What to Expect in a Pre-K Classroom in the Era of COVID-19

boy wearing mask

COVID-19 has brought about new challenges for schools around the world. Preschools, which were once centers of socialization and collaboration for children, have had to adapt their classrooms for the safety and health of students and faculty. 

Many parents have questioned, “What should the classroom look like in the era of COVID-19?” 

To learn more about pre-k classrooms during the pandemic, we spoke to two early childhood educators who have led their preschool’s through the changes. Susie Demarest is the Director of the Early Childhood Campus of Headwaters School in Austin, Texas. Stan Way is the Head of Early Learning at The Awty International School in Houston, Texas. 

Guidelines for Preschool Class Sizes in COVID-19

Throughout the pandemic, the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention has provided strategies that early childhood education providers can use to maintain a healthy environment and limit the transmission of COVID-19. 

Within the guidelines, the CDC recommends limiting group sizes when possible, but acknowledges that the number of students and groups can vary depending on the type of program. They also recommend that all schools make efforts to keep everyone safe with procedures like:

  • Routine cleaning: Schools should increase the frequency of cleaning in the classroom, especially when it comes to high-touch surfaces and high-traffic areas. 
  • Socially-distanced classroom arrangements: Schools should make efforts to separate children in the classroom when possible. Additionally, classes should limit their interactions with other classes or cohorts of students.
  • Ventilation in buildings: When feasible, schools should open windows and doors to bring in air from the outside.

Keep in mind that COVID-19 guidelines have varied across the federal, state, and local levels, and might be different where you live. CDC guidelines are meant to be used in conjunction with directives from these other entities.

Common Changes in the Preschool Classroom Due to COVID-19

One of the biggest problems that many schools have faced is the need for space. 

“The very first question that was on our plate for the opening of August 2020 was how much space is in the room,” Way explains. Each child needs at least six feet of space in order to socially distance, but for some schools, finding the extra room can be a challenge. 

Luckily, for Awty International School, their classrooms could accommodate the adjustment. “What that has meant for us is that we’ve had to remove furniture so that we can maximize children spreading out.”  

There are numerous solutions that educators have come up with to ensure the safety of children who are attending in-person classes. Many preschools have added new features like clear plastic barriers between desks to limit interactions that can spread germs. Tape or stickers on floors may outline where children can be at a given time or show them where to walk. 

Desk and table layouts have changed in many classrooms rooms. Instead of kids being grouped together at one table, individual desks are being utilized. Rather than have students face each other, some schools are rearranging desks in rows facing the same direction.

You may even see schools utilizing outdoor opportunities more during this time. “We have outdoor learning spaces for every classroom,” Demarest says about Headwaters School. “We have used them alot for this year to help spread people out.” 

Evaluating Your Child’s Quality of Learning in the Era of COVID-19

Aside from the health and wellbeing of their child, another big concern amongst preschool parents is the quality of their child’s learning during this time. 

“There’s more of a concern when they are online,” Demarest says. “When they’re face to face, they’re getting that social and emotional growth and opportunity for conflict resolution.”

Way agrees that online learning is particularly difficult for young children. “The active learning, the hands-on work, the socialization where they practice language does not automatically lend itself to a good online experience. It’s much more challenging.”

The good news is that as at-home online learning is beginning to phase out, there’s less for parents to worry about. Still, if your child’s school has not yet returned to in-person classes or you are opting to stay at home, Demarest and Way shared a few tips about how you can help them. 

Helping Your Preschooler Learn from Home

For preschoolers, learning from home does not necessarily mean spending all day in front of a computer. Likely, your student will have several Zoom sessions throughout the day paired with assignments to be completed independently or with a parent. Here’s how you can help. 

Keep Track of Their Progress

One of the most important things that parents can do as their preschooler learns at home is follow along with their progress. Start by making sure you have a good understanding of what, exactly, your child should be learning about throughout the year. 

“For example, we always have a curriculum night in September and provide parents with documents saying, here are the units and here are the topics we’ll be covering,” Way explains. 

