers and administrators should dye their hair for the first day back. Results were tabulated this week.
“We will all be coloring our hair for the first day back, and some of the kids might also participate,” said Roth, a Cal U graduate who also teaches in the University’s Childhood Education Department.
And don’t tell them, but the fun silliness of the hair-dye vote was meant to be educational, too.
“It tied in to STEM learning,” said Cherie Sears, a Cal U graduate and president of the Village. “Children were able to follow the results on a bar graph, and teachers were able to explain which colors would need more votes.”
Other ways for teachers and families to stay connected have included a monthly read-aloud calendar. A flower seed study that encourages kids to record when their seeds are watered and other observations will begin next week.
Scotlun Hileman, a Cal U junior with dual majors in pre-K through 4 and special education pre-K through 8, was assisting in the infant room prior to the COVID-19 closure. Now she helps with the family newsletter.
“This week we focused on gross motor skills, with five simple things parents can do at home. We also included five fun facts about infants, a nursery rhyme of the week and an inspirational quote.
“We wanted to give parents some great ideas of what they can still do at home with their kids to promote learning.”
Andy and Alicia Galis are raising two kids, Brielle, almost 5, and Ben, 1. Brielle was excited for pre-K graduation before the Village closed.
Andy, a 2010 graduate of Cal U, is still running the family business, Greene Team Pellet Fuel Co., and Alicia, a physical therapist, is at home for now.
The couple said they appreciate the communication from the Village during uncertain times.
“They’ve been doing class Zoom meetings where they read a book and do an activity, like sending the kids on a scavenger hunt for certain shapes and colors,” Alicia said.
“It’s been good to see the things they’ve been working on with Brielle, so when I log off, I know what I should be doing. I’m not a teacher, so it helps me to know what I need to help her with and gives me some ideas for activities.”
“The activity ideas have been very useful,” Andy said. “You have to be hands-on with a preschooler; you can’t just put them in front of a computer and tell them to do a lesson.”
Hileman said even the teachers have been learning for the past month.
“I think the newsletters have given parents a different way of thinking. Maybe we can continue them as a guide for things to do with their kids in the evenings that is related to what we’re doing at the Village. It can tie us all together as a community.
“And some of our kids aren’t at the Village during the summer, so Zoom meetings might be a nice way to meet with them when they’re not with us.”
The sense of community might be the most valuable lesson of all, for staff, parents and children.
“I started getting very nice notes of appreciation for what we’re doing that I’ve been sharing with Ashley,” Sears said. “Everyone has been thankful for the academic part, but the education is really much broader. It’s about all of us working together to teach our children about being good people and caring about each other.”