Back to School 2021 – Navigating the Return to Preschool

A Q&A with Montclare Children’s School Parent, Vivian Mougios, PhD


Q: One of Covid’s most significant impacts has been the interruption of school from early childhood through higher education. In your opinion, what adverse effects does this have on preschoolers?

VM:  Preschoolers have lost the opportunity to develop a sense of community outside their homes. Early school environments foster the foundations of implicit learning where children learn to self-regulate, engage in group settings, follow instructions, share with others, expand their creativity and imagination, as well as exercise theory of mind—all of which occurs each day they walk into a classroom and can interact with others.



Q: A July article, “Back to School 2021: What to Expect,” quoted you stating, “…there is no doubt that the pandemic has activated worry and anxiety in kids…” What can parents do to address that?

VM:  Children thrive on routine and predictability. The pandemic has thrust them into a world of uncertainty. As parents, we must find ways to recognize and validate their anxiety and also provide tools to help them cope with their discomfort.  Resilience matters more than ever.



Q: There have been quite a few articles about how Covid made adults anti-social. Did it do the same to children and, if so, how should children be prepared for ‘re-entry?’

VM: Concerning young kids, I do not believe it has made them antisocial since they likely have not had the opportunity to become social. That said, I do think children have become more sensitive to new adults, crowds, and public places. Depending on how active or insulated families have been, re-entry involves discussion and practice.

Three actionable strategies;

  1. Provide the script/narrative of what children should anticipate upon return. Concrete discussion with 5 W’s as a guide: Who, What, When, Where, Why.
  • Who will be with your child
  • What to expect
  • When it will take place
  • Where it will take place, and
  • Why this is important or happening
  1. Practice/Exposure—role play is powerful, as is familiarity. Play out scenarios, show pictures of teachers and classrooms, physically walk or drive down the streets that will become part of normal routine.
  2. Ask children about their opinion — don’t assume and don’t project! Let children tell you what they are concerned about and focus on listening more than fixing the problem.



Q: Many parents could work from home and have now been with their children for extended periods of time every day, and the kids are accustomed to being with them. Will this create separation issues for children who might not have had anxiety about it otherwise?

VM: It really depends on the family dynamics, the boundaries (or lack thereof!). If parents have been working from home where children have had unlimited access to them throughout the day, they most certainly will feel uncomfortable once that framework changes. By contrast, if there were boundaries such as ‘do not disturb’ portions of the day where parents were not accessible, and children could adhere to those boundaries and exercise their independence, it is unlikely anxiety would be as significant.


Q: What role does the preschool have in returning young children to normalcy, or for the youngest, creating a normalcy they haven’t yet experienced?

VM:  Preschools will play an enormous role. They become the developmental hub and safe haven for children to catch up on what they missed/lost. However, preschools also need to stretch themselves to become a more flexible environment that must now absorb a broader and more developmentally diverse group of children.



Q: What type of preschool program do you think is most important for parents who are seeking to enroll their children for the very first time?

VM: A program they can trust. A program that can foster and recognize a child’s (and parents’) needs beyond academic readiness. Children love to learn, love to play, and love to socialize. A school should foster an environment that allows children to safely engage in their developmental aspirations while recognizing the stressors this new outside world has created for them.



Q: You recently published a book, “Action Potential: The Secrets of Successful Learners.” Can you share one or two of the secrets with us?

VM: The number one secret is developing executive functioning skills. This is the network in our brain that allows us to take skills and put them into action. Helping children develop their executive functioning skills will enable them to take all those incoming thoughts and impulses and steer them toward productive and functional outcomes. It’s one of the most important aspects of a child’s early development and an essential pillar of resiliency.


Q: What about the parents? They have also become accustomed to having their children with them, safe at home, with minimal time apart, especially not with strangers, like teachers. What advice do you have for them?

VM:  This is a big step and a difficult one for parents. Breathe (repeatedly). And remember what the goal is for your child —why are you sending them to school? It is time to open up and trust the teachers and schools to take care of our children as they always have. When a parent trusts a school and feels confident that teachers can form positive attachments with their children, it enables parents to let go so their children can develop the skills we desperately want them to have.


Q: From a neuropsychological perspective, what is the role of educators and caregivers in mitigating the effects of Covid?

It will feel like a burdensome role, but in truth, our educators and caregivers need to revert to what they do best: teach and take care of our children. It’s all in the 3 R’s: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation. Reassure our children in concrete and tangible ways. Provide predictability in routines. And provide a space for purposeful regulation, where they can feel in control of their actions and engagement.



Vivian Mougios, Ph.D., is a Montclare parent and Founder/Director of Action Potential Institute, a consultancy providing neuropsychological and whole child assessments. In addition to evaluations, Dr. Mougios offers educational consultations for schools in New York and the Tri-state area, emphasizing individualized learning plans and optimal teaching methodologies. Dr. Mougios has over 15,000 hours of neuropsychological administration experience and expertise in brain development, child psychology, and education, and recently authored Action Potential – The Secrets of Successful Learners.