Statement Regarding School and Childcare Program Re-openings During the Continued Spread of COVID-19

The True Play Foundation makes no general recommendation regarding the safety of reopening early childhood education programs at this time.

Because the spread of COVID-19 varies greatly between localities, regions and nations, and because each community differs in terms of its density, habits and access to resources, there can be no one-size-fits-all guidance for the reopening of early childhood programs.

Further, because of the high degree of uncertainty about the virus, its effects on children, its ability to survive in the air and on surfaces, the unreliability of antibody testing, and many other factors, we urge all responsible authorities to take great care in balancing the risks of any decision to reopen programs in their community. During this decision-making process, it is also important to consider that COVID-19 spreads during pre-symptomatic phases of infection.

However, we believe it is necessary to state the following in the strongest possible terms: enforced social distancing for young children in early childhood settings is not in the best interests of the emotional well-being of the child; it is not enforceable, and it runs counter to all that we understand about the needs of young children for play, connection, self-determination and joy.

We recommend in the strongest possible terms that early childhood programs that are considering reopening continue to create safe, hygienic environments for young children, and that all feasible steps are taken to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. However, safe environments for young children and teachers cannot be defined by an experience of behavioral control and policing, fear, and unrealistic expectations that run directly counter to the needs of the child. Social distancing for young children in public spaces with the support of close family is fundamentally different from social distancing in a school setting.

Children need self-directed, self-determined play (risk, joy, and engagement), the experience of being heard and seen (love and trust), and the opportunity to reflect in order to process their lived reality. This is always important. It is particularly important now. Creating the environment for these experiences should be the primary function of early childhood education programs.

As with all programs that seek to meet the needs of young children, we strongly recommend that all programs, whether in person or in “distance learning” settings, create spaces for children to have unmediated, uninterrupted interactions with each other , and opportunities for reflection on their own experience without adults guiding the child to particular adult-defined insights or learning outcomes.

The True Play Foundation seeks to support the work of educators and communities in every part of the world who are committed to creating practices, programs and policies that protect and support the right of every child — regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, class or externally defined ability — to uninterrupted, self-determined True Play.

CEO, Anji Education, Inc. and Chair, True Play Foundation. East Bay California based educator, author, translator and interpreter of Chinese, and dad.