Providing effective learning and support for young learners
Stephen Walshe and his colleagues Alexis Bucher and Michelle Sun describe how the Fortune Kindergarten in Shanghai is providing distance learning for very young learners during the Covid-19 epidemic.
Supporting home-based learning for the Early Years
The impact of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) created challenges for our kindergarten to come up with an effective means to support our children and families during this uncertain time. Fortune Kindergarten responded by creating active online home-based activities for children, while also engaging children with teachers and classmates to maintain the needed social and emotional connection with their school and teachers.
Programme and Planning
In order to achieve our objectives, as a school we:
- Developed Weekly and Daily plans that maintained our bilingual offering while following our theme-based curriculum.
- Ensured daily schedules were flexible but simulated the school routine as realistically as possible.
- Included video supported activities for Creative Art, Music, PE and Library.
- Organized each class into small groups of 4 children for scheduled daily face-to-face online interaction with classmates and class teachers.
- Arranged for parent class representatives, from our Parent Support Group, to coordinate with class parents to schedule face-to-face online interaction to, as much as possible, fit with families’ schedules.
- Wrote letters to parents to share the above and provide them with schedules and expectations of parent support for online learning.
- Communicated that schedules were flexible, and parents or caregivers could organize activities to suit their particular home schedules.
- As we are a bilingual school, we organised days to be delivered in Chinese, and some in English
Please click on the link below to view schedule
When Home Learning is planned with active engagement as the guiding principle, learning not only engages children, but also provides them with needed emotional support during these trying times. Based on the Home Learning activities we can see children actively engaged in math, face-to-face online group learning with their classmates and teachers, PE, literacy with art, and life-science.
We did not really know what to expect with such young children, but we were really pleased to find that there were many encouraging positives:
- After the first week we found most children aged 30 months to 6 years of age were able to follow and participate in live online learning to practice speaking and listening.
- Scheduled time frames for live online learning that we had planned: 5 minutes per group for the youngest and 20 minutes per group for the 5 to 6-year-olds, worked quite well.
- Encouraging and providing opportunities for each child to speak was essential to getting children involved.
- Sending all learning materials for the day before 9:00 A.M. helped parents and children prepare for the day and allowed them to ask questions if necessary.
- Families welcomed the daily activities prepared by the teachers and followed their own home schedule to complete activities.
- Asking parents to send photos of their child engaging with home learning activities and posting these photos on the Fortune Kindergarten school App to share with the community helped encourage home engagement with daily activities. (The photos in this article were posted on the school App)
What didn’t work
At the beginning of the first week connections were spotty. However, as the week progressed this improved and, after a full week of online learning, it wasn’t a big issue.
One of the big issues we found is grandparents or Ayis (maids) accompanying young children online. This is usually because they do not understand or speak English. During English online time this can cause issues such as not muting the microphone, not understanding directions and/or not understanding the learning time activities for the day. This does not appear to be as big of an issue on Chinese days.
What we are learned
Some of what we learned were about small things, which had a big effect. Other things we learned involved the development of our pedagogy to suit on-line learning. Here are some of the most important lessons we learned:
- Ask parents to turn the camera so that their child is facing the correct direction on the screen, not upside down or sideways.
- The importance for teachers to begin sessions by giving examples (ex: show & tell- The teacher brings their own show & tell and shares first.)
- Encourage and remind parents to give children time to answer during live sessions. In some cases, parents were not giving their child time to think for themselves but were feeding the child the answers. This was especially noticeable with the older children.
- Teachers should not be afraid to re-direct a child who isn’t listening. Call the child back to the screen and remind them they need to listen to their friends just like their friends listened to them. Again, this was noticeable with older children. Even though we are online and feel that we might be guests in someone’s home, we still need to maintain good classroom management.
A work in progress
This, as a school, is what we can do to help families deal with the difficulties they are facing, while still helping children deal with being isolated at home away from their friends and teachers.
However, our on-line programme is still very much a work in progress and, as it looks like Kindergartens will not reopen in March, no doubt we will learn more as we continue with online learning with these young children.
Stephen Walshe, Alexis Bucher and Michelle Sun work at the Fortune Kindergarten in Shanghai, where Stephen and Michelle are co-Principals and Alexis is curriculum-developer.
Support Images: Thank you to the parents from Fortune Kindergarten