Tuesday, April 21, 2020

i Never Know What's Going On!

Who wants to ride on the emotional roller coaster? Hop on!

My job since January has been at a child care center for children ages 0 to 5. It was run by an organization that oversees many centers in the area, none of which are really related to each other or similar to each other. So, its not a chain like Kinder Care, but a smattering of random centers that they've pretty much acquired over the years.

As I mentioned before, when I first found out in late March that our day care center was closing, we were told that it would be until at least April 27. That was because, at the time, schools in my state were supposed to reopen on April 27. Originally they said we would be laid off, but would return to our jobs when it reopened. Then they sent a letter saying we would not be guaranteed our jobs, and they were paying us for all of the paid time off we still had coming. My center director reassured me that they were just saying that to make sure we would have no trouble getting unemployment while the center was closed.

Eventually it was announced that all schools in our state would be closed for the rest of the school year. So, our center was still going to remain closed also.

Today I got an email saying that the organization that oversees our center had decided to permanently close all of the 0-5 centers. They said it was because they could no longer afford to  sustain the child care centers, and that they weren't even sure schools would open up in the fall, or ever.

Of course I was upset! I got on the group text chain with my co-workers from the center, saying, "Did you see this?" For some reason I'm always the first one to check email and find out about things. They were all shocked and upset and having panic attacks and things. The director is in the group chat, and she pretty much said she just found out about it too and was equally upset... plus she didn't even know who to ask for clarification, because her boss's position had been eliminated a few weeks ago!

Next I called my mom, and bawled on the phone to her for 45 minutes. Mostly I was mourning my classroom, my kids, and my co-workers that I had grown friendly with in the 3 months that I worked there before Coronavirus struck.

Then I made the obligatory sad post on Facebook, about how my center had shut down and how sad I was.

But... a twist in the plot! I am Facebook friends with one parent of a child in my class. (That is allowed where I work.) She replied that she, as a parent, had gotten an email saying that my particular center would be open when the school year started. The reason was that we are housed in a high school and that we are part of a program for teen parents. (Not all of our kids are the children of teen parents. I think when the child care center first opened, it was only for teen parents, and then the organization that acquired it changed it to be open to everyone.) The parent sent me a screenshot of the note. Sure enough, it said, our center was staying open and was taking new enrollments for fall!

So what did I just cry and wail and bawl about?

The thing is, as it turns out, we won't necessarily have our jobs back. We'll probably have to reapply, and interview, for the jobs we were already doing. If someone else is found to be better qualified than us, that person can replace us.

I want nothing more than to go back to my classroom in the fall and make it better than ever! But I'm also going to be looking into taking classes to qualify to teach preschool in a public school. (Its a whole different set of rules from teaching in a child care center.) And I'll be ready to start searching for a new job if I have to. But I really just want my classroom back!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Zones of Regulation Preschool Lesson