You can use information like that to check that your child is understanding and retaining what they’re learning in class. It’s also important that you are in communication with your child’s teachers. Respond to emails, help your child turn in assignments, and let them know if you have any concerns. 

Check-In with Your Child

Demarest recommends checking in with your child to see how they are reacting to everything happening around them. 

Many kids have been at home for going on a year now, with limited social interaction. As they begin to ease back into in-person interactions and learning, ask them questions to gauge how they are acclimating. Be prepared to ease any fears regarding COVID-19 or going back to school. 


Across the United States, preschools are taking precautions to ensure the safety of their students and faculty. Although you may see smaller class sizes, schools have adapted in other ways with procedures like desk arrangements and social distancing. As a parent, the most important thing you can do during this time to ensure your child is still learning is simply staying involved.

How Parents Can Lay the Foundations of Literacy from Home

For young children, one of the most important things that they’ll gain in preschool are the skills that lay the foundation for literacy. Under normal circumstances, many parents rely on the expertise of teachers to guide their children in developing these cognitive, social, and emotional skills. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are finding themselves taking on an even greater role in their child’s learning. Even though schools may be closed and many things have been put on hold because of the pandemic, learning doesn’t have to stop. To better understand what parents and guardians can do to help build their child’s emergent literacy skills, PrekAdvisor spoke to two experts in the field.

Chris Allen is the Director of Preschool and Kindergarten at Dwight School in New York City. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Hunter College, teaching classes such as Language and Literacy, Birth-Kindergarten. Julieta Carrillo is the Head of Preschool at Magellan International School in Austin, Texas. Here is what they had to say about emergent literacy and how parents can help their children at home.

Understanding Emergent Literacy

Emergent literacy, often referred to as pre-literacy, is the foundational awareness of reading, writing, and language. Adults may not give much thought to what goes into reading and writing. After all, for us, it just seems to happen. But many parts of the brain are coming together to make all these squiggly lines on paper mean something. 

“There’s a language section of your brain. There’s a memory section of your brain. Visual discrimination is part of your brain. They all have to work together to do what we call reading,” Allen explains. 

During the first five years of their life, a child’s cognitive ability grows by leaps and bounds. It’s important that during this time, children are given the foundational skills in each of these areas. When the brain matures, they can bring all of those individual skills together to successfully read and write.

The Most Important Goal: Instilling a Love of Reading

It can be easy to feel like your child needs to master stringent objectives to be ready for kindergarten. You may be eager to have your child reading as soon as possible, but the truth is, there’s not much science that points to the theory that early readers make stronger readers. In fact, some research points to the opposite. For your child, there is something far more important to instill early on: the love of reading. 

“If we push it too far, too fast, you’re going to have a child who’s not going to want to read,” Allen says. “They might lose that intrinsic motivation to read, and you don’t get that back.”  

Instilling a love of reading does several things for a child. For one, it unlocks the door to lifelong learning. Children who are motivated to read will naturally be more motivated to take the pursuit of knowledge into their own hands and value that for the rest of their lives. 

According to an article published by the University of Rochester, “[A love of reading] helps children learn to make sense not only of the world around them but also people, building social-emotional skills and of course, imagination. 

So how do you build the necessary foundations and impart a love of reading without pushing your child too hard? By making it fun, of course!

Fun Learning Ideas for Preschoolers

Young children learn through play. It’s how they discover and make sense of the world around them. Informal teaching moments allow your child to experiment with language and interact with words in positive ways. Here are at-home activities that will give your child the building blocks they’ll need later for reading and writing.

Read to Your Child

“Starting from when they are babies, children need to be read to” Carrillo notes. Reading to your child is one of the single most important things that a parent can do. But it’s important to do more than just read the words on the page and point at the pictures. 

Engage your child by talking about the story in a meaningful way. “Really start to pick it apart, ask questions, and make predictions,” Allen suggests. “Ask, why do you think he did that? And what would you have done in this situation?” Take your time with the stories and spark your child’s imagination. 

