In Sauquoit New York, nestled on acres of land sits an enchanting place where children spend their days being outside and in touch with the natural world. Young Einsteins is a haven where children are given the opportunity to garden, care for chickens and birds, and observe pond life creatures in their natural habitat, all whilst being guided by the talented Maria Lallier.
With over 20 years of experience working with young children, Maria is strongly influenced by The Reggio Emilia Approach, which sees children as competent and intelligent thinkers. With in-depth investigations and project work, children are guided through explorations alongside Maria, discovering and making new connections as curiosity leads them down different paths of learning. Maria believes in giving children an opportunity for discovery and serenity, to create an atmosphere where children, teachers and parents feel at ease and to create and sustain interaction, relationships and cooperation among all individuals involved with the school.
Things drastically changed just over 2 weeks ago. Maria had to close the doors of Young Einsteins, as New York went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For many children, this would mean an extended break from their learning service. A distancing from the relationships with those they spend their days with. But Maria saw this as an opportunity for parents to become even more involved in their children’s early childhood education.
She created for each child a learning kit that held 3 weeks of activities and curriculum, labelled by week. The activities were simple and ranged in topic from things to do outside, art projects, math and writing. She provided simple ideas to extend children’s thinking through everyday family activities. Some of the materials she provided in the bags were:
- journal booklets with stickers
- a nature bingo chart
- a watercolour set
- glue sticks
- blank note pads
- a sharpie pen
- tissue paper and fabrics
- recycled materials
Maria then delivered the planned activities online, this also included additional outdoor activities. She posts instructions and pictures of craft projects so that parents can then support their children through each activity.
Maria has also jumped on videos to lead lessons, sing some of the children’s favourite songs from her classroom, read books to children and played games with them during their time apart from each other.
Another way that Maria supports parents is to post a range of sensory recipes such as playdough, slime, and goop.
Her hard work and planning have paid off, with parents sharing on Storypark their child’s work and projects from the curriculum. Maria says “the parents, children and I are all staying connected 3-4 days a week.”
Maria’s advice to other educators who may not be in lockdown yet, and would like to plan in a similar way, is to begin preparing your kits and guides now. She told us that immediately before the lockdown, there was so much panic in the community. “It is a lot of change all at once, drastic change too! The last week before the lockdown was a lot of “doing” and trying to sort it all out in order to move forward. This week has been more about accepting all of the change that has taken place.”
Being into their 3rd week of lockdown, Maria is thinking about what she will do for the next 4 weeks with some exciting new ideas she is going to implement.
“In addition to what I have been doing, I will be offering to lend out classroom materials to families; blocks, train sets, baby dolls, Lincoln Logs etc. She intends on starting a poll to give them the opportunity to pick what could be useful at home for their child. She is going to create family STEM challenges and individualise activities a bit, designating certain projects for certain children which will be dependent on their interests and skills.
Maria is also thinking outside of the box, using technology to connect with children and their families. “I am also considering doing some mindful practices. This was practised at the beginning part of the year. The children all had their own “Breathing Buddy” a tiny stuffed turtle and I had sent them home in the first phase of planning.”
At home, Maria tells us she is being present in what is actually showing up in her own family. She has accepted the interruptions in her work time and knows that things are going to look different. As a parent, she understands that her children’s needs will often mean she needs to put aside her work for a bit. In a way though, this is just how things are now. “As I stop what I am doing to take them outside for a walk or to play a game with them, it feels like an opportunity to connect deeper. Prioritizing everyday obligations is beginning to look more like self-care and living more spontaneously, which isn’t so bad.”