A Preschool Watering Hole, Evaporated

A Preschool Watering Hole, Evaporated

Teresa Ashford

Home-based Preschool Provider, College Educator, Aspen Academy - Bend, OR

Re-printed with permission from Teresa Ashford who blogs about life as a preschool director and much, much more at pinenutsmusings.com.

In yet another Zoom call this week, we (child care providers and early childhood educators around the state) spent time discussing the rules and regulations for child care providers in Oregon amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we can no longer allow children to use sensory tables and sandboxes, it was suggested that we provide each child with their own sensory tub. The meeting’s host shared that “children like it better anyway, because they don’t have to share materials.”

They may ‘like’ it better, but is it ideal for young children’s development? Children ‘like’ a lot of things, however, our role as early childhood educators is to engage in best practice.

While we never require children to share, we do witness and support negotiation, collaboration, and the concept that one’s peer may not yet be finished with a toy.

We know that social-emotional development is promoted through sensory play. Sensory play inspires:

 …children to work together to construct a sand village, wash a baby doll in water, or chase a giant bubble as it sails through the air. The fact that play with these materials can calm a child who is agitated or upset has been well documented. When children play with sand and water they often express their thoughts and feelings.  (Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2008, p. 403)

Two children's hands playing in a sensory table

Two children’s hands playing in a sensory table. Photo courtesy of Aspen Academy.


 A central aspect of many quality preschool programs is sensory play, or play opportunities offered primarily for the tactile experience. Play is the natural learning style of the young child (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Quality play often takes place at sand and water tables, also known as discovery or sensory tables. We have observed that this “watering hole” of the preschool brings combinations of children together who might not otherwise interact with each other. The discovery tables provide rich opportunities for children to expand and practice their emotional development and are easily tailored to a variety of interests and developmental levels. Emotional development occurs through play as children explore, discover, negotiate, question, analyze, and synthesize the world around them (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997; Trister Dodge, Colker, & Heroman, 2002). Sensory play, traditionally centered around sand⁄water⁄discovery tables, is a dynamic type of play. This informal and unstructured play setting never offers the same experience twice, but provides numerous ‘‘teachable moments’’ to augment emotional development. . . Because of these benefits it appears that sensory play provides numerous opportunities for coaching, teaching, enhancing emotional recognition, and teaching or encouraging control of impulsive and aggressive behavior. (Maynard, Adams, Lazo-Flores, & Warnock, 2009, p. 26)

Children are hands-on, sensory learners. I shout this Piagetian concept from the rafters in parent conferences and in my college classrooms. They learn by exploring, moving, and physically engaging with their environments. And perhaps this concept is on my mind more so this week as my college students are reading a section on ‘sand and water’ play. 

I understand that developmentally appropriate practice must be sacrificed in the midst of staying alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Our lives are more important… But what will be the long-term outcomes on children’s development? 

There are children in my program and around the world who so desperately need these sensory experiences. These are the children who spend all morning at the sensory table running their hands through rice, pouring water, spreading shaving cream, compressing kinetic sand, and mixing mud. These same children spend all of their outside-time in the sandbox; digging, pouring, and covering their entire bodies with sand. As a result of this play, these children become more emotionally regulated. They are engaging in what they need. 

Children dig in a pit of bark chips

Yes, children can have single-use, single-child sensory tubs, but I struggle to imagine what that looks like with ten children in my home. I struggle to see how one’s whole body could be a part of that experience. I also know that children can have sensory experiences at home with their families. I know this… But it is not the same. Many parents have shared over the years how grateful they are for our program’s sensory table, as folks don’t want that kind of ‘mess’ at home. Anyone who’s spent time using a kebab skewer to dig Oobleck (cornstarch and water) and kinetic sand out of the gaps in the hardwood floors would understand! Families are also unable to replicate the learning that comes from collaborating with one’s peers.

There are no easy answers and I wish there were. These are the issues I lay awake in bed thinking about at 5 a.m. How can I still offer a model preschool program to families where limitations affect what I consider to be best practice?

“If it hasn’t been in the hand and body, it can’t be in the brain.” – Bev Bos



Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood programs. Washington, D.C. NAEYC.

Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2002). The creative curriculum for preschool (4th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Teaching Strategies

Dodge, D. T., Colker, L. J., & Heroman, C. (2008). The creative curriculum for preschool: College edition. Washington, D.C.: Teaching Strategies

Maynard, C. N., Adams, R. A., Lazo-Flores, T., & Warnock, K. (2009). An examination of the effects of teacher intervention during sensory play on the emotional development of preschoolers. Family & Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 38 (1), 26 – 35. DOI: 10.1111/j.1552-3934.2009.00003.x

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org or click the button below to submit your story through our form. 

