Distance learning presents a particular challenge to early childhood learners. Remote learning strategies that work for older students (e.g., synchronous, hour-long lectures) do not translate to younger students who rely heavily on adult facilitation and cannot pay attention for long periods. In addition, many early childhood learning activities require one-on-one facilitation or small-group interaction, which is difficult to deliver in a distance learning environment. While best practices that fully address these challenges have yet to emerge, EAB researchers offer several ideas below to improve early childhood distance learning efforts in the meantime.
1. Make every learning activity optional to avoid penalizing students if their caretakers face competing demands
At one preschool in Washington, D.C., administrators make every offline activity, prerecorded lesson, or synchronous session optional with the understanding that many caretakers have obligations to their work and other family members. Caretakers may feel unduly stressed if administrators require students to attend every synchronous lesson or submit certain activities on a timeline. Instead, teachers and administrators at this preschool afford flexibility to caretakers by providing a list of activities and encouraging caretakers to choose ones that fit their schedule. Though teachers may worry that caretakers will not hold their children accountable if activities are optional, administrators at this preschool note that caretakers constantly request additional activities to keep their children occupied.
2. Continue school routines and traditions virtually to provide a sense of normalcy for children
Young children find a sense of comfort and familiarity in daily routines. Thus, early grade teachers should maintain normal school routines and traditions virtually whenever possible. For example, at one preschool in Washington, D.C., the head of school opens the front doors and greets students at the beginning of each school day. To provide a sense of normalcy for students, the head of school recorded themselves completing this ritual and sent it to caretakers to show their children in the morning. In addition, the school uses Zoom to host their traditional, whole-school singalong each week.
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3. Encourage teachers to schedule face-to-face check-ins with each student at least twice per week
Young children require strong relationships with adults to thrive. To continue to build those relationships in a distance learning environment, administrators should encourage teachers to check-in one-on-one with each student over Zoom as frequently as possible. Some preschools are asking teachers to check-in with each student at a minimum twice per week, if not every day. These check-ins do not need a specific purpose beyond allowing children to interact with their teacher one-on-one.
4. Actively solicit feedback from caretakers to better understand how to support them and their children
To best understand how to help caretakers support their child’s learning, administrators should maintain open lines of communication with caretakers and actively solicit their feedback. Emails and surveys work well, but some pre-schools have gone a step further and begun to host virtual parent coffee hours to solicit in-person feedback. Preschools that consistently solicit parent feedback report that this effort is critical for improving their distance teaching approach.