My sleep schedule is all out of wack... I slept until 2 pm today, and now I am up at 1:30 am. I've been amusing myself by making some materials for Teachers Pay Teachers, which I will also use with my own class in the fall.
One thing I made was a preschool Zones of Regulation activity. For those who are not familiar with Zones of Regulation, it is a curriculum that teaches children how to identify their emotions, and how to handle them safely. 
Emotions are divided into four zones... Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. One of the main premises is that none of the zones, or associated feelings, are bad.  However, some emotions do not feel very nice, and some emotions are not ideal when you are trying to work or play. Also, a person's actions may be unexpected or unwelcome, and have consequences. For example, it is perfectly okay to feel angry. It doesn't feel so great to be angry, but it is something that happens. If you hit someone or break something when you are angry, that is not okay, and you may face consequences. Instead, children can learn to keep themselves and others safe when you're angry, and do things to help themselves feel better. 
The RED zone is when a person is no longer in control of their actions. They may be very angry, sad, or frustrated. This is the zone in which children may find themselves hitting others, throwing objects, yelling, or even hurting themselves. One of the main purposes of the Zones of Regulation is to help children realize when they are approaching the Red Zone, so that they can try to soothe themselves. The RED zone can even be when someone is overly excited. For instance, if you won the lotto and you are jumping up and down screaming, you are in the Red zone... but you are probably unlikely to hurt anyone or break anything when you are excited! 
The YELLOW zone is when a person is feeling a little uncomfortable. They may be feeling nervous, anxious, embarrassed, silly, or be having trouble sitting still. You know that feeling... when you just can't concentrate? This zone also may be when someone is feeling a little bit angry or upset... not quite in the RED zone yet. At this stage, they may be better able to handle their feelings. The YELLOW zone can work well if a person is playing a soccer game or getting ready to go trick-or-treating. But sometimes, it is hard to work or learn when you're in the YELLOW zone. 
The GREEN zone is usually the best zone to be in if you are at school, at work, or playing indoors. This zone is when a person is feeling calm and happy. The GREEN zone works well for just about any situation a person may be in. If you are in the GREEN zone, you are ready to handle anything that comes your way. 
The BLUE zone is when a person is, well, blue. They may feel down in the dumps, sad, bored, tired, sick, or disappointed. In a school setting, this may be the child who is sitting with his head down on his desk, or the child who is crying because they miss their parents. 
The first part of the Zones of Regulation involves learning to identify which emotion you are in, and whether that emotion is going to help you in the situation you are in. While the yellow zone can be good for some situations, the Green zone is almost always the zone that feels the most comfortable. 
The second part of the Zones of Regulation involves learning to make choices that will help you get to a more comfortable zone, or at least avoid getting into trouble. Children are introduced to a variety of techniques, such as doing deep breathing, taking a sensory break, listening to music, reading a book, drawing, talking to someone, taking a walk, or getting a hug. They are given visual prompts to help them make a choice.  Imagine you are a child who is growing very frustrated because you're having trouble doing a math worksheet at school. You might get to the point where you just tear up your paper, or scream at the teacher. But if you have learned about the Zones of Regulation, you might instead take some deep breaths, get a fidget tool, and ask the teacher for help.
Usually the Zones of Regulation are used in elementary school, especially in special education. When I started working with my preschoolers, though, I noticed that many of them grew frustrated very quickly and lashed out at each other. I decided to start teaching them about the Zones of Regulation. They loved it, and caught on quickly. Because it is so visual, and colorful, it is perfect for young children. 
We didn't get too far into the Zones, because the child care center shut down. However, when I start in the fall, I plan to re-introduce the Zones right away.
This activity that I created today is more for kids who have been introduced to the Zones of Regulation. It is a group activity that includes many different photos of children with various expressions on their faces. The teacher shows the children each picture, and they discuss as a class what is happening. Some children may interpret the pictures differently than others. 
For example, included in the lesson is this picture.
Some children may decide that the boy is upset, and is covering his face because he is about to cry. Others may think that he is afraid of something. Still others may feel that he is covering his eyes because he's playing Hide And Seek. Their interpretation of the picture would effect what zone they think the child is in. They can come to a decision, as a class, what color of poster board to place him on. 
The activity also includes a smaller version, which can be done by individual children afterwards as a file folder game or a cut-and-paste task. 
The main point of this activity is to help children practice identifying emotions and zones. It also helps them to develop empathy for others, by looking at a person's facial expression and situation and thinking about how the person may feel. 
This lesson is available for $1.00 in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I have a lot of other materials available for free in my store, but I'm starting to charge $1.00 for some activities... since I work so hard on making them!
Let me know what you think! Have you ever tried the Zones of Regulation with your children? 

Monday, April 13, 2020

I've Got Mail!

When my child care center first closed, I sent each of the children in my class a postcard. They all pretty much said the same thing, but I also personalized each one by mentioning something specific that I would miss about them.

Today, I got a note back! Peacock is a 2-year-old in my class, and is the tiniest, cutest, most clever little thing. She was newer to the center, and sometimes had a rough time being away from her mom. I spent a lot of time with Peacock, comforting her and playing with her. 

I was excited to see that this note was from her. Obviously her mom wrote it, but I can tell that the words are from her. 

Peacock loves art projects, especially painting, and she gets really into her artwork. By that, I mean, she gets covered, head to toe, with paint. Luckily her mom is the type of mom who is happy to see that Peacock has been having fun and learning, rather than the type to get angry about her messy clothes. 

A few weeks before school closed, we had Dr. Seuss week. I wasn't too enthused about doing a lot of specific Dr. Seuss projects with the kids (although we did make some green eggs and ham) so I invited the kids to bring their favorite book from home. When they did, I read the books aloud at snack time. That's why she mentioned bringing a book. 

I sent another note to all of the kids today, and on Peacock's I added a personal message about how much I loved her letter. I said, it might take a while, but once we are back in school she can definitely bring a book from home, and we will definitely do lots of painting and playing! 

I'm hoping some more kids will send me letters. It is fun to hear from them. And I'm hoping that by getting letters from me, when they do come back to school it will ease the transition a little bit. Five months is a loooooooooooong time when you have only been on the planet for 2 or 3 years! Getting notes from me will help them to remember that they were part of a classroom, that they had fun, and liked their teacher, and had friends. Maybe then it won't seem so weird to be suddenly back, after spending so much time at home with their parents. 

