Stories from the Front-line: How COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Orders Affect Young Children, Their Parents, and the Adults Who Care for Them

“Tears ran down my face as I wrote a letter to parents, saying that after only four months of being open, I felt we should close our doors temporarily. No written guidelines if this was the correct thing to do, and no one to tell me if this was the right choice to make.” Nichole Johnson, Director of the Golden Sun Childcare Centers, remembers that day in March. “Would I still have a business by the end of the year? I was reaching out to so many providers in the area, trying to grab a thin line of hope, and in return I found most of them reaching back for that same line of hope from me.

“Although we reopened May 11th, my stomach is still in knots every night with fear. What if I make any of these kids, staff, families—who I have sworn to protect—sick? My staff and parents have been rock stars trying to follow guidelines. This has been hard, but has brought my staff, families, community members, educators, and other daycare centers closer. We have all leaned on each other, and that is how we will pull through.”

The pandemic, and the protective measures that have been shown to help prevent new cases, have affected many local families with loss of income, food insecurity, an increase in stress at home, and a disconnection with family members, friends, and critical support systems, including childcare, that they normally rely upon. These are just a few stories of grief, fear, coping, invention, service, love, and hope. Every family has their own important tale to tell.

A Kindergarten teacher’s story: “Work-life balance has become more challenging with remote learning. I am grieving a loss of connection with my young students but delighting in the time I have gained with my own child. I oscillate between guilt and joy on a daily basis. Remote learning is certainly not the best way to educate young children but for now it is the only way. I am trying to focus on a growth mindset for myself as a mother and an educator and keep moving forward.”

One mother’s tale: “This time has often been a delicate balance between enjoying the time together and utter chaos. I recognize that I probably will never have this kind of time, with my children, again. We spend a lot of time outside, hiking, and learning about the change of seasons, plant growth, and water flow. We have loved doing art projects such as the Getty Museum Challenge. We’ve crafted and we’ve played.

“We sometimes argued over school work that has been assigned remotely and which parent would do the ‘teaching.’ I tried to give attention to my own work, but found it often languished behind all of the other responsibilities—more dishes to wash, meals to prepare, laundry to do, cleaning and of course, entertainment to provide.

“Our family experience has been fun at times, stressful and frustrating at others. We’re lucky to live in a place that affords us so many opportunities outdoors. Without this, I can’t imagine what this time would have looked like. I love my children, my family, and my community. And I’m trying to keep the silver linings of this time at the forefront.”

Ursula Hanson, program leader for Healthy Acadia’s Early Childhood Consultation and Outreach (ECCO), shares her experience. “Connection is critical to my work supporting early childhood educators and caregivers in Hancock County. An introvert by nature, uncomfortable with technology, options felt limited for continuing my work. How do I embrace ZOOM as a replacement for being present, face-to-face with children, families, and teachers?

“With uncertainty, curiosity, and hope, I reached out to schools and many teachers who enthusiastically said yes to offering mindfulness and movement classes, which had become an important focus of my work. By ZOOM, we explored the purpose of mindfulness through playful activities and books. We practiced mindful breathing, listening, movement as well as the concepts of kindness, gratitude and peace. Children shared their commitments to helping take care of pets, water gardens with their parents, cook and clean as well as leaving kind messages for their mail person. They practiced belly breathing and sitting next to a window, being still, and listening to the sounds around them.

“From my end, it was certainly harder to read faces, fully know if students were engaged, but I had a few emails from teachers, sharing that parents commented that while their children were following the class—some maybe just listening and not taking part—that the concepts were being heard and the best part was that the parents were learning about mindfulness and benefiting from it as well!”

WendiLou Salman, Director of Skip to My Lou childcare in Penobscot, shares her experiences. “In the daycare world, people have been appreciating the benefits of outdoor exploration and play, with forest-based programs beginning to pop up more and more with great success. Children of our times need, more than ever, to be immersed in the natural world, to walk or crawl and climb among the trees, to watch the clouds and the birds and squirrels, to find beauty in the blooming flowers all around them. This time of Covid is a perfect opportunity for me to move my program, which is largely outdoor based, to a completely outdoor program. Practically speaking, this means building an outdoor screened-in structure where I can offer nap time free of mosquitoes and ticks. We have a picnic table outdoors for meals, and we have the yard, the woods and the fields beyond for our classroom!”

From a mother of two young children: “Teaching my kids at home of course came with challenges. However, the extra time with my kids has been a welcome surprise. As a family we have enjoyed many spring activities we wouldn’t have had time for in a normal school year.”

And, not least, thoughts from two children, spirited and sanguine, about the changes in their life: “I hate the coronavirus. It’s the worst thing.” And, “Learning from home can be boring sometimes. But if it’s hot, you can go to the beach.”

Since 2012, Healthy Peninsula has focused on young families and early childhood support and education, along with our local partners—educators, childcare teachers, service providers, and parents—through the Early Childhood Interest Group (ECIG). Now, through a grant from the Maine Community Foundation, we collaborate to provide resources for parents and caregivers, including an online newsletter of activities and services for families, and information through social media. If you would like to be included in receiving our Family Newsletter, contact egarvey@healthypeninsula.org. If you would like to find out more about the ECIG, attend a Zoom meeting, or receive minutes from our monthly meetings. contact sphoenix@healthypeninsula.org.