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Local preschool uses digital 'circle time' to keep kids connected during social distancing

The Marcus Autism Center preschool is using virtual 'circle time' to keep kids connected

ATLANTA — For children with autism, the preschool at Marcus Autism Center is a safe space for learning and connection. But what happens when schools are closed amid COVID-19?

The preschool's teachers knew a solution was needed to help kids thrive.

"I sent out an email to parents saying, 'Hold tight, we're all in this together, we're going to figure it out,''' teacher Tracy Thompson said. 

The inclusive preschool, a collaboration with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, allows children with and without autism to learn together, embracing each child's way of learning. With the shelter in place, the teachers turned to Zoom and YouTube to recreate parts of the preschool day online and reunite students virtually.

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"We hear that the children after the Zoom circle time seem a little bit calmer, they start talking about their friends," Thompson said. "Particularly children on the spectrum love routine and predictability, all children do, but it's more confusing for some children not to have their day all planned out."

With songs and familiar stories, the teachers tune in Monday through Friday for circle time and connection with their young students, an opportunity also appreciated by parents. 

"Even just small pieces of what is familiar and part of their routine, I think is really critical in this time when we're all experiencing quite a bit of disruption," Rachel Yosick, Marcus parent and employee, said. 

While Thompson said parents are now finding their own "new normal," the digital circle time also offers a daily touchstone for the school's little ones, providing comfort in uncertain times. 

"Sometimes it's literally ten minutes of saying hello and showing their pets and that's OK," Thompson said. "That connection is what spurs the language growth, the emotional growth for all of our children."

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