Early Childhood Socialization – Growing Your Child’s CommunityJanuary 1, 2021Peer relationships are still key during COVID Era learning Since the initial COVID-19 shutdowns this past March, parents of toddlers have understandably been reticent to send their children to preschools, many opting instead to teach their tots the early basics themselves, at home. And while this socially distant, early learning option is a viable means for children to learn, there is much to be said for early social learning that is gained from daily peer interaction. “After being quarantined during the spring and summer, we, like most parents, were hesitant about sending our daughter back to a school setting,” notes Elizabeth Keckler, mother of two-year-old Lily. “I remember the first day, being greeted by such warm, friendly faces at drop-off...Not an hour later, I received videos of our daughter reconnecting with her classmates – when I saw her face, I knew we made the right decision to go back.” ]Setting The Tone For Learning SuccessThe depth of structured, balanced programs for students aged one-to-three years, such as that of Little Hearts at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, sets the tone for a lifetime of learning and successful social development. “Learning happens everywhere in our Little Hearts program and not just during classroom instruction, but during transitions, on the yard, and even during carpool,” says Maria Schneider, head of the Little Hearts program. Preschool class sizes are kept small as a rule at facilities across New Orleans, with each group forming their own small community. At Little Hearts, for example, the one-year-olds are in four classes of eight each with two teachers, and the two- and three-year-olds have nine to fifteen girls per group, with two teachers each. Enrichment classes also play a big role in early childhood development programming, including music, physical education, science, and others. Elisa Márquez, Little Hearts' Spanish teacher, leads a class.Typical Little Hearts activities, like singing songs and creating artwork, are enhanced through school-wide initiatives like global education and sustainability. One-year-olds, for instance, begin to learn words and songs in Spanish. They participate in recycling, composting, and gardening activities after reading storytime books on the topic. Students learn about different cultures in music and art classes, studying and imitating art styles and delighting in nursery stories from other countries. Early Socialization BenefitsIn addition to building a foundation for academic learning, Sacred Heart’s Little Hearts curriculum provides a strong foundation for social emotional learning by: Building confidence and fostering independence Teaching consciousness of others, the foundation for building empathy, inclusion, sharing, and problem-solving skills Helping students practice awareness, communication, and the concept of safety “Throughout their day, our Little Hearts students learn and practice these concepts through play with their peers, guided by faculty members who are experts in their field,” explains Ms. Schneider. “After 20 years in the field of early childhood education, I am always amazed at how quickly these infants and toddlers develop, how they grasp and master such a wide variety of concepts.” “You don’t realize how important socialization is to your children until it’s taken away,” continues Keckler. “After six months of what felt like pure isolation and then emerging back, the benefits of an early development program at Little Hearts became undeniable to us and our daughter.” And yet, whether a part of a school community from early preschool entry at one or two years old, or entering in kindergarten or first grade, a child’s primary unit is still their family, and parents should take comfort and great joy in their lead role. “Socialization really begins within the family unit,” observes Janice Foulks, head of the counseling department at Sacred Heart. “At Little Hearts, we partner with families to reinforce and further the rich experiences that they provide at home. At this age, there are so many opportunities for education to take place in the course of daily life, whether that be conversations with family members, reading books together, taking exploration walks, asking leading questions or talking about our feelings.” Trevor Wisdom is a mom and managing editor of nola family.