by Meghan Fitzgerald
At Tinkergarten, we are honored to be every family’s guide to purposeful outdoor play. In this current moment, that means that we are not only designing delightful and inspiring learning experiences, but that we are also providing each family in our program with a chance to play safely together.
Since March, we have been hard at work listening to and learning from expert agencies and individual experts about 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.
Through this work, we have enhanced our curriculum and developed the following 5-part approach to safety for our Creativity 2020 season (use the links below to jump to each section):
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) and once we can verify that we are able to fulfill the safety requirements for that location.
Every Leader and member of our central teams will complete our “Reopening Protocols” course and demonstrate understanding of our safety protocols and approach to teaching this season. Teaching materials and curriculum for the Creativity 2020 season have also been adapted and updated to support new safety protocols and provide the wonder, joy and delight we all know from Tinkergarten.
Prior to each session, both the Leader and all enrolled parents will be sent a link to a pre-class screening tool via SMS. Using the tool, the Leader and enrolled parents (on behalf of all people who will attend class) will review and answer a set of 4 questions that assess risk of COVID-19 symptoms and transmission. A “YES” to any of those questions will mean that a Leader or family cannot attend that session. Failure to complete the self-assessment also results in an alert not to attend and an alert to the Leader that a family should not attend.
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.
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, spaced 8 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.
Families will also continue to explore in all directions outside of the circle, just being mindful to do their best to maintain a “6-foot bubble” from friends outside of their family as they go.
Each family will be provided with their own set of materials for use during class in a pillowcase placed near their “nest.”
Materials will be disinfected between classes as an extra safety precaution.
Families will be asked to bring soapy water and a small towel with them to each class session in order to wash hands when they arrive. Leaders will have limited supply of hand-washing materials in case families forget, too.
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 and tested a set of tools and exercises that help teach little kids to be mindful of and maintain social distance. Enrolled families will have the chance to preview some of these tools with their children before the first class—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 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 that location. Families will be notified by email if masks are required and for what ages, if masks are required in their location.
We’ve also shared fun and effective ways to help children get comfortable with mask wearing here.
Though we will continue to celebrate at the end of every class, we will discontinue the “snack time” component. Families can feel free to bring snacks and separate from the group if fuel is needed, but we will not gather to eat together as part of class.
We will 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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