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Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

Homeless Student Liaison Provides Books, Meals, Stability

Homeless Student Liaison Provides Books, Meals, Stability

Juliana Marez, as told to Ashley Walker

Coordinator, Roseburg School District Title VI Indian Education, McKinney-Vento Liaison

I’ve been really trying hard to keep in touch with my families, making 18-20 calls a day. I’m also a member of Altrusa International, which is a nonprofit organization focused on community service. One of the things we have is a program that provides books to children; Mary Marshall is our literacy chairman, and helped me get a donation of a thousand books! So when I’m calling families and talking to students, I’m asking their reading levels and reading interests, and I’m matching that with books I have access to through the program.

What I’m finding is that there are a whole lot more kids doubling up, their families moving in together because their parents have lost jobs or houses, or because child care is closed. So I can deliver several books to one home and you’ve got cousins and everyone all there and able to share.

I also got a tremendous donation of school supplies before all of this happened. So what I’m doing is sanitizing all of that, dividing it into Ziplock bags. I’ve sanitized a thousand books!

I also had a pastor give me grocery gift cards. I’ve got some craft kits and things. So I’m making care packages and I’m going to deliver them like pizzas! I think it will be really fun, and a real boon to parents, helping them promote family literacy. Marta Queant who works for our Head Start program will come with me, to help deliver to Spanish-speaking families.

I’ve always done food security bags for all the district’s homeless students, and now, that’s even more important. I’m working with the district’s nutrition specialist, and we’re providing meals for every child now, while schools are closed. We’re using the buses; bus drivers are just driving their normal routes, and we’ve dropped off 6,000 breakfasts and lunches so far! I’m grateful to my superintendent, Jarod Cordon, and my direct supervisor, Rick Burton, who believe in taking a healthy risk and have allowed me to do these things.

Stack of books

Juliana Marez is coordinating book and school supply drop-offs to her students in the Roseburg School District.

We’re connecting with people by phone. The populations that I work with are not always easy to track down. I had three new kids move into shelters with their families this week, so I’m calling shelter directors and coordinating things, like how to drop off the Chromebooks the district ordered for the students who needed them to be able to access online learning.

Any kid that needs a cell phone can also get one. That’s coordinated through the self sufficiency program at the state, where they also go for SNAP and those things.

One of my next steps is to connect with the Cow Creek Tribe here in Roseburg, and find out how I can partner with any programs they’re doing. I’ve been sharing lots of resources for my Native kids. Indigenous artists, poets, and musicians are doing a lot of free shows on the internet, and a lot of tribes are putting their language classes online. There are great opportunities for cultural education right now.

I worry about some of the kids getting enough fresh air and sunshine since all our parks and trails are closed. I wish there was some way we could agree and coordinate access for those who don’t have any outside space. It helps with everything; I have concerns about mental health and relapse in some of our families. 

Connection is so important right now. We have students and families struggling, and we want them to know we’re thinking about them.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org or click the button below to submit your story through our form. 

Support Our Work!

Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

BPI’s Bahia Overton on COVID-19’s Impact on Black Community

BPI’s Bahia Overton on COVID-19’s Impact on Black Community

Bahia Overton, as told to Ashley Walker

Executive Director, the Black Parent Initiative

Bahia Overton is the executive director of the Black Parent Initiative (BPI), which supports African American, African and multi-racial families by providing culturally specific services that help them thrive.


COVID-19’s Impact on the Black Community

In our work with Black families in Portland, we see that the stresses caused by the coronavirus crisis exacerbate other existing issues our people are facing. Health issues, financial situations, whatever. We’re working with families on finding ways to be creative in their situations while stressed.

School and child care closures haven’t been the greatest challenge for many of our families. Some of them are new parents, with children who aren’t school-aged. Some live in multigenerational households, or multi-family households where child care needs are met if a parent does still have to go to work.

The biggest impact on our programs has been the need for flexibility in funding to come up with creative solutions to situations that pop up because of the pandemic. For example, all the people making numerous runs to the grocery stores and frantically clearing the shelves leave our families who use WIC unable to get what they need. We’re working around the clock to write grants to help us provide emergency relief and fund non-food purchases so people can use that for diapers or food, or whatever they determine would help their family the most.

Why Culturally Relevant, Community Based Organizations Matter

A disproportionate number of Black people are being diagnosed and dying from coronavirus—in some states, 40-70 percent of those dying are Black. But that’s not because it’s our fault, or something is lacking in our response to the pandemic. It’s because so many of us are frontline workers, in industries like public transportation, where there’s only so much social distancing you can do. We want to communicate fact over fantasy: Black people are disproportionately impacted by this virus, but we aren’t the problem. Actually, we hold solutions.

