In our first post we shared our devastation at having to close our doors to the children of our community. We were able to create our Art Factory at Home rental program, but still our studio sat silent. Finally, Public Health informed us that we could begin running our summer camp program again in August – with some seemingly impossible modifications. 

At first we fell into an all too common trap – underestimating the children. How would they understand the need to stay 6 feet apart? How would we explain sharing materials was no longer ok after a lifetime of being told to share? Would 4-6 year olds really tolerate masks during transitions? Would they create meaningful bonds with us as caregivers if they couldn’t see our faces? Instead of giving into fear of the unknown we reviewed our philosophies and were reminded that the teaching environment is one of the main determining factors of success. If the environment is built to suit the children and situation, many pitfalls can be avoided. Once again we got to work.

Our beloved Birthday Room became our One Room School House. Removing the table so many children had celebrated at, the team began dreaming, measuring, and planning. Peter (@pete.built on Instagram) and Melissa (our founder) designed and built individual desks that we loaded with everything a mini-maker could want. The desks were arranged 6 feet apart in a way that the children could still see each other. Our outdoor space was given a similar treatment. 

Young children are physical creatures – they are not made to be in a bubble. We knew it would be a challenge for the children to not be close to their peers, so we made them a friend that could always be close. My Friend Dolly was born. Each desk was paired with a highchair and Dolly that could be decorated, held, shared with, and participate in the messiness that is creativity and discovery. Dolly would be the children’s partner for the week they were with us.

We had desks, we had Dolly, we had all our favourite activities scaled down from giant shared tables to individual sets. We were as ready as we ever would be. With anticipation and, in all honesty, a lot of nerves, we donned our masks and welcomed our first group of children for our half day camp. Our fears were allayed by the children, who proved to us how much we had underestimated their understanding and resiliency. 

We had felt we were losing collaborative play, that program participants would not be able to work together. The children quickly got to work proving us wrong. From their desks children shared with each other what they were doing, falling into a rhythm of natural turn taking in speaking. They discovered they needed to speak louder to overcome the distance and masks. They learned each other’s names. They taught each other from their desks. They told stories. They used Dolly as a vehicle to share their understanding, making masks for them and explaining to Dolly why they needed to wash their hands and couldn’t share tools. 

Underneath our masks we were beaming. Above our masks we were crying (honestly!) at hearing that precious and for too long absent sound of children at play. Once again we were humbled by the children in front of us, leaving us to ask at the end of the day, “What were we so afraid of?”.  

Our next hurdle was approaching: opening our doors to the public again. We will share how we completely changed how we welcomed guests in our next post!

Comment below your thoughts on welcoming children back into group settings!