Preschools, daycares help kids understand coronavirus crisis

If adults find themselves having trouble understanding or making sense of the COVID-19 pandemic, imagine watching it all happen as a 3-year-old or 4-year-old.

"It breaks my heart to hear, ‘Where is my friend so and so,’ or, ‘Why am I in this class with this teacher?’” said Sheelah Doyle, director at the Learning Experience in Heathrow.

Doyle’s preschool is one of many local early education and daycare centers remaining open through the stay-at-home advisories, giving essential workers an option to have care for their kids while they keep the world going.

However the school, like most, is seeing just a small fraction of the kids it's used to caring for.

Students are coming in every day to temperature checks, their favorite teachers not there and many of their best friends’ chairs empty.

So along with trying to keep some of their usual lesson plans intact, the school is taking on a new challenge: Trying to help their kids make sense of this strange, coronavirus-stricken reality.

At the Learning Experience, teachers are finding the best way to do that is by giving the kids a way to connect to this very adult situation.

So, the school, that usually runs a curriculum based on the ideas of kindness and philanthropy, is using that approach to get their students giving back to those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis.

On Tuesday, students in the 3-year-old and 4 year-olds' classroom listened as their teacher explained the importance of the grocery store across the street, Publix, and helped them understand the hard work being done by workers there to keep food on everyone’s tables right now.

The students then made "thank you" cards for the grocery workers to brighten up their day and let them know the kids appreciate what they’re doing.

The school’s adult leaders also helped spread some cheer Tuesday by delivering sandwiches on behalf of their young students to a local ER and to the nearby Lake Mary police station.

The small gestures are teaching a little kindness and helping the young minds get a better handle on what’s going on.

"They're starting to understand a little more with the activities we're implementing and the good things we're doing in the community,” Doyle said. "I think the more that we get them involved in the verbiage of all this, the more that they're understanding every day."

Like many preschools and daycares in Florida, leaders at the Learning Experience say they plan to keep staying open as long as they can, as an option for local families who need to keep working through the crisis.