Maximizing Remote Learning for Young Children Series
During the 2020-2021 school year, UC Davis shifted to online learning for all students to protect them during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. This also led the Early Childhood Laboratory to drastically reduce preschool class size by more than half. To maintain active service of children and families, director Kelly Twibell-Sanchez and instructor Hannah Minter Anderson designed and implemented a remote learning program that was conducted via Zoom from Monday through Thursday for one hour per day for the duration of the school year. At the beginning of each week Individual Learning Kits were curated and sent home and, at the end of the week, kits were returned, cleaned, restocked and sent home with new materials. This remote program allowed families to access high quality curriculum for their children in the comfort and safety of their own home. Anderson thoughtfully created a daily sequence of events and a weekly curriculum that positively engaged children, and required minimal adult support. The remote learning programs proved to be a success. As such, the Early Childhood Laboratory continues to offer virtual parent/family caregiver and child playgroups on Fridays.
With the surge of the Omicron variant and per university guidance we returned to remote learning for all children’s programming for the first four weeks of the quarter for Winter 2022. This required the production of 70 learning kits for children/families, as well as the practicum students enrolled in HDE 140L.
For our pivot from in-person to remote learning in January 2022, we looked for ways to provide some continuity from school to remote programming. For example, we focused on familiar songs to engage children and to introduce new practicum students to songs that will be sung frequently when we do return to the classroom. Children felt a sense of ownership as well as a duty to ‘teach’ their new caregivers.
The following Snapshots of Learning provide further information by taking “deep dives” into effective strategies for virtual learning.
Rhythm and Reason
Numerous studies have shown that young children thrive with a predictable routine or schedule. According to Ann S. Epstein, author of The Intentional Teacher, these routines provide children with emotional stability and security. (2014) Hannah Minter Anderson applied this research and knowledge to her development of the remote learning routine that we continue to use. As educators, we know that it is important to have a balance between movement and focused activities. We also place heavy emphasis on community building and connection, especially at a time when many children and families are not able to socialize in person.
The following structure is used for a one hour remote session, and includes the reasoning behind why we implement the curriculum in this way and what we hope to achieve. Curriculum is repeated across all four days, building upon children's emergent skills and promoting a deeper understanding of songs and materials.
- Call to order with a greeting song. We begin with a greeting song that tells children that our communal learning is starting.
- Community building by conducting a name song or poem. Children benefit from repeatedly being introduced to one another, even if they have met before because the video boxes get small with a larger group, they may log on from different environments daily, and changing clothes can make someone look less familiar on the screen.
- Critical thinking and conversation through a yes or no ‘Question of the Day.’ This question is a great way to invoke children to explain their thinking, share what they know, and listen and learn from peers. Idea exchange allows them to practice their social communication skills.
- Large/fine motor skill practice with music and movement. After a period of sedentary activity, children will benefit from a break to move their bodies. By doing fingerplays and movement games they are able to move their bodies and practice cognitive skills like counting, naming, and following directions.
- Hands-On Practice with an emphasis on traditional academic skills. At the ECL we use Learning Without Tears workbooks. It’s important to align expectations with the development and cognitive skills of your students.
- Movement breaks to follow focused learning. We use this time for "listen and follow" games to practice following directions and practice impulse control in a fun and low-stakes environment.
- Focused group activity in smaller groups if possible. We utilize breakout rooms to lead smaller groups of children in an open-ended activity such as art or manipulatives led by an adult. We pair these activities with books related to concepts we are exploring.
- Community building with sharing between peers and teachers. We build in time for children to share things from their homes or things they’ve worked on during the live, remote session. This allows teachers an opportunity to remind children about the topic at hand and feels good for children to know that what they have to say is important and can be shared at this time.
- Wrap up by reminding children of what we did that day. This allows children to quickly reflect and recall what they have learned and done.
Songs and Games
Many may be able to recall singing songs and playing games that educators still use regularly. This entry will outline some of the activities we used during our remote learning programs and what skills we hope to practice in a fun and low-stakes way.
- Where is Thumbkin? - We begin by talking about each of the different fingers and what their names are. This fingerplay takes quite a bit of dexterity and control. All of the muscles of the hands are worked. They are practicing classification and labeling by identifying each finger by it’s name. Comparing the size of the fingers, “Tall man is this one in the middle. See, it’s the tallest finger when I hold them all together.” “Pinky is this small finger, some people call it the little finger or the tiny finger.” In this example I use three different words that mean small in size. Find lyrics at Where Is Thumbkin
- Simon Says - This listen and follow game is simple once you know how to play, but it takes some practice for children to really tune into what the leader is saying and how they’re saying it. We began with a YouTube video from The Wiggles. This video models how to play, when to and when not to follow, and that it is alright to make a mistake. We watched this video for two days in a row, and then we played on our own. On the last day we even let the kids take turns being the leader. It requires self-control along with attentive listening.
