Wilton preschoolers hear from their schools

WILTON — As distance learning gets underway in earnest for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, what about Wilton’s youngest students — the 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds who attend preschool? Their schools — the ones that follow the Wilton public schools — are all closed as well, but why they are home may be a bit bewildering to them.

“This is a loss to them,” said Pam Ely, director of the Children’s Day School of Wilton. “They’re not going to school, not seeing their teacher, not seeing their buddies. The explanation [of coronavirus] to a 2-year-old is ridiculous.”

While older children may be better able to grasp why their school is closed, Ely said she counsels parents to tell youngest ones as little as possible.

“You don’t want to spook them so they lose that sense of trust for their world, that only their home is safe. … We’ve tried to reassure parents that less is better, the more you talk the bigger the hole you dig.”

By and large, preschools are reaching out to their families to keep in touch. Ely said each of her teachers has taken their own class and done a video chat on Facebook. “Some did a story time, some did a circle time with the calendar, weather and counting.” They are also offering activities for the day.

“There are a lot of things you can do over the internet,” she said, but it is not a long-term substitute for the real thing. “We’re in the people business, which means you have to be with the people, it’s person to person. When you can’t do that, it’s harder.”

Leigh Heffernan, who heads Community Nursery School of Wilton, said they followed the public schools’ lead because some of their students have older siblings in other schools.

“We’re trying to stay in touch with parents as much as we can; they appreciate we’re doing the right thing. We’re lucky we don’t have a lot of working parents where people rely on us,” she said.

Families can follow the school on YouTube where twice a week teachers read stories and conduct science experiments.

“Once a week we’re making goody bags for kids to pick up and once a week we’re checking in with each family to see what we can do to help.”

Zion’s Hill Nursery School is also reaching out to its 78 students, ranging from 2 to 5 years old.

“All of our teachers have been in touch with our families and they in turn have been sending us videos and pictures,” director Jessica Joy said. The school has a daily communication tool it uses during the school year that she said has enabled everyone to keep in touch.

At the beginning of the week, a few teachers delivered packets to families to keep up with the curriculum and she’s distributed two story times — one on St. Patrick’s Day and one on spring — to families. Also being explored are using Zoom and FaceTime to maintain a level of engagement.

That’s important, Joy said, because “in preschool socialization is such an important component. To separate kids from their teachers and friends it’s hard to continue and promote those skills … each month brings lots of changes to students.”

Sharon Cowley, owner of Create Learning Center, said she spent the early days her school was closed training teachers via Zoom on how to conduct a virtual classroom so the children could get together, particularly her kindergartners.

She was planning this week to make her own games to drop on everyone’s doorstep. She’s also packing up things the children were working on and putting together manipulatives so the virtual classes will be interactive.

“Because we are creative, I want the kids to still feel creative,” Cowley said. Each month, the students normally write their own stories and draw pictures to go with them. She is having them continue that project by sending her their stories and artwork. “I’ll create a book for them” she said. “It’s good for their reading skills.”

On the school’s Facebook page, Cowley has posted links to numerous sites that offer creative outlets for families including Lunchtime Doodles with Mo Willems, Broadway musicals that can be watched from home, and “Imagineering in a Box” from Disney.

Cowley said she believes she is the only privately owned preschool in town and is trying hard to stay afloat.

“My staff is amazing. Everything was bleached down” before the decision was made to close. When this is over “we will open as fast as we possibly can,” she said.

The Goddard School, a privately owned franchise, remains open. It declined to comment, referring media inquiries to the corporate offices, which did not respond.