Back-to-school brings strange new world

A Glebe Coop Nursery School preschooler uses q-tips and water to practise his letters.  
Photo: GCNS

By Emilee Harvey

Glebe Cooperative Nursery School (GCNS) was excited to reopen its doors to 25 new and returning students on September 1. After closing in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this teachers and students got back together again for the first time to experience the joys of learning in a fun, hands-on environment.

“It’s been wonderful seeing the children again,” said head teacher Helen Brydges. “The return of a routine, having in-person social interactions with the children, getting out of the house regularly and the stimulation of a learning environment is something that can’t be experienced at home.”

However, even with the excitement of the back-to-school season, new pandemic policies and procedures have set a different tone for the new school year, and GCNS is no exception. The annual back-to-school potluck was replaced with an outdoor gathering which was subsequently cancelled when the provincial government reduced social gathering sizes. All in-person fundraisers for the year have been cancelled. Each morning, parents must fill out a coronavirus screening questionnaire for their child, including temperature checks. Parents are no longer able to join children in the classroom or even enter the building. All carpets and many of the sensory play items have been removed from the classroom. Teachers must wear masks at all times and also goggles when indoors. New cleaning protocols require teachers to devote more time to tidying at the end of the day in order to meet stringent public health guidelines.

These extra burdens create challenges for creating an effective learning environment, if only due to the amount of time required to meet the new sanitization standards.

“I felt anxious returning to work,” said Brydges. “But knowing that we have control over our workplace’s safety measures in terms of our ability to follow them, such as frequent hand washing, wearing protective equipment, screening and reporting, has definitely helped. I work with outstanding colleagues and we share our feelings, listen to each other, and this contributes to the overall well-being of our team.”

The teachers expressed some concerns over how the children would adapt to the educators wearing personal protective equipment all day and having their faces covered when facial expressions are such a critical part of communication for young children.

“One of the challenging aspects of being back is to have my facial expressions masked,” said teacher Kim Unsworth. “As educators, we know that at times the children look to read the situation by looking at our faces. So now we must work a little harder to display our expressions in a whole new way.”

During the summer, Brydges published a story-time video on the GCNS YouTube page that discussed mask wearing, to begin socializing the change for the school community.

Despite all the change, some parts of the school day mirror years past, and there are familiar sounds and joys. Anyone walking by school in the morning hears the familiar and happy sounds of children playing. Plans to update the play yard equipment had to be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the children still enjoy an hour of outdoor play each morning to start the day.

“Talking to the children and being together with them outside is so enjoyable,” said teacher Melanie Bauman. “We’re grateful for the mild weather to start the year.”

At the end of week one, the preschool class enjoyed a sensory walk to explore the early signs of fall – the leaves changing colour, the smell of flowers, the changing of gardens and decor.

“It has been so wonderful to be back at school, “ said Unsworth. “To see the children smiling, hear them laughing, and listen to them share their wonderful stories. These interactions make my heart sing.” Even a global pandemic, it seems, cannot dim the joy of children and a happy return to school.

Emilee Harvey is a Glebe Coop Nursery School parent who is responsible for GCNS communications.

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