Pre-K teacher Gina Welch matches her clothes with her student Hazel, adding fun to her class at Crescent Park Elementary School in Bethel. Submitted

BETHEL — For Pre-K teacher Gina Welch, she had to think not just outside the box when the pandemic hit but how to get into an entirely different box.

Welch teaches at Crescent Park Elementary School.

Students in pre-K are between the ages of four and five years old and much of what is taught is social and emotional development. This encompasses how to share, how to take turns, and how children learn to play together. So when social distancing was set in place, the challenge was on and Welch got creative.

Like her co-worker, she also did the elbow hug, only she would make a little kissing sound, which the students are still doing. When it came to her classroom, she got Velcro dots and stuck them on the carpet so the kids knew where to stand (to social distance). She has the same Velcro dots on the rug for storytime.

As for snack time, there is an apple symbol on the ground for each student and everyone has their own tray with their name on it. She explains it was like a picnic. Finding of their own apple and their own tray helps teach them independence, which is huge in pre-K.

“I feel like this pandemic has shown kids are more resilient than adults are and kids are more able to adapt than adults are,” says Welch. “And that’s the thing: I think we can all learn from them. They don’t really complain about the changes, they don’t complain about the masks, they don’t complain about any of it. Every now and then we would hear, ‘I can’t wait until COVID is gone so I can hug you.’ I feel like we can learn from them, take note from how they’re handling it better than we are.”

Welch stresses the importance of making sure her words are kind and loving. She also says to her students, “I smile under my mask, you can tell that my eyes are smiling. I can see you smiling under there. There are crinkles in your eyes.”

What’s really been beneficial for the young students is keeping a routine. Welch explains young children do well when they know the expectations and have a routine. She explains it helps make them feel safe and comfortable.

“We can’t control what is going on around us, but I can control my classroom routine,” says Welch. “In the morning we start with the good morning song and deep breathing. That’s the first thing we do each day, regardless of what is happening. There’s a pause in the song, in the words, in the lyrics, so we take a minute to take deep breaths together, get ready for our day, so every single day they know this is what happens next, as long as I can keep that routine for them, like I said, I can’t control everything in the outside world, but I can control what goes on in my room.”

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