Guest post by Teresa Narey, Curriculum Manager at FunShine Express
The summer has been an uncertain time in child care. Some centers and schools have been open to care for children of emergency personnel since the start of the pandemic. Others opened as their states eased up on restrictions, but still, some chose to remain closed throughout the summer, waiting and observing the coronavirus's impact on their communities. Regardless of your setting's approach, if and when children return to child care and school this fall, safety measures will be in place and your environment will undergo a few changes.
Since the early nineties, social stories have been used to support children in coping with the challenges of day-to-day life. Developed by Carol Gray, social stories are short stories that objectively describe scenarios, feelings, and skills children are trying to understand. Social stories tend to be widely used in the special education community, particularly among children with autism. However, all children benefit from the specificity of exploring social-emotional content and developing concrete coping mechanisms. FunShine has developed social stories that support children in a variety of social situations, and of course, has created one to help children adapt to the current circumstances.
Being Safe at School follows the traditional social story format. It is written in the first person, states change in routine using concrete language, and avoids extraneous details, and over-interpreting emotions. With any social story, repeated readings are encouraged to support children in generalizing the information to their routines and environment. Plan to introduce this story early in your reopening, preferably on the first day. You could even share it with families and ask that they read through it with their children beforehand. Read the story to children, using the following guidance:
After the first reading, ask children how the routine in the story matches their experience entering your setting that day. Talk about any differences. Ask children if they have additional ideas for being safe.
In between readings, call attention to details from the story as they apply to your setting. You might say, "I'm checking your temperature, just like we read in the story," or "Look, we're painting, just like the child in the story."
On the second reading, help children focus on the images. What do they notice? How do the images make them feel? What kinds of feelings do they have about changes at school? Be sure to let them answer. Validate any stated feelings, and try not to impose feelings or assume how children are feeling.
Plan a follow-up activity during a subsequent reading. Review the Things to Talk About and Things to Do sections. Use what you know about the children to make these suggestions relevant to their school experience.
Celebrate children's fluency in this newly-acquired routine. Once children have adapted and you are ready to move on from the story, read it one more time and explain that it will be the last time you'll read it. The last line of the story reads,"Everyone will be safe so that we can learn and play in many ways." Ask the children to recall the ways in which they're being safe. Ask them to name some of the things they've learned since returning to school and the ways that they've played. What are their favorite activities so far? Share the success of finishing this story with families by creating a "Being Safe at School" bulletin board that showcases the steps of your arrival/departure routines as a list or with visuals and images of the children engaged in the many ways they've been learning and playing. You could also share a summary via email or using your preferred parent communication tool.
Though we are caring and teaching in a time of uncertainty, this uncertainty does not have to be felt everywhere. Social stories are one way to offer clear guidance for children and to illustrate the necessary steps that will keep them safe.
Bio: Teresa Narey is the curriculum manager at FunShine Express. She holds a BA in English, an MFA in Creative Writing: Writing for Children, and an MEd in Early Childhood Education with a specialization in Administration. She has over a decade of experience working in education, most recently having been an adjunct instructor and a pre-K teacher.