Teaching remotely has its challenges, and we are all doing the best we can with what we have. My plan going forward is to be more prepared. I guess you could call it a mid-year resolution. I feel best when I know how to be ready for what happens next, and although there was no way to predict COVID-19, there is a way to help me better my teaching practices for the future.
One thing is for certain. Education is forever changed. There was already a push for blended learning (technology integration) to enhance learning for children. Done effectively, it is a great option for teaching. In the classroom, technology has changed the face of kindergarten. We have 20+ kids for 7 hours a day. You’ve heard the term, herding cats, well that is pretty accurate at the start of the year, and even mid-year! Kindergarten is the best grade to teach, but man it comes with a set of challenges beyond COVID-19.
In kindergarten, independence is a word we aspire to for the end of the year. It is a word that is the holy grail of education. It is the word that when I say it, I see heaven and a cloud coming down with the Lord and angels singing in unison. This is my prayer. Independence. I bet in COVID-19, you are seeing the word as the same way, I do. I can hear the chorus now!
Before I crush our dreams, let me tell you that some semblance of independence is achievable in kindergarten, and there are ways to do this. Now for the heart-crushing reality, there is no independence in kindergarten. Much of what they do relies heavily on the supports they have in place, the dialogue, talking, interactivity, social and play-based learning opportunities.
So, why am I talking about independence if it isn’t achievable? Well, there is a part of it that is, as long as we weave it between accountability and direct instruction. Kids will need you, the teacher, parent, sister, brother, auntie, uncle to thrive. They do need this, but they don’t need you at their beckon call 24-7. They can achieve a level of independence between tasks that allow you to catch your breath, do the dishes, clean up the classroom, meet with another child, or do some work of your own!
If we are going to keep our sanity, and prevent burnout (if you’re not already there), then we need to teach early learners age-appropriate, developmentally-appropriate independence.
Age Appropriate and Developmentally Appropriate: What does this mean?
It means you can’t or shouldn’t expect a kindergartner to be on the computer for longer than 20 to 30 minute increments. You should look at your child’s age, and developmental level before determining what is an appropriate expectation for your child. The recommended minute amount is for the most mature kindergartner. If your child is six, but has the developmental level of a four year old, then you might only expect 5-10 minutes on the computer.
Make a learning sandwich: have children do an applicable activity in-person, hand-on, technology-free first, then do some tech-time with that subject. To maximize learning, use technology as learning breaks, to break up and practice learning skills. For example, have a child practice writing a sentence. Then, play sentence songs on YouTube. Then, go back and edit their writing, and finish with a grammar song on YouTube. Another example, would be to complete some hands-on learning games, such as memory with sight words, then practice reading their sight words with YouTube, then another round of memory, then lastly, some time on Starfall.com. You can increase independence, by creating your routine, then using cue cards or picture cards to have children practice. Use a timer. You can have children exchange their cue card with you for a new cue card and sticker after each completed activity. Being creative is essential!
Hold kids accountable: whatever activity a child does, hold them accountable. Position yourself close enough to children, but far enough that you can get done what you need to. Accountability on technology is less invasive. Let programs like DreamBox and Raz-Kids tell you where children are at. Hold them accountable (in the moment) to the paper-pencil, in-person, tactile games, projects and assignments. You can still look at the data from Raz-Kids and DreamBox, and remind children to go back and take the quizzes, etc. later. The technology is the nugget, to get the direct instruction complete!
Include Brain Breaks: We all need them. I need them. Staring at a computer screen, meeting with kids remotely, answering emails, etc. is exhausting. Go for a walk, have children do some exercises for the day, play an exercise video, whatever breaks up the learning to help keep you going.
Have snacks preplanned and ready to go! There’s nothing worse than getting into the grove of a learning activity or work, and then getting that rumbling or for me, that shaking that indicates I’ve waited too long to eat. Have snacks preplanned and ready to grab and eat. Let it be fairly clean, so that if you are working near technology or projects, it won’t leave soil marks. Or, at the very least, have napkins ready to go as well.
Rome wasn’t built in a day! Start with smaller expectations and gradually add time and activities as your child is more comfortable. Be consistent and encouraging. Offer incentives (not always technology-related)!
Limit Technology: So after talking a lot about integrating technology appropriately within the day, it also means that in order for the independence to work, you need to limit other technology. If children play video games all day on a Saturday, and after school is done, they will get technology-burn out and your carrot will not be as enticing. Therefore, they won’t get the in-person, applicable work finished in order to get to the technology. Limit gaming to an hour (max) for kids. This way, children will be motivated to learn and continue growing academically so you can get done what you need to during the day.