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Aug 16

How Do Kids and Families Play Safely Together at Tinkergarten Class?

by Meghan Fitzgerald

At Tinkergarten, we are honored to support families in making purposeful, outdoor play a part of their regular routine—and a key component of that is our in-person programming. So, a key part of our job has become not only designing delightful and inspiring learning experiences, but also providing families in our in-person programs the chance to play safely together. 

Outdoors is Safest

We are heartened by the consistent evidence that outdoor activities continue to be among the safest ways to gather for all ages. All of our in-person programming takes place outdoors. 

Added Safety Measures

Since July, we have been running in-person classes again, road-testing an approach to safety that is informed by the CDC guidelines and guidance from both national experts agencies and regional or even local municipalities who are establishing and ever continuously improving methods to provide safety in the COVID-19 environment.

We have also used our team’s expertise and creative approach to learning to derive new, kid-friendly ways to help children and families learn to keep safe while still experiencing the joy, wonder and connection that defines our shared experiences at Tinkergarten.

We're thrilled when we hear comments like these, knowing that, if we do our job, families and kids, especially, can continue to get together to learn in community—something so many of us value for our kids more than ever through this pandemic!

I really appreciated the covid precautions and felt very safe. And the pine forest is such a perfect and magical space! We can't wait to go back!—Jeneck H

Felt very safe and so happy to be in person! —Annie D.

Our Approach

Through this work, we have enhanced our curriculum and developed the following 5-part approach to safety for classes. Read a summary of our approach to safety in class here or read more below.

1) Location-Based Assessment

Our team continues to gather, verify, and monitor CDC guidance along with guidelines and requirements at state, county, and park levels in order to evaluate our ability to run Tinkergarten in each of our thousands of locations. We will only run a class in a given location once it is clear that our program can operate according to guidance at each of these levels (state, county and local park).

2) Ensuring Consistency with Best Practices and Protocols

Every Leader and member of our central teams complete our seasonal training courses, which includes demonstrating understanding of our safety protocols. Teaching materials and curriculum have also been adapted and updated to support new safety protocols and provide the wonder, joy and delight we all know from Tinkergarten.

3) Vaccination and Pre-Class Screening

Though we do not require proof of vaccination from our Leaders or eligible participants, we strongly encourages vaccination for everyone who is eligible.  

Prior to each session, both the Leader and all enrolled parents are sent a health and safety checklist and are asked to review the checklist and remain home if they answer “Yes” to any of those questions. We also make sure that families can utilize a pre-recording of the live lesson via their My Tinkergarten dashboard so that families who stay home to keep others safe can still enjoy Tinkergarten from home.

4) Physical Distancing and Playing Safe Together  

We have designed the Tinkergarten classroom to support physical distancing while maintaining our tight sense of community, and to provide children and adults the chance to learn from and with one another. We have also produced a safety checklist to highlight key safety protocols to enrolled families. 

Class Setting

Portions of our class like circle time, invitation and celebration which used to center around the blue tarp will take place in a communal circle. Each family will have a “nest” marked by a bean bag, stone or other marker, spaced 6 feet apart to provide safe distance. The Leader and their family will move around in the center of the circle, connecting with families and facilitating interaction between families. 

Materials

Sharing materials in natural, outdoor settings is understood to be low risk. To minimize the risk associated with sharing materials, Leaders will either provide families with their own set of materials for use during class or families may be asked to bring a few household materials from home throughout the season. 

Hand-washing

Families will be asked to wash hands in soapy water, provided by their Tinkergarten Leader, as they arrive to each class session.

3-Foot Bubbles

Many parents feel unsure about how to help young children maintain safe distance. Yet, we are certain that all people, especially children, need to be outdoors, need the chance to play and need to interact with their community. As experts in early childhood, we also know that learning to recognize and keep personal space is an important and natural lesson of early childhood—our kiddos will just need to make their personal space bubbles a little bigger than usual during this time. 

To help kids do just that, we have developed the curriculum so that kids can maintain 3 feet of distance but still feel connected and enjoy all stages of social play. We have also road-tested a set of tools and exercises that help teach little kids to be mindful of and maintain social distance. For example, we can teach and then remind kids to move like lobsters when we want need an age-appropriate way to prompt them to give a friend a little extra space. Enrolled families can even use some of these tools at home with their children—and we’re confident that these clever, kid-centric approaches will make class comfortable and will help your family navigate social situations outside of class as well. 

Cloth Masks and Face Coverings

In accordance with CDC guidance, we encourage all participants over the age of 2 who are not fully vaccinated to wear cloth face coverings to reduce the chance of spread, excluding any person who is exempt from mask wearing. We will require that masks are worn by all Leaders and families, if masks are required according to official state, county or park requirements in a given location. Families are notified by email and via an alert in their My Tinkergarten dashboard if masks are required and for whom they are required in their location.

We’ve also shared fun and effective ways to help children get comfortable with mask wearing in this blog post.

5) Follow Up

We continue to collect feedback from parents and Leaders after each session, using our typical feedback loop.

Young children can learn to play safely and maintain distance with the support of child-centered, gentle reminders from adults, and that is how we will support them in this learning process.

We also trust and expect that every adult who is part of our classes will respect, follow and model these thoughtful protocols. If we each do our part, we will provide a consistently delightful and safe social learning environment for our children and for one another. 

Our classes are supportive and nonjudgmental places, but we will listen to and follow up on concerns expressed by both our Leaders and families if these approaches to safety are not consistently followed in the class. The safety of our beloved Leaders and families is too important. 

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Meghan Fitzgerald

Founder

After 20+ years as an educator, curriculum developer and school leader, Meghan has her dream gig—an entrepreneur/educator/mom who helps families everywhere, including hers, learn outside. Prior to Tinkergarten®, Meghan worked as an Elementary School Principal, a Math/Science Specialist & and a teacher in public and private schools in NY, MA and CA. She earned a BA with majors in English and Psychology at Amherst College, an MS in Educational Leadership at Bank Street College, and was trained to become a Forest School leader at Bridgwater College, UK. When she is with her kids, Meghan is that unapologetic mom who plays along with them in mud, dances in the pouring rain, and builds a darn good snow igloo with her bare hands.

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