Is anyone else sending notes to their preschoolers? 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Alphabet Rocks For Indoor/Outdoor Play

I've been wanting to do this project for a while, and what better time than when I am sequestered inside my apartment for 2 months? (I just learned today that my center will not be opening again until next school year, and I'm kinda sad that the kids won't even get to see these until then.)
You might notice the Z is missing. That's because it got smudged and I have to
redo it. It will be rejoining the others soon!
I am not sure whether I will keep these indoors or outdoors. When I first had the idea, I imagined the children playing with them outdoors with the toy trucks, maybe spilling them out of the dump truck. But... they look so nice. And my children are so wild. I am now imagining them buried in the dirt, chucked over the fence into the woods, and hidden all over the playground. Would these letters be better used indoors, where they at least won't get lost? Or should I toss caution to the wind and bring them outside? What do you suggest?

I've got 5 months to decide.

I need some more ideas for projects I can do while I bide my time for next school year! Any ideas? Please link to them in the comments. If you're on Pinterest, I'll pin them to my board!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Adapt A Workbook For Repeated Uses

Hi everyone! Right now it seems like there are three kinds of preschool teachers. If you are a preschool teacher, you are probably...

1. A public school teacher who is required to create distance learning opportunities for little kids
2. A child care center teacher who is still reporting to work
3. A laid off teacher who is stuck at home.

I am number 3, and since I only have children with fur or fins, I'm trying to stay busy by doing projects for my classroom. Here is one of the things I've completed.

Years back, I bought some Jolly Phonics books to use with my elementary school kids. If you're not familiar with Jolly Phonics, it is a curriculum that introduces phonics to children through stories, actions and songs. Each phonics sound has a story, action and song that goes with it. For example, the letter S comes with a story about a dog named Sam who finds a snake. The song goes, "The snake is in the grass, the snake is in the grass, sss-sss-sss, the snake is in the grass." While they sing, the children move their hands in the shape of a slithering snake. All of the kids I've ever taught have loved Jolly Phonics, including my current preschoolers.

Anyways, I have one copy of the Jolly Phonics activity book. In the past, I've made copies of the pages and given them to the children for homework. In a child care center, we aren't really expected to give homework. So I decided to adapt my activity book into an interactive binder that I can either use in the reading center, or send home with children. I was thinking of sending it home one at a time with some of my older children who are getting ready for kindergarten, but framing it as a special privilege for older kids, rather than as homework.

So here's what I did. I tore out the pages of my activity book. For the pages that I wanted to use that were double-sided, I made a color copy of one side. I then laminated the pages back to back, punched holes in them, and binded them with binder rings.

The workbook comes with two sheets of stickers that are used with some of the pages. I removed the stickers, stuck them to another sheet of paper, cut them out, and laminated them as well.

I bet you can guess what I did next! I used Velcro to turn the stickers into permanent pieces.

For some of the pages that required stickers, I used shipping tape to attach a library pocket to store the pieces.

For other pages with stickers, there was enough room on the page that I could just attach the stickers there.

Some of the pages will only require a dry erase or wet erase marker to complete. I have plenty of those!

I laminated the back and front covers as well, to make it look like an actual book instead of a packet.

The first activity book covers letters s, a, t, i, p and n. We had been doing one letter per week most weeks, and had been just about to do the letter n, when the school closed down. If we ever go back, I will have to do a lot of reviewing with the kids... so this could work really well as a 1:1 activity to do with each of them during centers time.

I've been thinking about how I can do this with more workbooks. I feel like laminating them this way makes them more enticing to the kids... Velcro and dry erase markers are a little more novel than pencils and crayons. Have you ever adapted a workbook like this?

In other news, some readers may remember that I was working on a beaded curtain for my calming area. I posted a few tutorials on how to make paper beads and drinking straw beads. Lately, I've been working on stringing the beads onto strands of yarn. I used a rolled up newspaper to create a curtain rod, and I've been tying the strings of beads onto key rings. How does it look so far?
I think it looks a little goofy myself... but also fun and funky. The challenge has been keeping them all of a similar length, and also securing the end beads so that they don't fall off. The holes are too big to be secured by just a knot, which is what I would have done for tinier beads. So I just tied the end beads on, which makes them hang more crookedly. But... imperfect is also interesting!

If you are stuck home, are you working on any interesting projects? I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

How To Make Beads Out Of Drinking Straws

Hi everyone! Like many people across the world, I'm out of work and stuck at home for the foreseeable future. I'm trying to stay busy by working on a beaded curtain for the calm area in my classroom... if I ever see it again!

The other day, I showed you how I've been making beads out of magazine pages. Today, I started making some beads out of drinking straws. I took pictures so I could show you how I did it.

I started with ordinary drinking straws like this one. (Please forgive the random clutter in the background! I was working on this while watching TV in my living room!)

I also have various patterns and colors of Washi tape. For each straw, I tore off a strip of tape about the same length of the straw. I laid it over the straw, and wrapped the edges around it.

The strip of tape was not wide enough to wrap the entire straw, so I turned the straw over and did the same thing on the other side, with another strip of tape.

Here is what this straw looked like when I was finished.