Cooking and Baking Together

A lot of learning can take place in the kitchen. Having your child help you with recipes and grocery lists starts moving the gears in language sections of the brain. They can even work on basic math skills by sorting, counting, and measuring ingredients. Stirring and combining bowls of mixtures builds fine motor skills, which will later come in handy when a child starts writing. 

Working towards a goal (and a sweet one at that) motivates your child and teaches them lessons that they don’t even realize they’re learning. 

Head Outside

“Explore, be creative, and enjoy discovering together,” Carrillo says. Taking their play outside can open up a whole new world of possibilities for your child. Encourage them to create with what they can find and use their imagination with simple tools like sidewalk chalk.

Dive into Your Child’s Interests

It can be hard to motivate a child to learn about something they have no interest in. Instead, pick out your child’s interests and help them dive deeper into those worlds. Whether it’s dinosaurs, spiders, planes, or cooking, do investigations into what they love. Check out books from the libraries on the subjects. Have them use their imaginations to create crafts involving the interest. They’ll be excited to learn more and share that knowledge with you, which builds all sorts of skills from critical thinking to communication. 

Overcoming Obstacles

When asked how parents can overcome the challenges from distance-learning, Julieta Carillo’s solution was simple: just relax. 

“Relax and play with them,” she says. “Every activity can be a teaching moment. There is no need to play the role of teacher and be very strict.” Trying to stick to a rigid schedule with strict rules simply isn’t conducive to learning at that age. 

Instead, focus on building your relationship. It’s a stressful time for millions of people around the world. Though times are tough, it is more important now than ever to not let the pressures of work and current events stress bubble over into how you interact with your child. Take the time to bond with your kids in a positive way.

Boy in Gray Jacket Reading Book


For parents who find themselves playing a larger role in their child’s education due to COVID-19, the important thing to remember is don’t panic. There’s no need to pack in years of higher education in early childhood development in just a few nights of research. Meaningful educational experiences can come from everyday interactions with your child. Take the time to be present with them, encourage them to explore what they love, and lead by example. 

What Will Preschool Look Like in the Age of COVID-19?

Note: PrekAdvisor cares about the safety of students, parents, and teachers. This article is not meant to be a suggestion that schools reopen; rather we want to outline some of steps that parents should consider taking in the event that their children go back to school.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has changed the way we work, learn, and socialize. As states, businesses, and private institutions begin to announce their reopening plans, parents across the country are wondering what the ongoing pandemic means for their preschoolers and the 2020-2021 school year. 

Though the situation is ever-changing, PrekAdvisor wants to discuss some changes that you can expect to see in your child’s preschool routine and what parents can do to support their children and teachers during this time.  

Steps Preschools Should Be Taking to Keep Students Healthy

To learn more about what parents should expect in the classroom, we spoke with McKinsey & Company’s Associate Partner, Saurabh Sanghvi, and Education Practice Manager, Emma Dorn. 

“More and more, the research is showing that it’s a combination of measures that are going to add up towards safety,” Dorn states. 

To start, all preschools should follow the guidelines set forth by local, state, and federal governments. For further guidance, program directors and instructors should turn to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Both organizations have recommendations, tips, and plans that outline the steps schools should be taking. 

Social distancing for young children may be difficult, but there are still risk mitigation strategies that preschools can put into place. Two of the biggest changes that parents will notice are the classroom structure and the sanitation practices.

The Structure of the Classroom

“One of the most effective ways to limit risk, especially with young children where it’s much harder to have masks and social distancing, is to have cohorts,” Dorn says. Cohorts, which are simply smaller class groups, will limit the amount of people (and, in turn, germs) children come in contact with. Instead of having large groups where students rotate between classes, teachers, or activities, cohorts keep the same students and instructors together for the entirety of the day. These class sizes are being limited to ten or twelve individuals. 

Not only is the composition of the people in the classroom likely to change, but so will the physical structures. 

Sanghvi notes that schools will be changing up the infrastructure of the classroom to make it easier for students to naturally follow distancing guidelines. “We’re seeing a lot of rethinking of how to use the physical space,” he says. This may include barriers, dividers, cubby spacing, and even changes in the flow of foot traffic in and out of the building. 