Let’s not forget, along with other health implications, racism is a preexisting condition. The stress of walking through this life as a Black person contributes to stress-related illness. Racism compounds all other health vulnerabilities. But there is a bright side! Our strength and resilience will help us get through this! We have used joy and creativity and innovation because we have had to make a way out of no way forever.

Photo courtesy of BPI.

Culturally Relevant Self-Care

BPI has an opportunity to reach folks in a way that others can’t. I frame suggestions for “self-care” by introducing ideas that are culturally relevant. I suggest using games and family activities to relieve stress and to calm kids. Today I introduced a candle activity where a candle is lit in the middle of a table and as family sits around the candle, each person takes a deep breath in and out toward the candle, but nobody blows it out. It’s a controlled breathing exercise for stress relief, but you don’t have to call it that.

We want to help families identify their locus of control. We tell them, “There are things we can’t know, so think about how you’re going to get through this month. Lights on, food in the fridge, joy in your home,” and then we help them identify the areas where they can have a direct impact.

Bridging Physical, not Social Distance

Axiologically, relationships are the most important thing to Black families. So focusing on physical distancing rather than social distancing is key to maintaining those relationships.

A lot of our clients don’t have internet access, or their phones are getting cut off because they’ve lost a job, so our home visitors have become extremely creative. They might do a “knock and run,” knocking on the door and then standing six feet away to deliver a message about an appointment or to provide information about food services, diaper drop-offs and job info. Sometimes home visitors will do home observations by walking “with” the family from across the street.

For those with access to technology, we have lactation consultants working remotely, virtually. Our new moms are okay with our consultants getting on the Zoom screen and showing them how to breastfeed, in some cases using self-demonstration. This might be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but our consultants understand the cultural nuances of supporting Black mothers; if we weren’t doing it our way, it would be far less successful.

We are also creating online support services, phone trees, and picking up and dropping off supplies. Individually, we are providing free online fitness classes, and Facebook and Instagram livestreams, where we can give culturally relevant information to our community from people they know and trust.

Helping Our Helpers

I’m trying to find ways to pay our home visitors more, because they have always deserved that, and now, their lives are changing. They have kids being sent home from college that they now have to support on a limited salary. We need to do a better job at helping our helpers. We need emergency relief to compensate the families we serve and the people doing this work right now.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org if you or someone you know can help us to illustrate the on-the-ground reality for educators, families, small business owners, child health workers and others.

Support Our Work!

Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

Your tax deductible contribution of any amount allows us to continue our outreach to communities across Oregon impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Every dollar counts! 

Echo Shaw Staff to Families: We’re Thinking of You and We Miss You

Echo Shaw Staff to Families: We’re Thinking of You and We Miss You

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org if you or someone you know can help us to illustrate the on-the-ground reality for educators, families, small business owners, child health workers and others.
Dr. Perla Rodriguez, as told to Ashley Walker

Principal, Echo Shaw Elementary in Cornelius, OR

Echo Shaw Elementary School is an entirely dual-language program serving students from pre-k to eighth grade. In this piece, Rodriguez shares how her school and community are meeting new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Technology 

As far as the transition to distance learning is going, our district as a whole has been one-to-one for a long time, with technology for every student. That’s Chromebooks for the older students, a mixture of iPads and Chromebooks for kindergarten and first grade, and iPads for pre-K. So we’ve been able to try different kinds of apps with students at different times. I can’t imagine what we’d be doing if we didn’t have that one-to-one tech availability. Some families don’t have WiFi, and the district is working on getting hot spots distributed to them.

Students haven’t gathered in the cafeteria since mid-March. Photo courtesy of Echo Shaw Elementary.

Both of our pre-k teachers believe that screen time as a tool for learning can be important, but it hasn’t been a priority. But now that things have moved online, it’s becoming clear that an iPad is just a tool; you have to know how to use it. Pre-k, kindergarten, and first graders are just learning how to read and write. If you don’t know how to spell “Google Classroom,” everything is hard!

This is an opportunity for us to do some learning about appropriate doses of technology for the youngest children, and what to do with that time. Looking back, if we knew what was coming, we probably would have been doing technology as more than a center activity, more than another way to do math games, you know? I think it’s fair to say there would have been more direct instruction around how to really use the technology as a tool.

