We don’t need to tell you what a cluster-you-know-what remote learning was last spring, especially for preschoolers. They can barely watch an entire episode of Muppet Babies without tuning out, let alone a day on Zoom. If last spring was a testament to anything, it’s that virtual school is really, really hard, and especially for toddlers. But, as the thought of remote schooling continues to be a reality for most U.S. families moving into the fall, how do we cope? And, if the entire idea behind preschool is socialization rather than “ABC’s” learning, then what on earth will remote learning actually do?
“For young children, it’s tricky to recreate authentic peer-to-peer interactions, Rhian Evans Alvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children told learning site Ed Surge. “I mean, how do you recreate a playdate at the park?”
As the New York Times reported, some parents are taking it on themselves to create small pods for IRL learning, or at the very least, peer-to-peer interacting. Facebook groups and Slack chains abound with desperate parents trying to line up something among kids of the same general age and neighborhood. According to the same story, services are starting to match families with teachers as well as organize pods. In early July, the website Selected For Families launched to connect families with professional teachers and tutors. Of the first 60 families that filled out registration forms, 46 percent were inquiring on behalf of learning pods, according to the company. Schoolhouse provides a similar service.
“The future is highly uncertain because there is so much that we don’t know yet, but it’s beginning to look like most programs are keeping classrooms closed, parents keeping young children home even where classrooms are open, and parents having the primary responsibility,” says Dr. Steve Barnett, co-director at the National Institute for Early Education. “Many parents are looking for alternatives–nannies, private preschools, private “pods” with teachers hired for several families, new versions of the old parent cooperative and other makeshift arrangements. Others are likely looking for friends and family who can help if they have to work outside the home.”
According to Dr. Barnett, the benefits of preschool center around cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical learning, all of which is difficult to provide remotely unless the parent “essentially replicates all the activities of the preschool including play arrangements with other children,” he says. “The risks are greatest for those whose parents have little education, don’t speak English, must work outside the home or who have jobs that require long hours even if working from home, and who do not have the money to buy private programs to replace public ones. Also at risk are children with disabilities who likely will not receive the services required to help them maximize their potential.”
We asked Dr. Moira Dillon, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University who specializes in infant and child cognitive development, how to recreate the learning experience at home. She says that preschool STEM curriculums around the world are often inspired by the idea that young children learn best from exercising their everyday intuitions about numbers, shapes, and the natural world in social settings. Below, she outlines a few ideas for how families can bring preschool to the home:
Dr. Dillon's At-Home Guide to Preschool Education
Get In The Mix….
Sign up for some of the preschool programming offered by the National Museum of Mathematics. Classes are pay-if-you-can and first-come, first-served.
Learn about and even contribute to the science that explores how young minds develop. Many research labs now offer short, fun games accessible from any home computer with an internet connection. There is likely even compensation for participating. Dr. Dillon’s lab has several studies available for infants and children accessible to families at any time, without an appointment. And, Children Helping Science is a comprehensive resource for such studies for children of all ages; including on topics beyond STEM learning, like language development, social development, and motivations for school learning.
Add It Up…
Practice linking every numerical and spatial experiences to the number words and shape names that young children learn in school. For example, ask your child for “two cookies” instead of just “two.” Or even ask: “Can I have one cookie and one cookie more? Can I have two cookies all together?” Just make sure to keep it light and fun – no need for memorization or tests (there will plenty of that in school in the future!).