Learning how to engage with my 2-year-old students online. I feel like my co-teacher and I are just another YouTube video they are watching on the screen. They don’t stay interested long (of course) but because we’re not teaching in person they can’t be redirected easily and we can’t easily follow the child’s lead. We are unfortunately seated during our video chats. It’s also very difficult for us to do circle times over Zoom because we want to interact with the children and hear them speak but it’s impossible to stay on top of the planned songs/book if everyone is talking so we’re now planning to mute them on our future meetings. There’s lots of activity ideas online, but I need activities that I can share with families that require no materials/very few low-cost, already-at-home, not-currently-an-essential-item materials/ little to no prep work AND can be done with siblings if needed. – Workforce Survey Participant
The New York Early Childhood Professional Development Institute in partnership with the Bank Street College of Education recently completed a survey to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on New York’s early childhood workforce. The survey included early childhood program leaders, teachers, and family child care providers. Over 3000 individuals who are members of the state’s Aspire Registry responded. The survey sought to provide a descriptive snapshot of the workforce during the pandemic in order to stimulate dialogue to help as the field navigates this crisis.
The workforce study illuminated the challenges of providing remote learning to young children: children are not independent users of technology, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limited screen time for young children, and educators had little time to prepare and refine new technology-mediated instructional approaches. Seventy percent of participants reported that they were engaged in remote instruction in NYC whereas half were providing remote instruction in the rest of state. Workforce survey participants identified the top challenges as engaging children through remote instruction and developing an engaging distance curriculum.
What if educators stopped trying to make two, three and four year old children participate in the video conferences, recorded lessons, and scheduled activities that characterize remote learning for older children? One survey participant called for “a curriculum specifically built for at home learning. Not making a school learning curriculum fit at home. For example, center times in 3K for all cannot be the same at home. Brainstorming what the parent has at home to represent or replace centers so that she can have her child explore it on his own.”
A curriculum specifically built for at home learning in early childhood does exist in Head Start. It is called ‘home visiting or a ‘home-based program” In this program model, home visitors interact with families and their children once a week. Together, the home visitor and families watch and think about the child. They plan ways to help the child learn using family-child interactions, daily routines, and household materials. There are developmentally responsive curricula designed for home-visiting programs. These curricula include the provision of toys, materials and books that children can keep. A small group of children, families and their home visitors also get together on a monthly basis for group socializations. In fact, the Institute has heard from Head Start leaders in NYC that their home-based programs had high levels of engagement during remote learning — in contrast to their center-based peers.
In a home-visiting-inspired distance-learning model, rather than trying to engage a group of very young children online, the teacher engages the family member or the family member and the child together. Rather than interacting with the child once a day, they engage the family in a fully present, thoughtful way once a week. On a regularly scheduled basis, they get together with a group of families and children for a socialization group. In a blended learning model, the socialization group could now safely take place in a park or playground.
Home visitors draw on coaching strategies to build on family members’ strengths. Some of the coaching strategies educators might use include:
1. Form relationships
Take time to get to know family members – their backgrounds, their interests, their aspirations. Developing trusting relationships with families sets up the respectful, two-way communication that is necessary for productive collaboration.
2. Use “I notice…” statements to describe families’ and caregivers’ effective actions.
Families have their children’s best interests at heart and make loving, intentional decisions about their development in alignment with their cultural values and practices. Use “I notice” statements to recognize and validate these decisions and encourage families to repeat them with greater frequency. Ex. “Your child tells me you read the books we sent home every night this week! This is important because young children learn through repetition. When you read the book again and again, your child will have the opportunity to ask questions and talk about her favorite parts.”
4. Use self-talk to describe your choices.
Self-talk simply means you are modelling your thought process–you let families know how and why you make decisions. Ex. “I planned to make playdough with you all today, but it looks like Toby is so excited about the plane she built out of Duplos. I am going to shift focus and follow her interest because children learn most through intentional interactions, no matter what the material is.”
5. Provide information
There are many different ways that you can share information about child development with families – through handouts, access to resources, and conversations. When you develop relationships with the families you support, it is easier to know when and how to provide new information.
6. Engage in reflective dialogue with families
Parenting is challenging. Families benefit from time with an expert to reflect on their child’s development. Hold this space for them by following their lead and listening more than you talk.
7. Ask the right questions
The more you listen to families, the better able you will be to ask helpful questions. The NYC Division of Early Childhood provided this list of questions to engage families in conversation about their children’s development:
- What are your child’s interests?
- What activities does your child enjoy engaging in?
- What materials does your child enjoy using?
- What have you noticed about your child’s learning during this time?
- In what ways does your child communicate their wants and needs?
- Describe your child’s play.
- In what ways has your child expressed their feelings? Please describe your child’s verbal and non-verbal behavior.
- Where have you noticed your child grow this year?
- What would you like to see your child do next?
8. Form a learning community
The home-visiting socialization group is a learning community for families. In this educator-led group, families discuss child development and share their successes and challenges. A community of support is a critical importance during this challenging time.
Discuss: What do you think a better model for remote learning in early childhood would be?