Back in March, when it was becoming increasingly apparent that at least part of the remainder of the school year was going to include remote teaching and learning, we immediately recognized that our school’s biggest challenge was how we were going to engage our youngest children in this new teaching and learning environment. For our students in Grades 4-8, all of whom had been using their own Chromebooks as an educational tool for at least one school year, we had very few concerns. Even our Grade 1-3 students, who had significant in-class experience with the school-owned Chromebooks and who had the literacy skills needed to learn online, were well-equipped to engage in on-line learning. However, we wanted to ensure we had a world-class Remote Learning programme for our Kindergarten students.
The Kindergarten Remote Learning Environment
However, the most significant question was how we were going to meaningfully engage our 3, 4 and 5-year old learners in this remote environment. How would this be even possible? Generally, our youngest students have emerging and modest reading skills and were certainly not used to reading extensive instructions or passages on a digital device. Furthermore, even though they are very comfortable with using such devices, they are naturally limited in terms of effectiveness and efficiency in using a computer keyboard. Also, and this tends to vary from child to child, younger students tend to have more difficulty than their older schoolmates remaining focused (or sometimes sitting still) for longer periods of time. With these potential limitations in mind, and with the invaluable feedback from our Kindergarten parents, we developed a dynamic and highly effective online programme that maximized engagement for our youngest learners and minimized any technological or developmentally related barriers.
Providing a Sense of Normalcy for Our Kindergarten Students
From the very beginning of this very challenging time, we understood that the social-emotional needs of all of our students, and perhaps more so for our Kindergarten students was at least as important as the Math and Language lessons that they were learning. Implementing lessons on emotions related to their “new normal” and how to combat feelings of boredom and missing their classmates and teachers, enriched each student’s learning experience during these challenging times. Rowntree parents, and especially those of our youngest students, consistently reported that these aspects of our programming were of great benefit to their children: it provided a sense of normalcy; it provided an opportunity to stay connected to their classmates and teachers; and, it provided a nurturing experience.
The Importance of Maintaining Routines
While these ideals were central to all of our remote programming, we specifically knew the importance of maintaining routines for our youngest students and ensuring that, despite their inability to see them in person, their teachers and the other adults at the school continued to genuinely care about them. Morning Circle Time has long been an important part of each of our Kindergarten classroom’s routine and its continuation through the remote teaching and learning programme set the tone each day for our students’ sense of normalcy and connectedness, both of which were absolutely vital for their well-being during the ongoing pandemic. Daily calendar, weather, number and letter review, and “good morning” songs transitioned seamlessly on to our digital platform. Perhaps most importantly, the children were able to continue to see their teachers’ and classmates’ smiling faces and hear the teacher say “Good Morning” to each child, in turn. The delivery of the online academic programme was also tailored, as much as possible, to meet the developmental needs unique to our Kindergarten students.
From the start we did everything possible in order to optimize the online learning of our youngest students, including some of the following:
- Organization of each teaching block beginning with either a live lesson or a teacher-created video, followed by off-screen activities that reinforced the lessons and opportunities for students to check back in and ask questions along the way
- Simplified navigation of the “clickable” daily schedule
- Ongoing individual face-to-face assessments
- Daily “readalouds” and “singalongs” that both reinforced the learning and heightened the students’ sense of connectedness within their classes
- Integration of physical workbooks/worksheets into the learning, so the students could continue to practice pencil-and-paper skills
- Ongoing encouragement of the students to share their talents/passions with their classmates (similar to the Grade 1-8 Passion Project initiative)
- Creative integration of at-home Montessori Practical Life activities (folding, pouring, spooning, scissor skills, etc.)
- Use of innovative, age-appropriate educational apps for reading and math
The Virtual Classroom
While the students and teachers were very happy to continue with their usual daily routines, the speed with which they all adapted to the use of our “virtual classroom” platform was truly extraordinary. Our youngest Rowntree online learners quickly adapted to the muting and unmuting of their microphone as appropriate, and even became proficient in using the Chat feature within the system. Not only did it become a great way for them to interact (ask questions and provide encouragement to their classmates while they were presenting their work), it also provided real-world, real-time opportunities to practice their developing literacy and typing skills.
The remote learning experience of our Kindergarten students was certainly not as easy to deliver compared to what we provided to their older schoolmates (I often used the term “Plug and Play” to describe the ease with which our older grades took to their new learning environment). In speaking with parents, teachers and administrators from other schools, I believe that what we accomplished between March and June was truly extraordinary. I am so proud of the Rowntree Kindergarten teachers and students who demonstrated grit, determination, and 21st Century technology skills in achieving success amidst a most challenging situation.
Please enjoy this video summary of some of the amazing things that happened in our online Kindergarten classroom.
You can also read some of the feedback we received about our Remote Learning in this following post: Best Private School in Brampton.
Mr. Harris, Director of Education