When I walked out of my early childhood special education classroom on Friday, March 13, I didn’t bring anything home with me. I was expecting to go back to work on Monday. I had all of my students’ craft materials ready, and our classroom library was stocked with books for the following week’s theme.
That weekend, everyone’s world was turned upside down with the announcement that schools would be closing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The next week felt like a blur as I rushed to put together a distance learning plan that would be meaningful and appropriate for my students and their families. The remainder of the year went as smoothly as could be expected, and I feel confident that, if we do distance learning again this upcoming year, I’ll be prepared to provide a high-quality experience.
8 Tips for Home Learning in Preschool
1. Use digital platforms for engagement: Tools like Google Meet and Zoom are useful for facilitating a daily circle time, story time, and a time for students just to talk and engage with one another.
My students got so excited to see each other, and were excitedly telling their parents who their friends were. Many of my circle time activities are done on our interactive whiteboard, so I connected my laptop to my TV and projected our calendar, counting and number activities, sorting activities, and thematic songs for the students to see.
2. Include familiar items: Use classroom items like curricular materials, the calendar, favorite books, puppets, and songs in your lessons.
This will help students adapt to the new virtual learning environment and keep things consistent for when you do go back to the classroom. Many of my students were shy during our first virtual circle times, but as soon as I started singing our hello song, I saw many smiles on my screen. For our whole group math lessons, I brought home all of the curricular materials and led the lesson as I do in the classroom.
3. Provide a daily family activity: This can target language skills, fine and gross motor skills, play, or cognitive skills.
Each day, I posted an activity on Seesaw for all of the students. The activity was related to our weekly theme, letter, number, shape, and color.
Additionally, I created customized activities to address individual students’ IEP goals. Using Seesaw, families can post a photo or video of the activity, or they can send it via email. If families prefer paper copies of the activities, you might drop off a packet with the same activities at students’ homes.
4. Include prompts for family interactions: This is useful for all children, but especially those with disabilities.
For each activity, I provided examples of how to meaningfully engage the child in the activity and expand on their language skills. For example, in a sort-by-color activity, I included prompts for children who are speaking (e.g., “What color is this?”) and for children who are not yet speaking (e.g., “Show me a yellow one”).
5. Invite related service providers to join virtual lessons and activities: Among the people you might want to include are speech therapists, occupational therapists, etc., as well as classroom assistants.
The goal of distance learning is to provide students with meaningful learning experiences that are as similar as possible to learning in the classroom. My students enjoyed seeing familiar faces during circle time, and the adults added to the experience by singing the songs, talking with the students, and showing off their pets.
6. Host individual meetings for new students: For students whose first exposure to your program—and to school—will be virtual, an initial meeting (using Google Meet or Zoom) to introduce yourself to the student and their family can settle fears and anxieties.
Since the child has never met you before, they may be hesitant to participate in virtual activities. However, this initial meeting can make them feel more comfortable. Additionally, the parents will appreciate getting to know you and being able to ask questions.
7. Have a plan in the event that your program goes to distance learning after opening: I have a tool called a social story ready to go. According to the creator of social stories, Carol Gray, the goal of a social story is to “share accurate information using a content, format, and voice that is descriptive, meaningful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe.”
Parents can read this to their child to help them process this transition. For preschool-age children, pictures can make the story more comprehensible. Social stories were developed for higher functioning students with autism; however, they can be helpful for students with other disabilities.
8. Relax and try to enjoy this new challenge: If you’re teaching and interacting with your students as you normally do in the classroom, then they will feel more comfortable with distance learning.