Similarly, it will also be common for parents to drop their children off in front of their preschool program instead of walking them in. Small changes like this will help reduce the number of visitors in the building. 

Taking It Outside

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that utilizing outdoor spaces when possible is one of the highest priority strategies for preschools. If remaining indoors, schools should ensure that ventilation systems operate properly and increase the circulation of outdoor air as much as possible. This is because outdoor transmission of the virus is known to be much lower than indoor transmission. 

Sanitation Practices

Another change is one that likely won’t be as visible to parents: sanitation practices. Schools should be cleaning vigorously between school days and disinfecting surfaces that children come in contact with frequently. This includes items like playground equipment, door handles, drinking fountains, physical education equipment, and toys. Teachers must also ensure that all cleaning products are properly labeled and stored out of reach of children.

Schools may also prohibit items from home where germs could potentially hitch a ride. Shared items in a classroom that are difficult to clean should be limited. Children should keep their individual belongings away from others’ items. Additionally, teachers should also be practicing and reminding children of good hygiene practices. Kids should frequently wash hands, cover coughs and sneezes, and report any signs of illness. 

But at the end of the day, it’s important to realize that even the strictest precautions don’t eliminate the probability of infection. “There’s no guarantee that everyone stays safe,” Dorn explains. “Everything is going to have to be a risk assessment, and we are going to do everything we can do to reduce the risk, but there’s no one silver bullet.”

How Parents Can Be Sure Schools Are Taking the Right Precautions

Because parents aren’t with their children throughout the day, it can be difficult to really know whether or not their preschool is taking the proper precautions. However, Rhian Evans Allvin, the Chief Executive Officer for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, notes that communication is key. “The best way parents can check in is to ask questions and to not assume anything,” Allvin explains.

Some questions that parents can ask their children’s teacher or childcare provider include:

  • What precautions are you taking throughout the day?
  • What are your cleaning procedures?
  • How are you communicating with parents if a case is reported?
  • What kind of transparency do you have in communicating if a case is reported?
  • What are your procedures going to be if a case is reported or identified?

“The more questions parents ask, the more, I think, they will feel connected to what the program has been implementing,” Allvin says. 

What Parents Can Do to Support Their Children and Teachers

Being engaged is one of the most important things that parents can do to help both their children and teachers during this time.

“Make sure you’re seeing emails that teachers are sending and that you’re responding,” Allvin advises. This goes for both in-person or virtual classroom settings.  “If a teacher is setting up a time for children to be interactive, ensure your child is there to partake in that.” 

And don’t be afraid to ask for guidance when needed. For example, you can reach out to the teacher if your child exhibits any behaviors that worry you. Stay in touch so that teachers can be supportive and help you navigate this time. Simply keeping them in the loop will help make their job (and yours as a parent) easier. 


In the era of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever before to take an active role in your child’s preschool education. Be alert and ask questions to ensure that your child’s preschool facility is taking the right precautions. 

Easing the Fears of Young Children in the Era of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly posed many challenges for families across the world. Precautions to stop the spread of the disease have changed the way we work, play, and interact with one another on a daily basis. Though it’s not easy on anyone, this time can be especially confusing for young children. They may struggle to fully understand the scenario, which can cause feelings of anxiety and fear.

Luckily, there are steps that parents can take to lessen their child’s fears in the age of coronavirus. To learn more, PrekAdvisor spoke with Rhian Evans Allvin, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. In this article, we’ll share her wisdom and break down how parents can talk to their children, teach them how to be safe, and help them maintain routines in the midst of the pandemic.  

girl in pink long sleeve shirt sitting on brown wooden chair

Acknowledge the Situation and Talk About It

The first step to alleviating anxieties about COVID-19 is to put the situation out in the open for discussion. 

“I think overall the best way to overcome fear is to acknowledge the situation, whatever it is, and then talk about. Have conversations about it,” Allvin explains. Openly discussing the subject allows children to get answers to their questions in a way that they understand. Walk them through any changes or things that may happen that are out of the ordinary. These kinds of conversations will help eliminate surprises that might otherwise catch them off guard.