I did notice that some of my rolls of what I thought were Washi tape were thicker, the consistency of stickers, and not very sticky. The tape I used had a soft, almost cloth-like consistency. But all Washi tape can easily be peeled off. In fact, I think that was the original purpose of Washi tape... to temporarily mark or label things.

The way I dealt with this was to paint the straws with some Mod Podge. You could also use decorative Duck tape instead of Washi tape. I saw a blog post about this here, and their beads came out very nice. If you use Duck tape, you probably don't have to add a layer of Mod Podge. I did a few like this, but I didn't have a lot of Duck tape, and I have a ton of Washi tape.

Here are some of my straws with a coat of Mod Podge added.

Whether you used Washi or Duck tape, your next step is to cut the straw into pieces. I made my pieces pretty big, because they are either going to be part of a beaded curtain or used by preschoolers to make necklaces. You could make them smaller, of course, if you prefer. 

Between my magazine paper beads and these straw beads, I almost have enough to string for my beaded curtain. My next step will be to get a tension rod and some split rings. I will show you when I start that phase of the project... and hopefully someday I'll be able to show you how the finished product looks in my classroom!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

How To Make Paper Beads

One of the things I've been doing with my freakish amount of spare time, now that my center is closed due to Coronavirus, is making paper beads. I'm going to use most of them to make a beaded curtain for my classroom's calming area, which I had just started to create when the center closed. I took the doors off of one of the cabinets under the counter, and removed the shelves, creating a space where one or two small children can easily sit when they need some alone time.

My director had talked about putting a beaded curtain there so that the children would have a feeling of privacy, but we'd still be able to keep an eye on them. She said she'd get us one if she saw one. But, given how hard it is for us to even get normal things like construction paper and glue sticks, I figured I might as well just use this time to make one.

The rest of the beads can be used by the children to make bracelets and necklaces. They really loved stringing pasta when we did it, so I think they'd enjoy these beads as well.

If you have kids who can handle the small motor skills of cutting  and rolling paper, this may be a good project for them as well during our long Quarantine days. Here's how you make paper beads.

You will need: Paper, pencil or toothpick, scissors, glue, Mod Podge, wax paper or a plastic bag.

1. Choose your paper. I like to use magazine pages, but you can use anything you want. Scrapbooking paper would also work nicely. If you're using magazine pages, look for a page that has a lot of colors and contrast on it.

2. Cut a long isosceles triangle from the paper. As you can see, the triangle doesn't have to be perfect. I just freehand it with my scissors. The tip of the triangle will be the one that shows the most on your bead, so I like to cut my paper so that the most colorful or interesting part is on the tip.

3. Lay your triangle down on a flat surface, such as this Jolly Phonics workbook that I'm using. The colorful side of the paper, which will be the outside of the bead, should be facing down.  Roll the broad base of the triangle one time around a pencil. (Using a pencil will create tube-shaped beads that are easy for children to put on string or yarn. If you'd like smaller beads with a thick middle and thin ends, you can use a toothpick instead.)

4. Squirt a line of glue along the rest of the triangle. This step is pretty self-explanatory.

5. Continue to roll your pencil up in the triangle. 

6. Now you should be able to slide the paper off the end of the pencil. It should resemble a tube.

7. Set your bead on a sheet of wax paper, or a plastic bag, to dry. If you set your bead on anything else, it might stick to the surface.

8. The last step, which I don't have a picture of because I haven't done it yet for this particular set of beads, is to paint a coat of Mod Podge onto the beads. Wait until the glue is dry before applying the Mod Podge. This will give the bead a glossy appearance and make it a little stronger, so it won't be squashed as easily by tiny hands.

Beads made from magazines come out looking very fun and colorful. Here is a bag of all of the beads I've made so far in the past few days.

I also recently learned about another, even more simple, way of making beads. Once I try it out, I will post instructions for that project as well. 

Let me know if you try this out! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thanks, Unemployment!

Now that my center is officially closed for who knows how long, the powers that be told us all to apply for unemployment. We were also told to request "standby," which means that we don't have to go through the process of applying for a bunch of jobs each week and submitting proof, because we assume we'll be going back to our old jobs eventually.

Here is my problem. My final year as a teacher was the 2017 - 2018 school year. I was able to get unemployment through them from the autumn of 2018 until the spring of 2019, during which time I also did some independent contracting work, writing articles and teaching English to children online. After my unemployment ran out in 2019, I continued doing my independent contracting work to survive.

At the time, I was thinking about starting my own small private school, which was why I didn't pursue an actual teaching job. I spent the spring of summer of 2019 working on getting it ready, and poured all of my saving into it. And... it was a swing and a miss. Although I found that people in general were enthusiastic about the idea of my school, it turned out that they were reluctant to actually spend money to enroll their children. They would come to my free promotional events, which I spent my own money to pay for, but then I'd never hear from them again. So, I ended up broke and broken-hearted. That's when I decided, out of desperation, to look into teaching preschool.

