Adapting the magic of your classroom to the virtual space can feel challenging for new and experienced teachers alike. Establishing an effective distance learning program for your preschoolers requires being developmentally appropriate while also being accessible to families.
One way to do this is to create lesson plans that include two different types of learning experiences. The first is the teacher-led group experience, usually held over video call. The second is the at-home activities for parents to set up on their own time.
Keep reading for ideas about how to make the most of both of these learning experiences.
Virtual preschool ideas
Your typical in-person circle time is a good starting point for any virtual experience, though there are some small adaptations you may choose to make. Some things to consider:
- Your preschoolers will learn the basic functionality of whatever video platform you’re using, but it will take some time. Similar to the beginning of the school year when you focus on the basic classroom routines, your virtual classroom will require the same introduction period.
- You’ll need to play an even more active role in mediating the conversation and managing participation.
- Come up with simple substitutes so each child can have a hands-on experience. Children don’t need to have the exact same items to be able to draw, build, create patterns, and make music. Let preschoolers and their parents get creative with what they have available at home.
- While video is critical, the gallery of faces can be overwhelming for young children. As much as possible, keep the focus on one video at a time.
Beyond the logistics, here’s how to think about some of the traditional aspects of circle time and how to make them work in a virtual classroom.
Your best interactive read-alouds translate well to the virtual space, especially if you can use e-books that allow a full screen view of the pictures. An energetic reading with voices, open-ended questions, and prompts to guess what comes next will keep your preschoolers engaged, while also supporting important early literacy skills.
As opposed to cooking in person, a virtual cooking activity might feel a little like you’re hosting your own cooking show. Create a visual recipe so your kids can follow along with the ingredients and steps. Invite them to mime what you’re doing each step of the way, and count along with you as you add ingredients. Describe how the texture changes at each step and give a close up with the camera.
Ideas for homemade musical instruments are truly endless. A paper towel roll can be a drumstick, a plastic bottle filled with rice can be a shaker, and a metal mixing bowl can be a drum. Encourage your little ones to get up and show you their dance moves on camera. The bonus of being in separate homes is kids have more room to themselves, and they won’t be knocking into each other as they bounce, wiggle, move, and shake.
Slide show games
You likely have an arsenal of games you played at circle time in person. “What’s Missing?” is a common example. In the in-person version of this game, you select 4-5 objects (those colorful rubber counters work well). After going over each object aloud (“We have a red bus, a yellow fire truck, an orange car, a green plane, and a purple helicopter,”) you place a cloth over top to hide them. You then reach under to discreetly remove one object from the group. When you lift the cloth and reveal the remaining objects, the goal is to figure out which object you took away.
This could pretty easily be recreated using a free online tool like Google Slides. Instead of the physical objects, you can use pictures of objects. Instead of hiding with a cloth and physically removing one of the items, you can change slides. Click through for an example of what this might look like.
Virtual snack time
One of the most challenging things to replicate in the virtual space is the more casual social interaction that a typical preschool day allows. You may include snack time as part of your virtual time together. This can both help reinforce a predictable schedule at home, while also giving your class some time to socialize. Depending on the size of your class, you may divide the snack times into smaller groups so that a conversation might be possible. You may want to bring some prompts or open-ended questions to seed the conversation.
At-home learning ideas
Providing ideas for play and learning activities that kids can do at home helps ensure learning continues, while also giving parents ideas for what to do with their young children. These types of distance learning lesson plans are a bit like teaching a parent how to be a preschool teacher. With that in mind, an important feature of any home learning idea is to share the why behind the idea—what is a child learning in this activity? Here are some learning ideas that can translate to home.
There are a variety of ways to create a small sensory bin using rice, sand, flour, shaving cream, or soapy water, just to name a few. Give families a lot of options for how to make a sensory bin so it’s accessible for all.
Sensory bins give children the opportunity to practice hand-eye coordination, build the hand strength necessary for holding a pencil, explore cause and effect, and practice self-regulation.
Recipes for play dough, gloop, or floam
You probably have a collection of recipes to make homemade doughs. The first activity can be following the recipe, and then you can share a series of activities that make use of the end result.
Sample play dough activities:
- Hidden gems: Hide marbles or other small items in play dough for your child to find.
- Cutting play dough: Using scissors to cut play dough is great practice for manipulating scissors
- Play dough shapes: Draw shapes on paper and invite your child to use playdough to create the outline of the shape or fill it in entirely
- Pretend cooking play dough: Pull out a few kitchen items to play with the playdough (bowl, spoon, spatula, whisk, mixing cup, etc.) in a pretend cooking scenario.
Play dough develops the fine motor muscle control required for all sorts of activities from writing to buttoning your jacket to using a fork and knife, and even tying your shoes. It’s also powerful for emotional regulation, giving kids a safe place to work through their feelings.
Ways to burn energy indoors
There are going to be days when your preschoolers are climbing up the walls of their homes. Share some of your secret tricks for those days, like making a playlist of your class’ favorite action songs, games that can be played with balloons, indoor obstacle courses, paper plate skating, etc.
Children require opportunities for big muscle play everyday. Physical play improves attention and focus, quality of sleep, and overall health.
There are many activities you can suggest that connect to household chores, and provide a way for the parent and child to work on something together. Sorting laundry is a prime example of this. Preschoolers can sort through clean clothes, match up socks, and help their parents while they’re at it.
Sorting and comparing are foundational math skills. They give children the opportunity to explore relationships and attributes, as well as how rules apply to sets.
Building with anything
If you’re concerned your children don’t have their own wooden blocks or legos at home, empty boxes, jars, and paper towel rolls can be turned into building materials. Encourage families to send you pictures of their children’s creations!
Building with blocks allows for the natural exploration of all sorts of math concepts, including: balance, symmetry, size, order, length, pattern and weight. Blocks also allow for symbolic thought (ie: this block is a phone).
ABC’s and 123’s
While the “academic” part of preschool is only a small portion of any day, it often carries outsized weight for parents. Without overwhelming parents, you can and should send along ideas for how to support early math and early literacy. Share rhyming games, reminders to set aside time every day for reading, and conversation prompts for the dinner table to encourage literacy learning. For math, you can suggest cooking projects, shape walks, scavenger hunts, and block-building activities.
Parents and virtual preschool
While the goal of your virtual preschool should be to limit the required parent support as much as possible, you’ll still want to make parent communication a top priority. The better informed they are about your expectations, the better your parents will be able to support their kids. The brightwheel app makes it incredibly easy to communicate with parents on an ongoing basis. You can share the lesson plan with the click of a button, including necessary links or passwords to join video calls, tips for success, required materials, as well as follow up activities.
Strong communication will ensure all families feel supported and in control of their child’s learning. And at the end of the day that’s what matters most: we’re fulfilling our role in guiding children’s learning.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at www.mybrightwheel.com.