Online Learning

Keeping Kindergartners Engaged in Distance Learning

Personalizing lessons and giving brain breaks can help young students stay engaged during short synchronous sessions.

August 10, 2020
Inna Reznik / Alamy Stock Photo

When remote instruction started at my school last spring, I met with my students every morning at 10 to alternate math and reading lessons virtually. At first, my kindergartners thought it was fun, different, and exciting to have class through Zoom. But it wasn’t long before online learning stopped being quite so fun and exciting. For some of the kids, it was clearly becoming monotonous.

There were lots of challenges for me in teaching virtually. The biggest was keeping the kids engaged. My teammates and I shared ideas, and I had varying amounts of success. The following are all strategies I used this past spring.

Equity Sticks

When we began meeting virtually, my students were excited. Everyone wanted to participate, raising their hands enthusiastically. A couple of weeks in, that changed. Some kids were still participating wholly, but others were not.

In my classroom, I use equity sticks. I could pull out a stick to randomly choose the name of a student to call on. It occurred to me that I could use these sticks in Zoom, too. I purchased sticks from Amazon and created a stick for each student in about 10 minutes.


  • I could get kids who weren’t raising their hands involved; they responded beautifully.
  • It helped me try to make sure that every student got a chance to speak during every lesson.
  • It was easy to incorporate into my lessons.


  • Some lessons simply didn’t have enough discussion points to pull each student’s stick.

Personalized or Themed Lessons

As a team, we decided to present our lessons using Google Slides. Early on, we personalized these by using student names wherever we could (e.g., in a math story problem). Halfway through our time of virtual teaching, we began adding themes to our presentations (e.g., superheroes or summer food).


  • The kids loved seeing their names in the presentations.
  • The themes kept the majority of the kids interested.


  • Personalizing and incorporating themes was quite time-consuming.

Mindfulness Brain Breaks

No matter what we did to liven up our presentations, which usually lasted about 20 minutes, some of the kids still got squirmy. From almost the beginning, we included some mindful breathing GIFs and video brain breaks. Typically, these videos ran three to five minutes and encouraged the students to move.


  • Most of the kids bought in to the breathing, which we dropped in right before the real meat of the lesson.
  • Most of the kids loved the videos we chose as our brain breaks (and I don’t have words to describe how cute they were, moving and grooving to the music).


  • Finding appropriate breathing moments and break videos was time-consuming.
  • Finding new moments and videos to use was challenging as time went on.
  • Some students were not engaging in these breaks, so that was time they were just staring at the screen. Some of these students tended to be shy about moving on camera, and the others weren’t interested in the activity.

Zoom Tools

At the start, we had the kids raise their hands or use their thumbs to respond to questions. As we became more comfortable with Zoom, we were able to use some of the tools that the program has to offer—in particular, the “raise hand” and “chat” tools.

In addition to using the raise hand tool when they knew an answer, I had them use the chat box. They could type T or F for true/false questions, or they could type the answer to a math problem—I made sure they were typing only to me, not to each other.


  • The tools were easy to teach, and the kids caught on very quickly.
  • The kids loved using the tools, particularly the chat feature.
  • The tools provided lots of practice using the computer keyboard.


  • I learned that the tools needed to be used sparingly, as the students’ interest in using them lessened over time.
  • Sometimes they just wanted to type random things to me in the box, ignoring whatever lesson I was giving.

Emailed To-Do Lists

It was vital for parents to be a part of the virtual learning experience. Their children needed the help, and I needed a partner in getting the kids to do their assigned work. Early on, I sent the parents a blank weekly checklist they could print out and fill in. I also emailed parents and the kids daily. I shared a list of my expectations for the next day, along with links to assignments and our Zoom classes.


  • The parents loved the checklist as an organizational tool.
  • The daily emails allowed the parents to keep track of what I expected and offered a quick and easy way to reply to me to ask questions.


  • This task could be time-consuming.
  • It was difficult to tell who was actually reading the emails.

It was recently announced that we will begin our upcoming school year online. I plan to use all of these strategies with minor adjustments. I have learned that I need to use the Zoom tools and video breaks sparingly. I know I’ll need to allow time for finding useful GIFs and videos.

These strategies were invaluable and helped keep my students engaged. I plan to brainstorm new strategies with my team this fall. If we all keep sharing our discoveries, we can keep these kids engaged in learning no matter where the learning takes place.

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Filed Under

  • Online Learning
  • Student Engagement
  • K-2 Primary

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