Okay. Back to my Unemployment problem. I applied for unemployment last week, and received a response back saying that I had not worked enough hours in 2019. Although I did work, I was an independent contractor, so the jobs I had did not qualify for unemployment.

I explained to my friends and family that I did not qualify for unemployment. They all urged me to try again, insisting that the rules had been relaxed because of the current Coronavirus crisis and that I might now qualify. I kept telling them that I doubted it, because the rules are relaxed for why you can be considered unemployed, but they aren't going to change their minds about whether I've paid enough money into unemployment in the first place.

Still, I followed their directions, and applied again. And I received this response.
Do you see that? I am eligible for up to $0 per week in benefits. Which means I may get nothing, or less than nothing. They may actually come to my house and steal my laundry quarters.

I am luckier than many people, because I do have family who will help me out with my rent and other expenses if need be. And I may be able to qualify for food stamps... although if you have an income of $0, it complicates things, because they want to know how you will survive on $0, and if you say you are getting money from someone else, they will want to know about that person's finances, and it gets all complicated.

So... I am up a creek without a paddle.

In the mean time, I've been trying to keep myself busy. One of the projects I'm working on is learning Spanish. A lot of the people at my work speak Spanish, and they all speak Spanish when they are in a room together, while I sit by feeling left out. It would be nice to learn enough Spanish to at least understand what is going on, even if I can't participate in the conversation.

What are you doing to stay busy?

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Nothing Left To Do But Smile, Smile, Smile

Monday was my center's last day to be open.
All last week, we had random numbers of children showing up, including kids who just dropped in for a while so their parents could run errands, and some children who I'm pretty sure got dropped off so that they could eat the USDA lunch and snack.
The only one who was there every day was Argus. Argus is a 3-year-old in my preschool class. He has speech delays and Sensory Processing Disorder, and can have a hard time sometimes because he's very emotionally reactive. He's also very sweet and loving, and adventurous.
Whenever there were other children around to play with, Argus played with them. The hardest days were the two days when Holly Blue was there. Holly Blue is a 3-year-old with a lot of behavioral issues, probably stemming from the fact that her mother is very young and not particularly consistent with her. Holly Blue tries to control things with her behavior, which means she acts out a lot and often does the opposite of what she knows we want her to do. Time to eat? Holly Blue wants to play. Time to play? Holly Blue is hungry. If it is Song Circle time, Holly Blue has to go to the bathroom, but then she gets angry that the whole class didn't wait quietly for her until she got back... so she screams and screams so that nobody else can hear the songs. If it is nap time, Holly Blue not only won't nap, but wants to run around screaming so that others can't sleep. When it is almost time to get up, Holly Blue falls asleep.
Argus adores Holly Blue, and she adores him. But there are two problems with this. First of all, when Holly Blue is around, Argus will copy everything she does... so we then have two 3-year-olds who are screaming, running around, and refusing to quiet down at nap time. Second of all, Holly Blue can be a little too much for Argus with his sensory issues, and several times per day he ends up sobbing in my arms because he's just exhausted.
Aaaaaaaanyways... Holly Blue wasn't there on Monday. Nobody was. Argus was the only preschooler. There were two babies, but they weren't much company for Argus... so I played with him.
Of course I don't mind this. It can be great to have 1:1 time with a child. Eight hours of 1:1 time was a little too much. It was mostly hard to come up with things to keep him busy. It was a cold and rainy day out, and even hailed, so we couldn't spend much time outside. And Argus isn't particularly interested in art projects or organized activities. So mostly we just played with every toy we owned. We played with Legos, we played with insect counters, we cracked open some foam dough, we played with the marble run, we played with tinker toys. I even convinced Argus to do some coloring. He drew two scribble pictures, one for his mom, and one for me. The one for me melted my heart when he gave it to me.
Argus: "Picture!"
Me: "That's your picture?"
Argus: "Miss Butterfly!"
Me: "What? I didn't make that one! You made that one!"
Argus: "For you!"
Me: "You made it for me?"
Argus: "Yes."
Me: "Oh, thank you! I love it!"
Argus: "Home. On wall."
Me: "I will take it home and hang it on my wall! And I'll think of you every time I look at it!"
Argus: "Yes."
He's so sweet. At the end of his day, when his mom came to get him, I wanted to cry. Especially knowing that he will be going to another child care center while ours is closed. I don't mind thinking of the children who are home with their parents, but it is hard to think of them being in an unfamiliar preschool room... one that may have stricter rules and meaner teachers.

When I got home, I wrote a postcard for each one of my preschoolers. I have some "Note From The Teacher" postcards that I got in a teacher subscription box I used to order, back in my elementary school teaching days. I made the note personal to each of them, telling them something I missed about them. I decorated the fronts of the cards with stickers. I'm going to mail them out tomorrow. I hope that the kids get smiles on their faces when they get their very own postcards in the mail. I hope they understand that the cards are from me, and that they're still part of my class.

