Distance Learning in an Early Childhood Classroom

Today’s Contributor: Mary Tijerina is a National Board Certified teacher and the Campus Innovation Coach at Menchaca Elementary. She uses Blend and Seesaw with her Pre-Kindergarten students.

During this unprecedented time, educators across the world are having to embrace the idea of distance learning with a very short turnaround to prepare. What does this look like? Where do I even start?

Being a Pre-Kindergarten teacher, many have asked: How do you plan to teach a class of 4-year-olds online? How will you possibly keep them engaged? First and foremost, you start with the heart. I checked in on my families. Just as I did at the beginning of the school year, I reached out to my parents, shared plans and welcomed my students into my virtual classroom. It was important to determine the best time for them since my families have different schedules. Since it might not be possible to have a time that works for everyone all the time, I wanted to ensure that my families were able to access recorded sessions. I gave my parents an opportunity to ask questions and share their needs. This is a new journey for them, as well. I suggested age-appropriate schedules that included ways children can help at home, indoor/outdoor learning times and down times where children can process their learning, experiences and emotions. Change can be stressful. Routines help children establish healthy habits (meals, learning, self-care) and help them feel safe.

There are so many educational platforms available to support distance learning and they each have their own strengths. I personally use the following with my students and families:

Zoom: A virtual platform that allows face-to-face time with the children and parents.
Blend (Canvas): My virtual classroom. It has stories, activities, videos of me asking open-ended questions with opportunities for them to respond, links to educational websites and self-care/mindfulness videos that support curriculum and instruction.
Seesaw: My students’ portfolios where they can talk, chat, share with me and/or friends. Questions I ask in Blend or Zoom will often be answered using Seesaw. My students love Seesaw because it’s also open-ended and provides them with multiple ways to share their learning. I personally love it because parents can see their children’s learning in real time and students can share their learning with one another.
Livingtree: A campus-wide communication tool that allows campus information to be shared but also provides teachers to communicate with parents and families (announcements, Zoom invites, photos, videos, etc.)

For me, Zoom is the perfect platform to launch distance learning for my families. It didn’t matter if I had my room (my son’s old bedroom) ready. What mattered most was for my kids to see their friends and classmates and teacher. There was this sense of immediate comfort knowing we were there together. I needed to see their faces just as much as they needed to see mine, to feel connected. The first five to ten minutes was all theirs to take it all in and say hi. Parents were beside them to support them as they started. Then, I did what I always did — we had our circle time, everyone shared, sang songs and had fun. Was it perfect? No, of course not. They are four! There were some adorable silly faces, a bottom straight up and a couple of siblings coming in and out of the background. What mattered most was rebuilding our connection and community and lightly establishing functioning norms (one at a time, raising hands, etc). The whole session lasted about thirty minutes and was full of smiles, song, laughter, and, for me, a much-needed soul bucket filler that reminded me this is exactly why I love doing what I do. My follow-up Zooms will incorporate social emotional learning strategies (check-ins, mindfulness/self-regulating skills), stories, share times and follow-up activities they can do in Blend and Seesaw.

Here are some guiding questions to consider as you begin building your virtual classroom:

What time works best for my families? Keep in mind all families’ schedules are different. It might not be possible to have a time that works for everyone. Is there a platform that supports recording your sessions so families can access it at a later time?
How will I engage all my students? What platforms will I use? Blend/Canvas, Seesaw, Zoom, Livingtree, Flipgrid, etc.
How will I create a safe space where students can explore their wonderings and ask questions?
How will all students have an opportunity to share their learning?

Take a minute to breathe. Start where you are and build on it.  Don’t be afraid to explore and learn something new! Reach out for support when you need it. Each campus has a Technology Design Coach (TDC). Mine has gone above and beyond helping me over the years! Thank you, Vanessa Jones! Blend/Canvas, Seesaw, Livingtree and most platforms have support staff and Facebook groups filled with learners just like you! This is a learning curve for us all. We are in this together!

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