How do you move preschool online? It’s a tough question when so much of preschool is about hands-on learning, exploration, and play. I spoke with my fellow teachers from the Jay and Rose Phillips Early Childhood Center at the Boulder Jewish Community Center about how to continue to teach the very young, virtually. Here’s what we’ve come up with … the dos and don’ts of virtual learning for preschool students.
Do hold morning meetings.
One of our teachers, Megan Pullen, who works with three year olds, continues to follow the regular meeting agenda that they have since the beginning of the year. She just now does it through Zoom.
“We draw out our agenda, say good morning to everyone, and then mute everyone as we move to a share,” says Pullen.
Figuring out the best way to hold a meeting—muting everyone, muting nobody, going back and forth—takes a few tries, but overall, the mute all button on Zoom is your friend. Start the meeting with everyone unmuted so that the kids can chat and say hi, then mute all once the bulk of the meeting starts. Pullen recommends prepping parents beforehand so that students can bring their favorite stuffes or a paper and pencil to the meeting.
Don’t expect everyone to participate.
Not all parents want their kids to have more screen time, but we’ve noticed that not all kids want it either. During the first week of morning meeting, almost all families joined in. The students participated. As we started our third week, a few students tend to play while the morning meeting video is on in the background.
“We want to make sure that we recognize that some people might be reluctant to use the screen, and that it is 100 percent okay to unplug and play with kids,” says fellow colleague Emily Vigneaux, a teacher in the two-year-old classroom. “It’s a tool for families, not a requirement.”
Do offer lots of options—online and offline.
Continue to offer a variety of activities for the families, just like you would throughout a regular school day. Classes at the Boulder JCC have moved toward communication via private Facebook groups for each class, as it has proven to be the easiest way to upload videos, photos, and content.
“We want to be super intentional about the screen time that we are offering,” says Vigneaux. “Not all screen time is created equal, but only offering videos doesn’t seem like the best way to go, so we try to offer offline activities as well.”
That can mean sharing specific activities, like a nature scavenger hunt, or adding activity prompts at the end of each morning meeting that will be revisited the next day. Remember to think about what items families most likely will have at home when different types of play.
Other ideas include getting the entire school staff involved with recorded storytimes or art prompts. Small group activities on Zoom have worked well, too. Schedule a meeting with only a few students to dive more in-depth into a topic.
Don’t stress about individualization.
“The reason to continue with virtual learning for preschool students was to continue what is at the core of early childhood education and that’s relationships,” says Susie Valdez, senior director of early childhood education for the Boulder JCC. “We are not worried that children will miss academic content. We are worried that they will miss each other and the critical bonds that children have and need with each other and their teachers.”
Even though we can’t fully recreate the social bonds that students make during the year, and we can’t work on their pencil grip or other fine-motor skills either, simply being there and maintaining these relationships is beneficial.
“The feedback we have so far is that the parents are enjoying all the connections and the kids are enjoying seeing faces,” says Valdez, “and that relationship piece is really, really key.”
Do work with parents.
“This homeschooling of early education is us literally helping our parents teach,” Valdez says of this co-constructing of teaching with not just the students, but the families, too. “There is no bigger time than now to really be testing if we are truly living with parents as our engaged partners.”
For the younger classrooms, teachers at the Boulder JCC have been explaining to parents the why of what they are doing, like why each morning meeting looks like it does, why routine is so important, and all the play you can do with simply a roll of tape.
“We are basically doing professional development but with the parents,” says Vigneaux.
For the infant families, the teachers hold weekly or bi-weekly Zoom meetings to check in on how schedules are going, how new habits are forming, and general overall well-being for new parents.
Do you have any dos and don’ts on virtual learning for preschool students? Share on our WeAreTeachers Helpline.
Plus, teachers … the next few weeks of online learning do not have to be perfect.