Questions like “How do 3-year-olds socially distance from their buddies?” and “What is the likelihood of young children harboring or spreading the virus?” are front and center as Scarsdale’s preschools prepare for the arrival of the very young as schools reopen this fall with pandemic-related protocols.

“Research has shown that young children are less likely to spread the virus,” Cindy Musoff, early childhood program chair at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, said. “That was one of many questions we asked the epidemiologist we consulted throughout the reopening planning process.”

An update from the Centers for Disease Control on Aug. 4 bears this out. “But I emphatically defer to the medical experts on that issue,” Musoff said.

Guidelines from the Office of Children and Family Services, the CDC and the New York State Department of Health have, in fact, spelled out procedures that pre-Ks for children ages 2, 3 and 4 — like Kids’ B.A.S.E. & The Little School in Scarsdale — are following, including hand-washing, temperature checks and some degree of mask-wearing.

“We have an entire parent and staff manual devoted to health and safety protocols during COVID-19,” Janice Barnes, The Little School’s executive director, said.

The school will open Sept. 8 with a transition week, “to get children acclimated to school after being home for six months,” said Barnes. “Our goal is to have the children feel loved and nurtured as always and to provide a challenging and vibrant curriculum. We will be innovative in our teaching and use our outdoor space as much as possible for learning experiences, gym and recess.”

Congregation Kol Ami’s large campus on Soundview Avenue in White Plains also utilizes the outdoors with playgrounds, a garden, a nature trail, and areas for art, movement, music, digging, building and exploration. The program, for ages 2 through 5, will provide tents for additional outdoor class space and specials, such as yoga, soccer, Israeli dance and music — which will be streamed into the classroom during inclement weather.

At the Hitchcock Nursery School in Scarsdale, however, appearances by specials visitors and others considered nonessential have been placed on hold. Heather Miller, director of programs at Hitchcock, said for purposes of safety and hygiene, soft toys and dress-up clothes have been eliminated. Toys that remain in classrooms will be rotated, and there will be fewer overall. “The more we have out, the more we have to clean.”

Other cautionary measures taken by the preschools include staggered start times, limited enrollment, and classes that are static, meaning children will not interact with other children outside their class.

“Each classroom is going to be their own pod,” said Miller, “where hugging will be done in a different way,” but “hand holding is okay.” 

Classrooms at Kol Ami are equipped with smart TVs for streaming and to collaborate virtually with other classes.

Challenges

No doubt, there will be some challenges ahead for preschools in the age of COVID. Miller said, even under normal circumstances, children have had an increasingly difficult time separating from their caregivers.

“Unfortunately, the parenting pendulum had changed over the years.” Many folks had already been lingering with their children in their classrooms, and having a harder time saying goodbye. Now, sending off 3- and 4-year-olds accustomed to seeing parents working from home every day has added an extra burden. Parents are not even permitted into the building at Hitchcock, and so children are taken from the outside to the inside without them.

“Parents have to trust us to take care of their children,” said Miller. “There’s going to be more communication with parents. There’s a homeroom app and videos they can access to see what the classrooms are like.”

For Barnes, the biggest challenge this fall, “are the unknowns of COVID-19.” But she was grateful that directors from other preschools in the region have been working together. “We want to support each other,” she said.

Adds Musoff, “Much research, time and thought have gone into our planning and making sure the logistics and protocols are in place. We have confidence that we can have a safe, warm and nurturing program that young children need. We want to help bring a sense of normalcy back to young children and their parents.”

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