There is lots of material – articles, podcasts, scholarly papers, newspaper articles and the list goes on – about online learning: the challenges, the benefits, the creative opportunities, and resources for educators, parents and students. Most of this is aimed at primary, secondary and, to some degree, tertiary students.
But what does this space look like for the early childhood community? We are left with many questions about how to effectively continue to educate and care for pre-school-aged children during remote learning. What is possible for young children when everyone is working from home or learning from home? How many devices are there in a family and should young children be on a device? If yes, for how long, and how is it managed? It certainly presents a different set of challenges than older students.
Does online learning work for under-fives?
When we talk about young children’s wellbeing, we are talking about their physical health, their capacity to socialise and ensuring that they feel happy. Connecting is essential for their learning and their wellbeing: connections with people in their family and in the wider community or educational setting as they branch out and extend their social world. These positive interactions not only help children make sense of and master their world, but also significantly stimulate positive connections in the brain for learning.
So, how do we replicate a day of connections on a site-based program to an online program for this age group? The reality that it will not be the same and the opportunity for the spontaneous, play-based social interactions with peers is different.
However, what we have been able to do is to connect regularly several times a day with the children and their parents in planned online conferences. We invite the children to actively participate and to share in familiar routines, such as songs, Welcome to Country rituals, familiar and new stories, fingerplays and discussions. The opportunity to connect online through the Microsoft Teams platform to see other children from their room and their educators is a joy.
We have seen children getting so excited to see their educator on the screen, getting up so close they almost climb into the screen; children waving and chatting to each other; and a conference for under three year olds lasting for 30 minutes with active participation throughout the entire session, in meditation, songs, dances, stories, chats and show-and-tell of LEGO and teddy bears. These successful and engaging sessions show us that our approach is having an impact on the children and ensuring that those essential social connections are still being made.
Clearly for the under-fives it requires a supportive adult in the home to enable the connections to be maintained and we are very grateful to all the older siblings and parents who are juggling so much in their day to enable the ELC learning program to continue and flourish.
Director of ELC Kew