Preschool is practically synonymous with hands-on learning: play dough, finger-paints, mud kitchens, Magna-tiles. For 3- and 4-year-olds, school is all about exploring the physical world, fine-tuning motor skills, making (and cleaning up) a mess, developing social connections.
When schools closed last month in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, we wondered, How in the world could preschool go remote?
It turns out, our local early educators aren’t letting a global pandemic get between them and their little learners.
We asked two teachers at Middlebury’s Quarry Hill School — Su White and Rini Lovshin-Smith — about how their team has made the transition to remote learning. Here’s what they had to say.
(And stay tuned for more interviews with local early childhood educators.)
MiniBury: How are you engaging with students remotely?
Rini: We have a closed Facebook page that the teachers post to every weekday.
Su: Children and families are responding with pictures and feedback. It’s been fun and interactive. We share links to virtual field trips, concerts and other activities created for preschoolers. Scavenger hunts have been popular as well as songs and read-alouds. We’ve created a Soundcloud playlist of teachers singing Quarry Hill songs.
We are reaching out to each family individually by phone, email or video chat weekly. Maintaining our connections with children and their families, as well as each other, has been so important. We’ve recently begun scheduling drive-bys to drop off projects and materials to students as well as deliver their artwork that had been hanging on the walls at school when we closed. These real-life moments have been SO well received. Teachers and children alike are so excited to see one another!
We also are sending bi-weekly emails to parents with articles, thoughts, and supports. Topics have ranged from child development, screentime, navigating challenging behaviors and worries, and establishing rhythms that might be successful during this time of quarantine.
We realized early on that some families and parents needed or wanted input as they transitioned to a schedule at home with their children. For most of us, this prospect was was huge and overwhelming!
MiniBury: What did you feel when you realized that schools would be canceled?
Su: Our immediate feeling was relief — that a decision had been made to ensure the health and well being of our community by closing our schools.
Rini: But then our new reality started to kick in. By this I mean moment by moment communication from the state about what was happening and how it would affect everyone and thinking about how to stay connected with children and families.
As this new way of being set in, it was definitely sad. It’s sad to know that this group of children for the 2019-2020 school year may not be together again. It feels very unfinished and disappointing, even though it’s the safest decision to have the schools closed right now.
MiniBury: Where did you turn for guidance, inspiration, support in deciding how to proceed?
Rini: We use each other for support and processing, as well as figuring out different methods of staying in contact with families. We also got input and suggestions from parents about ways to stay connected. It seems to be ever evolving and unfolding.
Su: As the director, I have the added support of our region’s wide Early Childhood support network that has been meeting weekly to share concerns, finding common understanding in the changing guidance from the state, and to develop position statements together about how school closures and ensuing government responses are supporting and challenging our profession.
This group provides leadership and a platform for a strong early childhood system in our county. Our region is very fortunate to have such forward-thinking and brilliant women running and maintaining the Early Childhood programs that provide amazing care and education for our young children.
MiniBury: What have been the biggest challenges for you so far as an educator during this uncertain time?
Rini: Not seeing the children and families in person. That has been the hardest part. As early childhood educators we thrive on interactions and investigations with children, it’s what gives us joy and inspiration. To get it through a screen is quite different then in the moment. There’s less improvisation, curiosity, and authenticity. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy seeing their faces and hearing their voices, because of course we do! It’s just very different.
Su: Figuring out what might be best for the children came pretty naturally. The format is strange and new and not what we ever would have imagined, but staying connected with our students is going well.
Figuring out how to best provide support and resources for families and parents has been more challenging. While we know everyone, it is completely new territory to provide the various things that might be helpful in supporting them in creating experiences for their children at home!
MiniBury: Any unexpected bright spots in all this?
Su: The connections. The available technology supports us making connections. The format is different and has a learning curve, but is available to most everyone. For this I am grateful.
Pre-COVID statewide meetings meant committing to travel — sometimes long distances. During this period I am involved in statewide and region-wide work from home. I am more regularly and deeply engaged in this process and know that many of us are.
The Quarry Hill teaching team is meeting and connecting more regularly with intention and focus. We are having one-on-one connections with families and parents that were not part of a regular routine. These connections provide opportunities that can inform and redefine our practices when we begin regular programming again.
For many families, this extended period of time at home is something they have never had before. With the arrival of spring in Vermont, families are outside making discoveries together and are nurtured by the natural world.
While daunting and overwhelming at times, this time — this pause — may be healing medicine we didn’t know we needed. I hope as the pandemic subsides and we re-emerge from our homes we will create a NEW normal that considers possibilities that the stay-at-home orders have highlighted.
MiniBury: What would you say to overwhelmed parents who feel they are falling behind on remote learning?
Rini: As hard as this time is for parents and caregivers, one of the amazing things about children is that learning is inherent. They will find authentic moments to learn from every day.
This is a time to let them play and be children. They will not be behind when school starts again, they are getting an opportunity to learn through life experiences.
Keep playing with your kids, watching them, and letting them be children.
Su: You are enough. Everything you do for and with your children is enough. Young children LOVE to learn — they do it like breathing, and your presence in this process is such a gift. They love connections, and spending these days with them is something we never would have had the opportunity to capture otherwise.
Celebrate the moments that are successes. They are the positive building blocks of this strange and crazy time. If you are overwhelmed, let teachers know. Plan with them ways that may make things more manageable and enjoyable for everyone in your family. Your input and feedback helps teachers know how to support you as best as they can.