For many British Columbians, daily life has changed significantly because of COVID-19.
As the province moves further towards a new normal, Heather Briese, an early childhood educator (ECE) at Rainbow Parent Participation preschool in Burnaby, is looking back at how she found new ways to support children and families during the height of the pandemic.
"These children and their families have become part of my family, so it was important to me that they knew I was still thinking about them," Briese said, who mailed "missing you at preschool" cards and stickers to children when they started staying home.
May is Child Care Month in B.C., honouring the work of thousands of child care professionals throughout the province.
When parents texted her photos of their children holding the cards and sharing their own "I miss you Ms. Heather" messages, Briese knew she had to find more ways to continue connecting with the children.
"I first started with recording myself reading stories and shared the videos on Facebook and YouTube for the children to listen to. I wanted to be able to talk to them though, and have them talk to their friends too, so I set up video calls with all the children and their families, which we do twice a week now."
Briese said these video calls helped bring a routine that children were used to at school to their homes, which helped them feel more comfortable and less anxious during an uncertain time.
"Every morning at preschool, we had a group meeting, like circle time, where we talked about if we were having a thumbs-up day or thumbs-down day. If a child was having a thumbs-down day, the other children come up with ideas for how they can make it better. They like being helpers and this encourages them to be there for each other. We have this group meeting on all our video calls now, followed by singing songs, discussing the weather and having show and tell once a week."
As they continued to practise safe distancing, Briese decided to reach out to parents to set up a time to surprise each child at their home and provide them with activity packages.
"I would ring the doorbell then walk back to my car to keep distancing in place. The children would always be so excited to see me, and I was just as excited to see them. I visited in the evening so they could share what they have been up to, and then we would celebrate essential workers at 7 p.m. together.
"I've dropped off a couple of activity packages so far, including a special one for Mother's Day that had a separate sealed package for fathers to do with their children and then gift to mothers. I had to warn the fathers in advance about that package so they could hide it. I've tried to include lots of different activities to help parents keep their children busy throughout the day."
As children and families begin to find a new normal, Briese said she hopes to bring the tradition of graduation to them in a new way with a graduation themed activity package. The materials included will allow children to create their own graduation cap, which they can wear to their virtual graduation ceremony attended by parents and grandparents online.
"At the end of the day, I want to do what is best for children and families."
For Briese and many other child care professionals, this includes making sure the children they care for know how important and special they are.