The CDC has even released guidelines and tips for talking with your child about coronavirus. Some of their biggest tips include:

  • Reassure them. Make your child feel safe and let them know that it’s okay to feel confused or anxious during this time. Let them know that they are safe.
  • Be calm. Not only will your answers help calm their fears, but so will the way you say it. Children are great at picking up on body language and other conversational cues. Explaining the situation without panic is key. 
  • Use language that a child will understand. Be honest about what is going on, but keep the conversation kid-friendly. 
  • Watch what they consume on TV and the internet. You may not think anything of it, but subjecting children to endless news cycles of dread and doom can be overwhelming. While you don’t want to hide the truth, too much info can lead to anxiety. Limit their screen time and access to information geared towards adult audiences.
  • Avoid language that places blame on others. Be mindful of what you say. Placing blame upon a certain group of people can lead to stigma. 

Get Specific About Their Fears

When talking about it, be sure to address specific fears. Allvin reminds parents to not only comfort and explain, but to listen as well.  

“Ask kids, point-blank, what are you afraid of?” she says. Inquire about their specific anxieties and fears.  This will allow you to hone in on particular aspects of the situation that they may find challenging. Some kids, for example, may be unsure of masks. “If a child expresses fear about the mask, practice putting one on while talking about why you’ve got the mask on and what it’s doing,” Allvin explains. Show understanding and empathy while simultaneously reframing their anxieties. 

“The more that parents are able to calmly explain and have conversation with children about their fears, about their questions, about their curiosities and wonderings, I think the more children have the opportunity to overcome their fear,” Allvin says.

Teach Children How to Be Safe

man in gray long sleeve shirt holding baby in red and white long sleeve shirt

Teaching children hygiene and basic safety precautions will not only help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other germs, but it can help soothe anxieties by giving them some aspect of control over their wellbeing. 

Some of the most important lessons to teach your child are:

  • Proper handwashing techniques: Remind them that washing their hands for 20 seconds can help stop germs from spreading. Important times to wash are before eating, after blowing your nose, after playing with others or outside, and after using the restroom.
  • Cough or sneeze into their elbow: Get them into the habit of covering their mouth if they feel a sneeze or cough coming. 
  • Avoid touching the face: It may be hard to get young children to follow this one, but stress the importance of not touching the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Sanitize frequently: You can even enlist the help of your children in cleaning around the house. Teach them about disinfecting their toys and surfaces they touch frequently.
  • Steer clear of people who may be sick: Teach them how to identify others who are coughing and sneezing and how to distance themselves respectfully. 

To learn more about stopping the spread of germs and protecting children, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Get Creative to Maintain Routines

Does your child have a routine that they’re missing out on due to social distancing? Maybe they usually go out for ice cream with Grandma and Grandpa on Fridays or have a playdate with neighbor friends on the weekend. Maintaining typical routines to the best of your ability can help anchor children in normalcy. Significant changes in schedules can be stressful, as they convey that there is indeed a crisis. 

“Kids thrive on social interaction,” Allvin explains. Finding ways to keep up with their routine social interactions is important.  Help your child break up the monotony of long days at home by connecting with others via Zoom or similar video conferencing platforms. Though it certainly doesn’t replace in-person interaction, giving your child space to talk, play, and collaborate with others their age, friends, and family through technology is vital. 

If you are unable to keep up with your family’s normal schedule, make an effort to create new routines. Parents can also recreate patterns that they may experience at school. Set aside time for activities like arts and crafts, free play, music, and more. 

assorted color pens on floor

You can also change up the scenery with time outside. Allvin notes that going outside while social distancing may be one of the most beneficial things for children. “There are more and more instances as states are opening where kids could be appropriately socially distanced outside,” she explains. Making time for outside experiences, even if it is as simple as chalk drawings on the sidewalk, is great for both the mental and physical health of children. 


Talking about the current situation, teaching children to be safe, and getting creative with routines are just three simple steps that parents can take to ease fears and anxieties in their children during this time. Remember that your children look up to you. How you respond and react to the situation will influence how they react. Be informed, be calm, and be safe!