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Lakeland kids learning to cope with COVID

Local teachers are glad to have students return to in-class learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vera M. Welsh Elementary kids covid winter
Young students come out of the Kindergarten doors at Vera M. Welsh Elementary for outside recess. Masks are not mandatory yet for the early grade students, but many wear them anyway. Image Rob McKinley

Isolation and social distancing is tough.

For many adults, even with the knowledge that the measures are in place for the greater good, it can be a challenge to comprehend. So how is it for youngsters?

While the world is still filled with puddles to splash in, stones to kick, paper to colour and giggles to share, the shadow of the pandemic is still there — even if some are too young to fully understand it.

In most cases, it’s the job of parents, family and teachers to keep the good times rolling, despite the challenges.

Tracy Cardinal is a teacher at the Lac La Biche Head Start program. Cardinal says they are keeping children active even though restrictions enforced by the government have been strict.

“Our kids are aged three to five, so they are kind of aware of what's happening with COVID-19,” Cardinal told the Post. “But they are so young that it doesn’t really affect them on a day-to-day basis.”

Cardinal says they have kept class numbers low at the Lac La Biche Head Start program with only 12 students per class. This includes social distancing rules of trying to keep the students apart — but at that age, they don't really understand.

The classrooms have also departed from any group-use stations where teachers would gather the students for class-sized lessons.

At the moment, Cardinal says they don’t have any sensory options for teaching.

“We usually have a water table where they can gather and play,” Cardinal said. “But we don’t have that option right now which is hard for them.”

Cardinal says they have replaced most indoor activities with the fresh outdoors.

“Right now is perfect because the outside is thawing,” Cardinal said. “We used to have sensory bins outside for the children which contain rice and clay for example, for them to play in. But with the restrictions, we now have individual sensory bins.”

Cardinal says they focus more on the families of students since COVID-19 has begun, they provide the children’s parents with a bag of items for craft activities, meals and regular wellness phone calls to make sure everything is ok at home.

Charissa Delaire is a kindergarten teacher at Vera M. Welsh Elementary school in Lac La Biche.

Delaire says she hasn't really had to explain COVID-19 to the children in her class as they have come with their own understanding from their parents and families.

With the return of in-class learning, Delaire says she can see that students have learned a lot from their home environment’s about social distancing and hand-washing. She said that has helped to keep the youngsters from being overwhelmed by al the changes.

Mask class

Although masks are mandatory for staff at all schools, Vera M. Welsh is a K-3 school so students don’t have to wear masks, but many do. Delaire says children like to copy behaviours of people who they look up to.

“Lots of the kids still do wear masks, because all the teachers are wearing masks,” she said. “They get kind of excited about the prints that are on the masks they get. Also, they see me in a mask and I am one of their role models. I don't see any issue with the children wanting to wear masks.” The COVID-19 measures have brought significant changes for student and staff in schools, says the teacher, explaining that in-class learning and being around each other has helped the students — and staff — bring some normalcy to the situation.

“It happens quite naturally and we are so thankful to have that in-class learning back,” Delaire said. “I am so thankful to see our students and I think that we have such an exceptional staff here at our school. In-class learning brings happiness. Our staff is so thankful for this.”

Last year was quite a challenge for Delaire having to meet with five-year-olds on a computer to teach them. But with the return of in-class learning, she can see a difference in the children’s demeanour and positivity.

“We get to meet every day in our classroom now and have all our students come together to play and learn,” Delarie said. “We get to spend our days with our friends.”