In the meantime, I'm out of work until at least April 24, and possibly the rest of the school year. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Public school preschool programs are having teachers post videos and send distance learning activities to their kids. Since we are just a child care center, we aren't asked or encouraged or even really allowed to do that. It makes you feel a little lousy... like in the end, I'm just valued as a babysitter, and the kids will be fine at home without me.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Coronavirus Rumors Freak Us Out

Today was Day 5 of being open during the Coronavirus conundrum. Today we had pretty much the same gang as yesterday, plus another preschooler who only comes on Fridays, and an extra toddler. We spent a lot of time outside on the playground. We contemplated going across the street to the big playground. The director gave us permission, and all of the kids' parents said it was fine. But some of the other teachers and assistants were worried that the kids would catch Coronavirus from playing on the playground. So we stayed at the center and played in our own play yard.

There are so many rumors going around, usually passed along by text message. Last weekend, there was one going around that President Trump was going into a conference to decide if the entire nation should be put on "shelter in place." After it had been passed around to everyone, we checked on Snopes and found out that it was "fake news.:

Today someone passed around this article. Someone read it aloud, with the gist of it being that the National Guard was preparing to shut down state borders within the next 36 hours. People started getting upset, especially those who have family members in other states. I felt like freaking out, because my family lives in another state and this would mean I would not get to see them for a long time. I was trying hard to stay calm and positive, though, because of the kids.

Later, during my lunch break when I could use my phone, I did some Googling and figured out that it was just more fake news.

It is hard to know what to believe! I feel like a lot of people are ready to believe anything they see. My main guideline has been not to believe anything that comes along in a text message, unless I can find an actual news source that confirms it. But still... it is hard not to get worried.

Meanwhile, I had prepared this science experiment for Saint Patrick's Day, back before we knew that we were going to have just a handful of kids. I've been wanting to do it all week, and today I finally managed to do it. I had mixed baking soda with water, filled up ice cube trays, and then added a few drops of food coloring to each cube. Today I gave each kid a tray, an eye dropper, and a cup full of vinegar. They could use the dropper to drop vinegar onto the cubes. Most of them actually ended up either putting their cubes into the cups of vinegar, or pouring the vinegar right onto the cubes. The effect was the same, though... fizzing, colors, and smiling kids!

Here are a bunch of them with their trays. The baby on the end really wanted to get in on the experiment, but since he was a baby we were afraid he'd put the ice cubes in his mouth. I guess the baking soda wouldn't have hurt him, but still... so I gave him an eye dropper and a cup full of water with his tray, and he had fun splashing around and feeling like he was one of the big kids! 

Some more close-up pictures of my little friends exploring their ice cubes!

This guy had so much fun with it that I let him stay inside and continue playing with it, while the others went outside. I was cleaning up the rest of the room and getting ready for nap and lunch. The little future scientist was having fun adding more and more vinegar. When the vinegar ran out, I let him try adding water. He would have kept on playing with it forever. Later, when he woke up from nap, he begged me, "Can you get us more ice cubes?"

Monday will be our last day until who knows when. For some of these kids, today was their last day. It was hard to say goodbye to them. They've been having trouble understanding where all of their friends have been, why we haven't been following our usual preschool schedule, and why there won't be any more school for a while starting next week. But they've been really good sports about it. I'm really going to miss them. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

