With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many states, a number of districts are opting for total remote learning for the fall (for specific districts, click the link Education Week School Districts’ Reopening Plans). What does this mean for parents who have young ones starting school for the first time? If the anxiety about starting school in person during a worldwide pandemic wasn’t enough, the prospect of starting totally online can be overwhelming. Often, parents see entering school (PreK – K levels) as an opportunity for their children to learn social skills, understand rules and routines, and set a foundation of basic skills that will prepare them for the next 12 years of learning.
Children in this age group, 4 to 6 years old, have quite a bit of energy and need more attention than older students to get and stay motivated. In a classroom, it can take many weeks of consistent practice and teacher modeling to get younger learners flowing through a schedule of activities with minimal distraction and interruption. With online learning, this may seem impossible for parents who feel their children are especially “fidgety” and require more active tasks to funnel their energy. But there are some things parents can do to help prepare their children. Then, when school officially starts, the ‘learning curve’ will be shorter and smoother.
- Set up/maintain routines such as watching an educational video after breakfast, followed by a short learning activity (finding all things yellow in the kitchen) and playtime. The more that younger ones consistently follow a routine, the transition to doing so for school will feel familiar and less “scary” (for parents, too!). If possible, make the moves from one activity to another fun by singing a song or completing a set of exercises (“Let’s do 10 jumping jacks before we color!”).
- Practice using a video conferencing app such as Zoom or FaceTime. Show younger ones how to mute/unmute and use the ‘raise hand’ feature (although most likely, teachers will simply have students raise hands). Before school starts, set up group ‘video play dates’ so children will learn to tap the appropriate icons and take turns.
- Encourage talking through a task such as starting a tablet app or drawing a picture. The more that younger ones talk about how they did something, this will become common practice when teachers have students explain an answer to a problem or summarize what was learned. Now, some parents may say that their children already know how to do this (most young ones are learning sponges and will talk at length about anything that is new and exciting) but doing so with limited time and/or on camera might be a new experience and they may hesitate. Teachers feed off student energy so lack of it may make the virtual session tough to get through.
- Watch learning videos, especially those with people who are teaching a concept and/or reading stories aloud. Younger ones tend to react more with real people (faces) and teachers will be facilitating lessons or using prerecorded videos to teach new skills. Try having younger ones watch learning videos (explore YouTube for Kids) and explain what was taught. They can also watch videos with storytellers reading books aloud, such as Storyline Online, which they will expect to see from the teachers.
- Set up a learning space (or kit) that has all the materials younger ones need to focus on school work. The space/kit should include paper, pencils, eraser, and crayons. Additional items that can be helpful include a mini-whiteboard/markers, paper clips or other items for math concepts (counting, measuring, patterns, etc.), index cards (flashcards for numbers, alphabet, full name, etc.), and kids scissors (use with supervision). Younger ones should feel that they have what they need for learning and can focus, so try to choose a space away from distractions like the television.
- Give positive praise when the child has learned how to do something new and/or successfully completed a task. Be specific about praise, commending what was done versus giving a general “Great job” or “How smart of you.” For example, if the younger one has learned to select an activity and complete it without getting distracted, recognize that (“Wow! You were able to finish coloring that picture without getting up or doing something else. You really concentrated and I can see that in the way you used different colors/colored in the lines.”). Positive praise that is earned will help the child build confidence.
- Invest in dedicated devices for each child, if possible. Having each child in a family have a device that they can use for learning will eliminate challenges such as taking turns or keeping track of assignments, learning platforms, teacher messages, etc. If accessibility is an issue, contact the tech reps at the school or district for loaner laptop programs.
Many younger ones had to shift to online learning in the spring, with parents suddenly thrust into “double-duty” as teacher/assistant. Reach out to parent friends and ask how they managed and what they would/will change for the new year. Better yet, talk with the young learner who had to experience this shift in learning environment. Ask what they liked/didn’t like and what they wanted more/less of when distance learning.
Each child’s experience is unique, and although distance learning may at first seem challenging for new learners and their parents, your active support will help your little one to become comfortable and successful in their new ‘classroom’.
To learn more about what Boxlight has to offer for hybrid and remote learning options, go to boxlight.com.