For preschoolers, months pass like years. The dedicated team at Illinois State University’s Child Care Center is using technology and creativity to keep in touch with its youngsters.

The center’s specialty is caring for children from 3-5 years old. Families of ISU students have first priority to enroll, followed by faculty and staff. There are 20 children in the center’s care while their parents study and work.

The idea of maintaining close contact with the children from afar came about before anyone knew life was going to take a dramatic change due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), according to Carrie Carlson ’98, M.S. ’00.

“It really started before we went to work from home because we knew we’d all be home for spring break,” said Carlson, who has been the center’s director since 2014. “We had kids we wanted to keep in touch with during break to keep them involved.”

Carlson and her staff first created a Facebook group for the center’s families. There they’ve posted videos of teachers reading favorite books, as well as photos and activities that involve play.

Flat teachers on a stick

Flat Teachers idea is taken off of Flat Stanley and gives the children the option of ‘taking’ their
teachers with them throughout the day.

“We are play-based. We know that kids do best when they’re playing,” said Carlson, who shared how the center’s staff facilitate activities for their children from afar. Multiple activity packets have been sent home, with one including art supplies. Another included a challenge that has specific movements for each letter of the alphabet so the children are moving as they spell out their names. Scavenger hunts, guessing games, and a Zoom version of show and tell are all favorites.

There is plenty of music as well, with an original song teaching young children how to wash their hands created by one of their teachers. “Kori Gettel plays guitar and sings,” Carlson said. “She posted two different ways you can wash your hands while singing, and she’s posted other songs too.”

Many of the posts show teachers creating fun things to do at home. One example is teacher Jessica Atherton’s video of a Chutes and Ladders game she drew on her driveway using chalk.

Teacher Kayla Moorman ’17 did something similar with a chalk walk. Her creation included hopscotch and circles for kids to do a frog hop. Families have created similar chalk art and posted the results to the center’s Facebook page.

There are also important lessons to teach while students are stuck at home with their brothers and sisters. “Many of the kids have older siblings, so we teach them ways to interact with siblings,” Carlson said. Teachers are also using this time to challenge students with more complex ideas.

“We’re using the project approach, which is an in-depth study of a topic of interest to the kids,” Carlson said. “We’ve been posting questions about finding balls at home, and we asked them what they think is inside a particular ball.”

That gave teacher Jessica Atherton the inspiration to post a video of her cutting into a basketball, which inspired one family to slice open a soccer ball. Students were then asked to make their own ball with materials they have at home.

“We’re helping them find knowledge on their own,” Carlson said. “We want them to figure out how to do things and how to do investigations, just like we want for our college kids.”

The biggest challenge of all is not being together—despite Facetime visits and a recent teachers’ parade. “We are really missing our kids and not being able to see them face to face, and they want to see our faces too,” Carlson said. “It’s good for them to know that their teachers are missing them as much they are missing us.”