My Center Is Closing And I Don't Know How To Feel

Even when we're worried, we muster all of the cheer that
we can, and make the best of things for the kids. 
Today was Day 4 of being open during the Coronavirus crisis. It was actually the busiest day we've had all week, and kind of a nice day as well.
I had four preschoolers. One of them has been coming all week because both of his parents work. Another one comes sporadically even during the rest of the year, and for some reason her family has dropped her off unexpectedly two days in a row. Its almost as if they are trying to get as many breaks from her as possible while they have the chance. (She has some significant behavioral issues.) The third is a little dude with special needs who usually attends only for the afternoons on Thursdays and Fridays while his mom attends classes. In the mornings on those days he goes to a special education preschool program through the school district... but since the school is closed, today was his first day attending with us for the entire day.
The fourth preschooler just came because his mom needed to run errands. He's one of the youngest in the class, freshly transferred from the toddler room. He's usually happy to be at school... but since this was his first time coming to school all week, and since we were in a different room and were combined with the other class, he was a little out of sorts. I held him in my arms for about the first twenty minutes while he sobbed quietly. Then he squirmed his way down, went and got a book, and came back to sat in my lap. By the time I finished reading it to him, he was smiling and ready to play again.
We decided to take a walk with all of the kids since it was such a beautiful day. The toddler class had two children, and there were two infants as well. We loaded the youngest kids into a stroller and walked down to a grassy area on campus, where the kids ran around and played with gym balls.
One of the infant teachers walked back up to get a bottle for one of the babies. When she came back, she had news. The director had just gotten an email saying that we will be closed beginning on Tuesday.
Our closing has less to do with Coronavirus than with the fact that our numbers have been so low. The organization that runs our center and some others has decided to close down all but one center, and combine all of the kids in one center. They will keep some staff working, but the rest of us will be laid off.
At first I was relieved. Being laid off will mean that I can see my aunt and uncles again, and that I won't have to worry so much about getting sick.
The children, on the other hand, will be even more at risk, because instead of being with the same group of kids they've been with for a while, they will be crammed in with new kids from multiple centers. Plus, they will have new teachers and a new routine to contend with.
Then, someone pointed out that we might not even qualify for unemployment. We thought back to the survey we had to take a few days ago, asking us whether we'd prefer to continue working full time, or whether we'd rather go on unemployment. We had to put our full names, and which center we worked at, on the surveys. We're nervous that the powers-that-be could use this information to say that we refused the opportunity to work.
Thinking about that put somewhat of a damper on the rest of the day... but we moved on with all of the cheer we could muster. We headed back to our center, and had a little dance party while we waited for lunch. We put the children down for naps, except for the one with behavioral issues who screamed and ran around and refused to sleep. After nap, we had snack, and then went outside to play on the playground for the rest of the day. Even the director joined us out there. We sat on the grass in the sun, and watched the children play. We drew with chalk on the sidewalk. Someone put children's music on their phone, connected by Bluetooth to a speaker so we could hear it well.
One by one, the children were picked up. We let the parents know that Monday would be our last day being open, and that the children would be rerouted to another center.
If this was going to be a two or three week break, I would maybe even be happy. I'd be glad for a few weeks of self-care time. But there is talk of school being out until August. It may be months before I get to see them again. There is nothing cheerful about that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Still Open And Really Bored

Today was our third day of being open during the school shut-down. On Monday, we had a total of eight children, including preschoolers, toddlers and infants. Yesterday and today, we had two preschoolers, two toddlers, and one infant. There were six of us teachers and assistants, plus the director. The grown ups actually outnumbered the kids!

We really haven't done anything very structured. The kids tend to come and leave in a staggered pattern, so for much of the day we actually had fewer than five children at once. We've mostly been combining the preschoolers and toddlers in the Motor Room, which is a room with a small climbing structure and slide, a tunnel, a balance beam, and some different riding toys. We usually use it in lieu of outdoor time when the weather is bad, but it has been a convenient place to spend the days as a group. The kids do a lot of free play. We take them outside for a while once or twice a day. They eat lunch together at a little table we brought into the room, and we bring their cots in their for nap time.

Yesterday was Saint Patrick's Day. We actually started celebrating it last week, talking about leprechauns and stuff, and I had planned a fun Saint Patrick's Day celebration. The children were going to work together on setting a trap for the leprechauns on Monday. Then, on Tuesday, when they walked in, they would have found the trap "sprung" and the room all messed up, with chairs turned over and things backwards.

The leprechauns were going to leave them all some "gold."  My kids are Pete the Cat fans, and I had ordered Pete the Cat  - The Great Leprechaun Chase for the leprechauns to leave as a surprise. The book came with some punch-out Saint Patrick's Day cards for kids to give to their friends. There weren't enough for all of my kids to have one, so I had made color copies of them and then laminated them so there would be enough. I wrote their names on the cards and signed them from the Leprechauns.

At lunch time, we were going to put drops of green food coloring in the bottoms of their cups before we poured their milk, so that the milk would magically turn green.

I also planned some fun rainbow projects and activities. I made baking soda ice cubes with food coloring in them. The kids were going to use eye droppers to drop lemon juice or vinegar on the cubes and watch the colors fizz out.

Instead, Saint Patrick's Day came and went basically unnoticed. My assistant teacher and I didn't have the heart to do everything when most of our little friends were missing. We decided to postpone Saint Patrick's Day until everything went back to normal.

On Tuesday, the higher-ups sent us all a link to a survey. They stressed in their email that our answers would not determine what they were going to do, but that they were just collecting information. In the survey, they gave us two choices... we could either keep working and continue getting full wages, or be laid off and get unemployment with less wages. We were supposed to enter our full names, and the centers we worked in, so it was in no way anonymous.

It made me nervous. I had been hoping we would close, so that neither the children or I would get sick, he and so that I could visit my aunt and uncles without putting their lives at risk. My director had originally told me that if we closed, the company would still pay us, because it would be considered a "forced closure."

But the survey said that if we closed, unemployment would be our only choice. Unemployment is calculated by taking the total amount of your wages for each quarter of the past year, using the quarter in which you made the most money, dividing it by three to get a monthly average, and then paying you sixty percent of that.

