Teach remotely? What does that even look like with preschoolers? How can I possibly meet the needs of my students and families remotely? What do parents want?
This rush of thoughts and questions left me overwhelmed and scattered. While I typically rise to a new challenge, it took me awhile to wrap my head around education’s quick transformation during a pandemic. But I slowly realized that this was an opportunity to work more closely with families and really empower them to be their child’s primary educator. I’m a firm believer that educators support students and families in their learning and most of the work is done at home.
Reaching out, listening openly
Next, I called the experts—the caregivers. I reached out to a support group I have the privilege of convening. Bringing them together (virtually) was extremely helpful. We laughed, cried, panicked and, most importantly, breathed together! Caregivers expressed concerns with distance learning, however, their biggest worry was their children’s lack of social interactions during this pandemic. Identifying one specific need helped me focus on next steps.
Creating virtual social opportunities
I decided to start a virtual social skills group to help connect families and students with the focus on social skills. Teaching social skills? No problem! Teaching social skills virtually? This was NOT in my wheelhouse, but I was asking families to do things they had never done so I needed to model learning something new! The social skills groups were not without flaws and challenges. Families, staff, and I learned quickly that we couldn’t just jump into the content. We needed to set the groundwork first. Here are some foundational steps and learnings:
- Create clear expectations and guidelines for caregivers so they know what to expect and what was expected of them. This includes tips on how to support their child during these virtual lessons.
- Be realistic about session length based on kids’ abilities and attention spans. We want to be successful and to always end on a good note. Our spring sessions ranged from 10-20 minutes based on activities and behavior.
- Create a lesson, with visual supports, to teach students how to participate in an online group. These expectations include sitting down, looking at the screen, listening, raising your hand if you want to talk and having a calm body.
- Follow a consistent schedule, changing the activities as students’ needs change. Our schedule always included a greeting, an activity, a short lesson and a song. Activities help practice turn-taking and included a simple game or sharing/showing items. Again, visuals supported each lesson.
Just like in the classroom, our time together didn’t always go as planned. But we adults learned something each lesson and adjusted so that students could be successful. We faced challenges with virtual learning, including anxiety on screens, difficulty engaging students, distractions and learning a new routine. Change is hard! I am so very proud of my students and the caregivers who are working so hard to support their learning during this pandemic!
As we start another year of distance learning I know that, together, we can do hard things and we can grow in ways we never imagined. This reality is not what I signed up for as an educator. Adapting alongside families has been an unexpected gift that has made me a better educator. This experience has also reminded me who the real heroes are—the caregivers!
Author: Chrissy Christensen, Early Childhood Education Teacher