For so many of us, all around the world, this Coronavirus pandemic has tilted life to an unfamiliar and uncomfortable angle. Life isn’t as it should be. It’s a confusing time, a frightening time and a complicated time. Days take on different meanings depending on what is and is not happening in our lives. Many teachers are struggling to connect with their students as they juggle their personal responsibilites as parents who are home schooling their own children. It’s overwhelming!
As an early childhood consultant I have been trying to imagine how to productively use my time and how I can virtually connect with teachers. Those first weeks of sheltering at home caused my days to stretch on and on. I was feeling like a person without a purpose.
I wondered if there were a few teachers or parents who would like to explore Choice Time with me. I posted a proposal of my Facebook page and waited to see if anyone might be interested. This is what I wrote:
I’m planning to begin an online, Zoom, presentation/conversation with teachers about Choice Time and Inquiry Projects. My idea is to present a Powerpoint and classroom videos. There would be opportunities for discussion. Using Zoom is quite new to me but I’m pretty excited at the prospect of communicating with teachers! It would be appropriate for teachers of Prekindergarten through Second Grade. PM me if you’re interested.
The response was overwhelming. Teachers from all parts of the world responded. How impressive it was for people who were working so hard to continue teaching on line to even consider spending some of their “spare” time joining a Choice Time discussion group.
The conversations the first week focused primarily on play and Choice Time. We explored what free play looks like and how it might be transferred into the classroom. You can watch the first session here: https://vimeo.com/406286992
The second week was devoted to looking at and discussing two different whole class inquiry projects. One study took place in a prekindergarten classroom and the second one took place in a kindergarten class. Both classes were in New York City public schools. You can view the second week’s session here: https://vimeo.com/411393368
The third week was opened up for teachers to share how they were providing Choice Time opportunities for children as part of their virtual teaching.
How can we avoid giving children “tasks” to do? Can we tweak what was originally a task and encourage children to use the same materials in a more explorative and creative way? For example, instead of giving children specific activities to do with 10 stones or buttons, might we challenge them to see if they can create an interesting design or pattern with the stones. Perhaps we could ask them,”What were you thinking about when you created your design? Can you think of ways to move them around to create something new? Would you like to add something to your collection and see what you can make? What kinds of ideas do you have?” This gives the children opportunities to play, explore and use creative, higher-order thinking.
In a recent zoom workshop for prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers, I was asked if I could include ideas for virtual choice time. Not having taught virtually myself, I was reluctant to do this. I wondered if my ideas might not be helpful. I did give it a try and the feedback was positive, so I’ll share some of what I came up with.
- Keep a consistent daily schedule
- Maintain routines that children will become familiar with
- Include songs and chants
- Have a regularly scheduled storytime. Perhaps invite family members and other people in the school who the children know to record a reading of a storybook.
- Perhaps include a question of the day. When this becomes routine, children can come up with a question or wondering for everyone to consider.
•Remember that this is a stressful time for all, teachers, children and parents. Keep the emotional needs of all a priority.•Parents, during virtual teaching and learning, are our partners. Is it possible to have separate group meetings with parents to answer their questions and to tell them what your aims are? This will help them bond as partners in teaching and learning
A Looking Out of My Window book
Ikea posted ideas for making hide-outs.
As a final 2-cents piece of advice, I really would like to urge teachers and parents to ignore any message that children are “falling behind” during this time. Children are naturally curious and they are always learning something. It’s the responsibility of the teacher to observe, listen, support and facilitate children’s learning by understanding what they know, what they’re interested in and to build on that. Vygotsky wrote of the zones of development. Young children need to have the freedom to explore and learn in their Actual Zone of Development, their comfort zone. As teachers, we can gently and perceptively challenge them to stretch into their Zone of Proximal Development. This is where they can experience the excitement discovering new understandings just as this prekindergarten boy did when he proudly blurted out, “I did it!.”