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Local parents navigate early childhood amid COVID-19, distance learning and keeping everyone healthy in the process.

COURTESY PHOTO: JENNY CHERRYTREE - The Cherrytree family

Jenny Cherrytree and her husband recently hired a preschool teacher to come to their home a few days a week to help with their twin boys' education while helping their daughter navigate kindergarten on an online platform.

Life for Cherrytree's family would look drastically different if not for the pandemic. Cherrytree wouldn't have to wonder if she was doing enough to aid her children's early learning or if she was instilling fear in them.

"We've been home since March," she said. "We're worried: Are we instilling a sense of fear in our kids?"

She said her boys were asking about the virus just the other day — if it was in the house and if they could see it.

Brooke Subert, a Lake Oswego mom, has similar concerns about her three-year-old boy, Grayson.

"I've often wondered: What are the psychological effects on kids at this age?" she said.

James Sanders is a clinical psychologist and the assistant director of student services at Lake Oswego School District.

"My first thought is: completely reasonable concern," he said. "We are designed to be around other human beings."

Sanders said the primary function of our brain is to promote relationships.

"I don't think there's anybody who would say that COVID's been a good thing for any of us, not just kids," he said.

Jeanne Hall is a senior instructor and faculty member in the Department of Education Studies at the University of Oregon. She works as the undergraduate field placement coordinator for the Educational Foundations major, coordinating and supervising field placements in teacher education programs. Before that, she worked for 20 years as an elementary school teacher.

"I know that parents are very concerned now with COVID-19 and not being able to be in their normal routine," Hall said.

Hall said the effects depend on the family.

"My biggest concern during this time of COVID is for kids' truly basic needs," she said. "If they're having these challenges with basic needs, of course they're going to have trauma."

Hall said the pandemic is exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities that were already in place.

"There's going to be a huge variation in how this pandemic affects kids. Unfortunately, a lot of that's going to be along equity lines," Sanders said.

Hall also said that socialization, or the process of internalizing society's norms, can happen at home.

"We know that we learn from one another. We learn from society's tools," she said. "That can take place in many ways."

The Cherrytree and Subert families have made changes to daily life to accommodate their kids' socialization needs.

"As the months have gone by, we've created the new normal," Subert said. COURTESY PHOTO: BROOKE SUBERT  - The Subert family

She and her husband both work from home while caring for Grayson.

"We continue to focus on our work and keep that important financial stability," she said.

But they're also focusing on creating a constant and reliable routine for Grayson.

They try to bring fun into mundane activities. A routine walk, for example, can be turned into a scavenger hunt. And although they can't go to the zoo or the children's museum or participate in Lake Oswego Parks and Rec activities in the same way, they've swapped those activities with others.

They've gone to drive-thru petting zoos, and use online platforms like The Busy Toddler to find at-home activities.

"Right now, we're really into painting pumpkins," she said.

Subert said Grayson really likes construction vehicles right now, so they'll drive by the Boones Ferry Road construction so he can see them in person.

She said she would prefer to respond to work emails after 10 p.m., so she can play with her son during the day.

For the Cherrytrees, accommodating their children's socialization needs required hiring a preschool teacher so they would be freed up to help their kindergartener with online learning.

"She made it so interactive," Cherrytree said of the teacher.

Cherrytree said the teacher is able to help the twins learn how to take turns and share.

"I think it's also different when you have someone else that's not your parents," she said, adding that the two things that are important for her boys to learn are sharing and listening to someone else. She said in school, those are the things you learn at a very early age.

Her daughter is doing school online and needs a lot of attention from a parent during the process.

"And every day, there are tears," she said. "If you're not with her one-on-one, there's no way a child in kindergarten can do this by herself."

She said she's worried about the kids who don't have parents with them to sit with them all day or a good internet connection.

"This is where we're seeing more and more division in our society right now," Cherrytree said. Hall said another way to socialize your young children is to talk to them about natural differences in people like skin color, hair texture, and gender — and the injustices and inequalities that go along with them — in an age appropriate way.

"A lot of families may think that issues of things like racial injustice or having different gender identities or even having different family units — a lot of families may think that is too young for my 3-year-old or 8-year-old or 10-year-old to really understand," Hall said. "We know that kids as young as three, they understand, they notice differences: in clothing, in how one presents gender roles, difference in skin color."

Hall said that very young children are always trying to make generalities and make sense of the world they're experiencing.

"It's a natural curiosity, and if those kinds of age-appropriate conversations are not taking place, then the kids get those cues at a young age, 'Oh we're not supposed to talk about that,'" she said.

Besides socialization, Sanders said a sense of structure is also important to a child's development.

He said the time at home during the pandemic is a little bit like summertime when the mornings blur into the evenings. He said that's OK for kids for a short period of time, but not over the long haul.

Structure affects our disposition and outlook on the day, so anything a parent can do to maintain their child's sense of structure is going to help them.

Sanders said maintenance of sleep schedules, exercise, and analog time — times away from anything virtual — really help kids to maintain their structure.

Sanders recommended this resource for activities for children and teens during COVID-19, as well as this resource for self-care tips and how to talk to your child about coronavirus.

Aside from creating structure for your child, Sanders said taking time for yourself can also benefit your child's development.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is the mental health of the parents," Sanders said, adding that very young kids take heed of what's going on in their environments based on their parents' reactions to situations.

"I think sometimes parents spend so much time focusing on the kids that they forget their own mental health," he said.


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