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Sandra Little
March 22, 2021

Returning to the Classroom: How to Prioritize Physical, Emotional, and Academic Health


Returning to the Classroom: How to Prioritize Physical, Emotional, and Academic Health

You may be finding yourself feeling anxious about “returning to the classroom” in the near future. Perhaps you “returned to the classroom” quite some time ago but are still concerned about how it’s going. Regardless of your timeframe, it is likely you have wondered, “How can I maintain best practice with ALL of the new requirements for health and safety?” If so, CONGRATULATIONS! You have taken the first and most important step towards implementing best practice for young children! You have begun the journey by first wondering and searching for ways to meet the needs of each and every child and family. We commend you for striving to overcome the new challenges teachers must navigate in order to provide high-quality early learning experiences for young children.

As you engage in planning for face-to-face instruction during the current pandemic, strategy is very important. Your strategy for addressing pandemic instruction should include careful planning for the physical, emotional, and academic health of the children you serve. Consideration and careful planning for instruction within these three areas will set you on the right path towards best practice.

Physical Health

In preparing a solid best practice strategy in the midst of a global pandemic, we must first know understand the new steps to keep the classroom safe from any hazards. The steps for sanitizing the classroom have become much more detailed during the pandemic. If you are in need of guidance in understanding safety protocol, contact your local health department for guidance on how to keep your classroom as safe as possible. Health departments and other health experts are offering a great deal of support to teachers regarding handwashing, face coverings, personal space and distancing, and disinfecting classroom materials.

Do not take on every single responsibility associated with sanitizing; consider child-appropriate opportunities for the children to assist with the sanitizing process. Just as we have always provided instruction for proper handwashing techniques, we can provide instruction in how to place toys in bins for washing after they have been used. Sanitizing every toy every day would be a daunting task. You might rotate classroom materials to allow for exploration and subsequent necessary cleaning in a more manageable manner. You will want to balance your material offerings each day between what is enough to actively engage each child and what is a manageable amount for cleaning. Striking the right balance will benefit everyone!

Emotional Health

Children often express stress and anxiety through their behavior because they have not yet learned to share their feelings through words. It is very important to “hear” the messages children are trying to tell you through their actions. Children and families are dealing with many different struggles during this unprecedented time. Be careful to notice changes in a child’s behavior. Talk to the child’s family to see if they have noticed the change as well. This can often provide opportunity for the family to share with you about what may have brought about this change in behavior.  Always ensure the privacy of the child and family as you engage in these conversations.

Your students are likely experiencing a great deal of limitation in their lives. Children are less likely to visit parks, birthday parties, and family gatherings or engage in other social experiences. Having opportunities to interact with other children is very important to the development of young children. Protecting this developmental need is likely to present different challenges throughout the various stages of the pandemic. Providing clear and understandable boundaries for children as they engage in interaction in the classroom is very important.

Academic Health

Altered school calendars and the change in daily attendance have left many in fear of the potential negative impact on student learning. We must be very intentional in the ways we choose to address these valid concerns. We should not automatically assume children are “behind” due to the altered school experience. Children are quite resilient and what they have learned during this time may just surprise you! The educational theorist, Jean Piaget, taught us that three factors affect the child’s development: physical experience, social interaction, and maturation. While children’s physical experiences and social interactions have been limited to what teachers have been able to provide through video conferencing software and take-home packets, children have been learning and their bodies and brains have been physically developing!

The best strategy will always have the development of the child at the forefront of its planning. Even though much of children’s learning during the pandemic has been untraditional, children have been quite busy during this time! They have been learning in new ways. Now more than ever teachers should be evaluating what each and every child currently knows and is able to do. This formative data should always be the primary consideration in planning for instruction for each and every child.

Teaching requires that we constantly engage in work that requires us to think and make important decisions about how to care for the physical, emotional, and academic health of the children we serve. While many answers regarding best practice already exist and we can easily find resources with direct answers to our questions, other times we must look to what is known to help us make important decisions about “the unknown.” Consideration for physical, emotional, and academic health during the pandemic can help guide you towards establishing best practice during the pandemic.


Teacher and preschooler, both masked, playing with blocks.

Join us for the next installment of our “Making Distance Learning Work” webinar series as we explore what it means to maintain a “best practice” approach in the classroom within current health and safety procedures.


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