- Everybody Do This - This is another listen and follow song. It helps to develop self control, body awareness, and large motor skills. One person is the ‘leader’ and everyone follows their action; replace the word ‘me’ with their name. “Everybody do this, just like Jack.” It can be played with or without props like scarves, bells, or shakers. Children enjoy taking turns being the leader. They may have their peers try things like shaking a scarf side to side or patting their hands on their head. When the adult describes the action they should use directional terms, name body parts, and make note of speed. Find lyrics and the melody at Everybody Do This - Music Bus.
- 10 in a Bed - This song focuses on math skills, specifically subtraction, and fine motor skills. Start with all ten fingers up, while singing “they all rolled over and one fell out,” roll your hands around each other and put down one finger. Check in with children and ask how many are left. To make the song more advanced, have more than one fall out. To practice more math skills, roll your hands backwards and sing, “they all rolled over and one climbed in,” and put a finger back up. Find lyrics at Ten In The Bed - Music Bus
Effective Small Groups
Selecting group activities will vary depending on the availability of supplies and resources. The following suggestions intentionally require few supplies. Individual educators should consider their specific community resources and plan accordingly to ensure equal access for all children and families. To limit the number of specific supplies we needed, we split our cohort into smaller groups, we utilized breakout rooms with one to two teacher facilitators. This may require some adult assistance.
- Collage Art: Kits included half sheets of paper, scrap collage materials, and glue sticks to one small group. Collage materials consisted of mostly repurposed or recycled materials. Scrap paper and tissue paper can be cut into strips and then cut into shapes; consider square, rectangle, or triangle shapes for ease. Crape paper cut down adds texture and can lead to rich discussions about the differences in the materials. Pictures and patterns can be modeled. Use terms such as large, small, wide, and narrow to cover math concepts. Identify and describe characteristics of shapes while engaging with these materials.
- Playdough: Many recipes can be found to make large batches of plain dough. Use food coloring or water color to make the primary colors. From the three primary colors all colors can be made. Children may choose to use toys from home to enhance their play. Teacher facilitators can offer fine motor challenges such as making a snake, rolling a ball, or making shapes and letters. For older children, consider challenging them to make certain colors or mix approximate ratios.
- Loose Parts Play: Loose parts projects can be made out of almost any kind of material or recyclable. Using things like empty boxes, bottles, and caps; allow children to create. Challenges for this learning experience might include making a pattern, creating an invention, or making a robot. Loose parts projects encourage creativity and problem solving. Using hot glue with direct adult supervision is ideal; however, tape and glue work for adhering pieces as well.
Supporting Young Learners on Zoom
Teaching young children on Zoom is not ideal, but we have explored strategies to make it supportive to all students while continuing to strengthen our learning community. Educators will have to think critically and creatively about how to support children from all backgrounds.
To build and strengthen peer relationships, it is important for children to interact with one another as successfully as possible on the electronic platform. One way we have found is to attempt a balance between large and small group interactions. To do this we utilized breakout rooms with the same children each day. Socializing in small groups allows children to practice the communication skills unique to Zoom. For example if two people are talking, no one is able to get their message across.
While facilitating these discussions in a large or small group setting, children will need clear and direct instruction from the adult. We found success in unmuting two to three children who were talking about the same topic. The instructor then cued children into others speaking. Asking children to clarify for one another and reminding children to listen once they’re finished speaking. Children often speak to each other without ever actually being heard by the child they are addressing. It is even more critical to be sure people are being heard and understood when on Zoom.
It is also extremely important to be aware of the diversity within your classroom community and support these emergent English learners. If possible, use a dedicated breakout group with curriculum adjusted to be accessible to these children. Partner with families to learn words from the unit in their home languages. This will clearly demonstrate the connection between the words. Using props along with songs will make curriculum concepts more concrete.
Reading storybooks enriches language development experiences for young children. Educators should thoughtfully choose books that are developmentally appropriate with clear pictures. It is important to consider the clarity of pictures, especially with remote learning. Practice holding the book in front of the camera before live, remote learning to see where to hold the book. It is important to be prepared to keep things moving.
Building peer relationships
- Balance of large and small group, Breakout rooms
- Speech and communication strategies, Intentional connections (sharing items)
Supporting Emergent Bilinguals
- Dedicated breakout group
- Words in home languages