How One Preschool Has Maintained Community and Learning Virtually with Students During Self-Quarantine
The Raleigh School's entire teaching philosophy centers on students playing together and teachers that nurture. So how are TRS teachers engaging preschool students via screens in the COVID-19 era?
"Normally, we rarely—almost never—use screens to teach or engage our young children," Elizabeth G. Gilleland, Ph.D., The Raleigh School's preschool director, says.
However, the COVID-19-era "classroom" looks a lot different than that.
The Raleigh School, located at 1141 Raleigh School Drive, centers its educational practice on the belief that children develop and learn best in a preschool context with a focus on playing in nature with one another, teachers that nurture, and families that get involved.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to North Carolina, it became clear that schools would have to close their campuses, including The Raleigh School (TRS).
"We had a lot of thinking to do and decisions to make," Gilleland says.
Those decisions included:
- Do we close down school as well as the campus?
- Can we maintain our deep community and educational connections with children and families virtually?
- Can we figure out a way to make virtual school meaningful, developmentally appropriate, and appropriately screen-limited for our young children?
After six weeks of thinking, trying, learning, reflecting, and connecting, Gilleland says TRS has surprised even themselves with what they have been able to achieve as a virtual community of children, parents, and teachers.
What Virtual TRS (VTRS) Preschool Looks Like
1. Daily emails from the teacher to parents...
...Explaining the teacher’s intentions and offerings for the day with the children.
These emails also provide child development guidance and curriculum extensions for parents as they partner with teachers from home.
2. A set of daily, short videos...
...Created by teachers specifically for the children in their classes, that:
- help students maintain relationships with and among other children (circle and storytime)
- present interesting content for children to think about (studies, projects, feelings)
- model ideas for play and at-home extensions for learning (imagination games, creating sensory bins, try-this-at-home experiments and art)
3. Feedback mechanisms...
...Where parents submit photos or videos of children engaged in “school-at-home” topics suggested by the teacher.
Then, the teacher creates a video narrating what she sees children doing in the photos/videos and sends it back out to the students.
4. Frequent Zoom chats...
...With teachers and individuals or groups of children in their class.
These chats are specifically structured to help children (and their parents) learn to engage and stay connected with each other virtually in fun and meaningful ways.
5. Regular Teacher and Director availability...
...To offer advice and counsel to parents as needed.
Parents can connect either via individual phone calls to chat or conference or via a group Zoom parent meeting to discuss strategies for raising children in a quarantine situation.
"Although we all prefer and dream of the day when we can come back together on our wonderful campus to play and learn in three dimensions, The Raleigh School way," Gilleland says, "we have created a good practice for laying a virtual bridge ahead of us to keep us connected and learning together until we get there."