Thanks to the COVID time-warp, it seemed questionable that autumn would ever come. But now that it’s here, how can you get your kids back in the school groove and keep them moving forward? We asked The Village Learning Center’s (TVLC’s) Center Director Nelda Jackson-Moses, an early learning expert, for her suggestions on how to keep that new school year momentum going strong.

New Jersey Family: How can families bounce back from the strange, historic spring and summer we’ve had to get ready for this unprecedented new school year?
Nelda Jackson-Moses: Well, among many things, it’s been a great exercise in resiliency. For as wobbly as we’ve all felt during various stages of this pandemic, humans are nothing if not resilient. And while we’d all love to provide our children a stress-free existence we know, first, that’s not possible and, second, that skill and strength are two of the many positive outcomes of going through challenging times. At TVLC, we’re hoping our families now feel centered and rested and excited about starting a brand new year of learning and growing; little by little, we’ll all get back in the saddle of solidifying our routines and learning well again.

NJF: As a longtime early learning advocate, what do you believe are the most pressing factors to think about when sending our kids back to daycare and school?
NJM: As we’ve learned during this pandemic, people are realizing at a much deeper level the foundation that education plays in children’s, families’, and communities’ lives. Even a recent update from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that daycares and schools are not just places of socialization and routines, although those are critically important, but also places of supervision and safety, growth and progress. For some, they’re the places where kids feel safest, where some depend to provide their meals, where their peer groups mean everything. For these and other reasons, we believe it’s wise for families to consider the comprehensive impact—the cons and the pros—of deciding whether, when, and how much to return to school.

NJF: What does TVLC and its parent company, Early Learning Academies (ELA), offer families in terms of options?
NJM: Our families have thought long and hard about what works best in their specific scenarios and have weighed their local options carefully. Thankfully, TVLC is part of a very progressive, flexible organization that believes in offering different choices for different families. In fact, ELA is a growing network of trusted early childhood learning centers led by a team of seasoned and committed childcare professionals, and TVLC itself has been part of the Pennington community for more than 35 years.

While we’ve always offered a safe, nurturing environment that fosters learning through discovery, we also understand that families today need a true childcare partner—one that really understands the need for safe, reliable, flexible, loving care. Toward this end, we have programs for infants, toddlers, preschool, and pre-K ages, as well as supplemental programs—all underscored by our overarching belief that playing is learning. Further, most ELA centers are offering some form of flexible, school-age options as well—some of which incorporate a hybrid learning model, and all of which work with families to keep differing sibling schedules as manageable as possible.

NJF:  As parents contemplate their children returning to school, what should they keep in mind?
NJM:  From weighing health and safety considerations to navigating an “outside-in” approach, we’ve written a lot about keeping eyes wide open on the unique challenges COVID brings. Most experts agree on several points: That physical distancing, face coverings, temperature checks/testing, hand-washing protocol, cleaning/disinfecting, and classroom adjustments (like allowing students to eat at their desks, or having teachers instead of students moving between periods) will go far in reducing the transmission of the virus. Further, parents should consider transportation adjustments (assigned bus seating, private transport), ensure outdoor activities are kept safe but in full swing, and investigate support for students who are at higher risk, who need extra behavioral health or emotional assistance, or who are feeling extra pressure to catch up academically.

NJF: Speaking of, how is TVLC tackling these safety and health challenges?
NJM: We’ve been following both local and CDC guidelines to make our center as safe as possible. We’ve moved to smaller classes; boosted cleaning/disinfecting routines; tracked temperatures; minimized entrance to outsiders; prepared for illness impact on staff and students; incorporated the latest distancing, mask, and handwashing protocol; and made our food prep and eating practices even safer than before. Further, we’re offering flexible options, including part-time and limited school-age care, to help families make that transition back into a more normal schooling routine, and of course are staying in close communication about any challenges kids are experiencing upon return. We want to do everything possible to keep the focus on learning.

NJF: What are some final thoughts about keeping kids safe and strong as we start a new school year?
NJM: While there certainly are different guidelines child care providers and schools need to follow, the truth is many of the usual bits of wisdom apply here. Keep waking and bedtime schedules as consistent as possible at home. Balance learning with movement and homework with fun. Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Stay connected to family and friends. Talk about what your kids are learning and how such things are useful in living. Look forward to upcoming milestones and events. In as many ways as you can, keep your reactions to the ongoing pandemic as normal as possible, and your kids will follow suit. The new school year is still an exciting time—embrace it!

How can we TVLC help parents navigate their schooling needs? Contact TVLC about new weekly rates and waived registration fees. TVLC  offers infant, toddler, preschool/pre-K, fall school-age drop-in, and summer camp options.

Nelda Jackson-Moses, Director
The Village Learning Center
15 Yard Road
Pennington NJ 08534