10 May Is There a New Normal? How ReadySteps Adjusted Early Childhood Play Groups During the Pandemic
By Shannon Banks,
ReadyKids Director of Community Education
Building, strengthening, and maintaining collaborative relationships with families is a key pillar of ReadySteps. When not in a pandemic, the staff of our family-focused program bring two vans with developmentally appropriate toys and materials to community centers around Charlottesville. Families with children up to age 5 attend the two-hour play sessions. Our vans are staffed by educators who engage children in learning experiences and support families.
As we work to transition to the new post-pandemic normal, we will continue to be open, honest, and transparent with participating families. This includes asking and answering questions, acknowledging and validating feelings, and explaining changes that are being made along with the “why” behind the decision.
We Sought Feedback
Our families are diverse, and so are their lives. We must all work together to figure out what is best for ourselves, our families, and the children. Being open to having conversations and invested in listening is a key piece of ReadySteps. We solicit feedback on our program on a regular basis, both formally and informally. That has continued throughout the pandemic. As we strive to be adaptable and responsive, we use participant feedback to help shape current and future programming. All staff genuinely want to know how what we are doing is impacting those with whom we work. What are we doing successfully? Where are the opportunities for growth?
We Engaged Technology
We have learned a lot through virtual programming during the pandemic! Prior to the pandemic, virtual programming was not a part of ReadySteps. We quickly learned how to use Google Forms to register prospective families and how to use mediums such as Facebook and YouTube to create videos illustrating child development concepts. During the pandemic, we delivered our play group curriculum through Zoom. We connected with participant families through home drop offs of educational materials, individual check-ins and monthly Zoom parent meetings.
This past year gave us the opportunity to innovate ReadySteps in a new way. We did not just innovate within the current structure, we had to create an entirely new structure. This included:
- moving from an open drop-in style of programming to one that required pre-registration with a cap on the number of families able to participate;
- transitioning from a program that ran for an entire school year to one that ran for multiple shorter 12 week sessions;
- curating and delivering materials kits for each participating family; and
- shining a new light on how the program reaches participants.
The silver linings that resulted from our virtual programming including increased participant engagement, deeper connections, and the ability to reach families in the farther corners of our service area. None of this would have been possible without the investments we made in connecting with participating families, seeking out their feedback, and also reflecting on what was happening during programming.
The New Normal?
As we move into our new “post pandemic normal” and make plans to return to in person programing, we are very interested in exploring how to maintain a virtual programming component. A live, online playgroup may make ReadySteps more accessible to families unable to come to in person programming. We have also learned how to better utilize electronic communication to complement the work of the educating kids and parents.