I take home about $1900 per month working full time. But, I didn't start working until mid-January, and before that I wasn't working regularly for a while. So my monthly average at this point would be closer to $1700.  Sixty percent of that isn't even enough to pay my rent, let alone pay for food or pay other bills.

I had no idea how to answer the survey. I don't want to get sick, or see the children I work with get sick. I want to be able to see my aunt and uncles again. But I don't want to become homeless in the process.

In the mean time, these endless hours of watching children have free play time is driving me crazy. I miss Song Circle and Calendar and art and science and story time. I need structure as badly as they do. But the consensus among my coworkers is that it is better to keep them all together to play together, rather than separate the 1 or 2 preschoolers to do regular preschool things, and there hasn't been much interest in organizing any activities for the whole group of them.

Maybe tomorrow the day will go more quickly!

Monday, March 16, 2020

Schools Are Shut Down, But Here We Are

When you're a preschool teacher, there's no such
thing as "social distancing!" 
So, how about this Coronavirus, huh? I was at work on Friday afternoon when I heard that the governor had ordered all K-12 schools to close for six weeks. Because my center is connected with a high school (but run by a separate organization) many of us assumed that we were going to be closed to.

Many of the children got picked up early that day. As they got picked up, our goodbyes were a little bit sad. We assumed we weren't going to see them for six weeks. We were disappointed that we wouldn't get to have the Saint Patrick's Day activities that we had planned for them.

Then someone told us, no, we weren't closed. The organization that runs our center had declared that we would stay open. Not only would we stay open, but some of the other centers that have afterschool programs (ours doesn't, thankfully) were actually opening their doors to additional children. All of the children who were now out of school could be hastily enrolled in child care centers,  so as not to interrupt their parents' work schedules.

Many of us were shocked. The directors were some of the most shocked people of all. They fired off angry emails to the higher-ups (which they, maybe mistakenly, also sent to all employees) pointing out that it didn't really make sense. The Coronavirus was supposedly so dangerous that it was not safe to have children bunched together in schools. So, take those same children and move them into day care centers? Introducing their new germs to the smaller children already enrolled in those centers?

The powers-that-be sent polite and distant emails back, saying things like, "We all need to work together," and "We need to support the families we serve."

Rumors went around that we would be closed by the end of the weekend, and even that the whole country would be on a 2-week quarantine. But by this morning, we were open.

My center consists of three classrooms: an infant room, a toddler room, and a preschool room. My class, the preschool, is probably the largest. We had a total of four children. The toddler room had three, and the infant room had two. Most of them ended up being picked up by noon.

We all continued to be flabbergasted that we remained open, as we heard more and more stories of other businesses, like salons and restaurants, closing or being put on restrictions in our town.

I read that child care centers were supposed to be open so that health care workers and people whose lives would be put in real crisis if they missed work would have child care. I can agree with that. Nobody wants a family to become homeless because the parents had to take six weeks off of work. But of the children who showed up at our center, only one or two of them had two currently working parents. None of the parents were health care workers. We are connected with the school, so most of the children have at least one parent who is either a student or an employee of the school district. These parents were home, but they were like, "No way am I being stuck at home with my child for six weeks with no play dates and no where to go! They're going to day care for as long as humanly possible! "

As the world shuts down around us, I feel like a sitting duck working in a child care center. These little people put everything in their mouths, including their hands, and some times each other's hands, all day long. We sanitize and sanitize, but still, I've had two colds and a case of the flu since I started this job at the beginning of the year. The kids are always coughing and have runny noses.

Social distancing? It means nothing to small children! I never, ever have six feet between me and a child. Usually one of them is on my lap or in my arms. And I can't say no to them. What teacher would deny a child a hug or a hand to hold?

As the Coronavirus creeps closer to our hometown, I feel like, if anyone is going to get it, it will be one of us... a child or a teacher.

The risk is real... and it is lonely. Most of my family lives out of state. My only family here is my elderly aunt and two elderly uncles. I usually visit my one aunt and uncle multiple times per week, often staying for dinner on weekdays or hanging out with them on weekends. I also try to visit my other uncle, who is in a nursing home, whenever I can. Because I am basically working in a Petri dish, I am banned from visiting any of them for the foreseeable future.  One of my uncles is pretty healthy, but my other uncle has Parkinson's Disease and my aunt is missing half a lung, so Coronavirus would likely be fatal to them. If I'm exposed to the virus without knowing it, and I spend time with my relatives, I could kill them.

I would feel better about it if I was doing something noble, like providing child care for health care workers or desperate families at risk of homelessness. But I'm not extremely happy about being put at risk while non-working parents stay home. It doesn't seem worth it, for us or for the children.

My work sent out an email today saying that if any of us want to refuse to come to work, feel free, but we won't get any sort of compensation or anything like that. So, that isn't really an option. Plus, I don't want to leave the kids. As long as we are open, and as long as they are there, I will be there.