On Flexibility and the School/Home Connection 

More than ever before, we’re relying on that parent-teacher relationship, and we’re learning side-by-side with parents. We’re spending a lot of time right now walking parents through how to access all the tools online. It’s a balance between wanting to provide a lot of tools and support to parents, without making the technology feel like a requirement, or like somebody will be in trouble if kids aren’t doing it. We’re framing it as, “We want to give everybody as many learning resources as we can, and we know that you’re going to choose the ones that work for your family, and we’re okay with whatever you’re doing.”

This is going to pass, and when it does, we’ll have so much more work to do if by then, your kids hate school and hate learning and associate technology and their teachers with, you know, “My mom would yell at me because at nine o’clock I wasn’t doing my math work.” We do not want that!

We’re telling them, if nothing else, it would be great if the kids watched the lessons teachers post and joined the classroom meetings. Right now we’re organizing classroom Google Meets. Teachers are working up to 20 minutes every day, live. And then they are posting math and literacy activities. A pre-k teacher has created a website, she uploads videos on YouTube, and she has a Facebook page for the class, because it’s easiest for the parents that way.

I don’t know if we’re doing anything right. I just keep telling all the parents and all the teachers that we just have to trust our instincts and what our gut tells us, then change it if it isn’t working. We’re humbling ourselves. We don’t have to act like we have it all figured out; I don’t remember taking a class in global pandemic preparedness.

On Concerns for her Community

I’m worried about a lot of our families, especially a lot of our immigrant families who have lost their jobs, who don’t qualify for a stimulus check even though they’ve paid into the economy here. Families who, given their legal status, they’re afraid to use any community resources, even though it would be perfectly appropriate for them to do so. In this political climate, everything is scary. If you’re undocumented or even if you’re here legally, but as a resident and not a citizen.  You now see where one of the new regulations that they just started a couple of months ago is around families who are applying for citizenship. If they’ve ever taken advantage of any public help, then they wouldn’t qualify. It’s horrible. So I worry about our families, just their well-being. I worry if they’re eating, and if they’ll reach out about that.

Schools are figuring out the best ways to help families. The teachers here at Echo Shaw, we have what we call the “School Sunshine Fund,” and teachers donate at the beginning of the year, and we use those funds to celebrate different events, like staff appreciation week, or if someone has a baby, we can get them something from the whole staff. But we’ve decided to use that money this year on gift cards to Winco and Walmart, so if we hear of any needs, or if we just know our families, we can stick a card in the mail just to say, “We’re thinking of you, and we miss you.”

Home-Based Care Closes, Owner Struggles to Pay Rent

Home-Based Care Closes, Owner Struggles to Pay Rent

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your corner of the early care and education world? Please email Ashley Walker at ashley@childinst.org if you or someone you know can help us to illustrate the on-the-ground reality for educators, families, small business owners, child health workers and others.

Shirley Hackett, as told to Ashley Walker

Owner, Shirley's Daycare in Clackamas County, OR

I’m the owner and operator of an in-home child care center that has had to shut down. When this all started, before schools officially closed, I had been mostly closed for a week already, because several of my kids had bad colds.

As that week went on, I lost one or two families, and as people started pulling out, the directions came from the state that schools should close. At that time, I was able to have one little boy whose parents still needed to work.

When information began to come out about becoming an emergency care provider for essential employees, I weighed it. It would just be me. And it’s already so stressful when just one new family starts, let alone a few all at once. I’m just a home. I’m not as set up for the transition to emergency care as a center might be. Ultimately, I decided not to apply. I felt guilty, but I’m not a young chicken, either!

Closing down is a financial hardship. I rent my home, and run the business out of it, so I had to call my landlords and tell them I couldn’t afford to pay full rent. And I’m self-employed, so it’s also tax time. 

The playroom at Shirley’s Daycare in Clackamas County sits empty. Photo courtesy of Shirley Hackett.

This last year, I made more, so I owe more. I don’t know if I need to get my taxes in right away to qualify for federal assistance to small businesses, or if I will start owing money as soon as I get them filed.

I’m getting a lot of my information from my existing community, Facebook and things. I live two blocks outside of Portland, so the city’s small business loans don’t apply to me. Clackamas County, where I am, may have something similar, but I can’t navigate the small business office there. Everyone is overloaded.

I’m not applying for unemployment, because two of my families are still paying, even though they can’t attend. Their wages aren’t affected because they’re essential workers, or able to work from home. One is a teacher. So I have that income, but it’s way less—a fourth of what it was.

My families have been affected too. In most cases, at least one out of two of the parents are still working. Sometimes remotely, or I have a grocery store person, and she’s essential now. But there are also hardships. And people still having to work, but their business is affected.

It’s been hard to be connected to resources. The Early Learning Division sends things out. I know they’re doing the best they can, but it takes some time. Everyone is overloaded. There’s no guidance on some things.

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