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Socially Distanced Play

In the park, I overheard a little girl call out to her mom, "My sister isn't social distancing!". Sure enough, the toddler-in-question was sitting right next to another toddler on the playground equipment. It struck me as so odd that a preschooler would know what social distancing was, enough to tattle on her sister about it. Maybe it wasn't even 'tattling'; maybe she sensed some of the anxiety of adults around her, and she was trying to protect and keep her sister safe. The world in which our children are living and growing in now is new territory for most of us. A year ago, I am sure children had never heard the term social distancing. In fact, for healthy social emotional growth, we want children to join others in play and interaction.

In early childhood, play is what we refer to as 'children's work'. It how they learn important lifelong skills like sharing, cooperating, and negotiating. It is also how they make friends as they get older.. Play is a skill that is improved through practice. The social skills acquired through play are necessary for children to be successful both in the present and in the future.

What impact will the pandemic have on our children's social emotional outcomes? That's a question that parents, grandparents and the early childhood community are wrestling with. What we do know about positive mental health still stands, though. Children need to feel safe and secure in order to successfully learn through their play. Security for children is achieved with consistency in routines, traditions, schedules, and primary caregivers. We may be teaching them how to socially distance in play, like not touching in 'tag', but we can still maintain the routines and rituals that reassure them.

The mom of the toddler who was too close to another 2-year-old simply scooted them apart. We are navigating a world that is unfamiliar to all of us. For our children to remain healthy, physically, we know they need some distance from others. But they also need to know their worlds are not completely changed in order to remain healthy, emotionally. So let's help them continue to play in familiar ways, even when the social distance seems so


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