Online Teaching Tips for Preschool, Kindergarten and Early Elementary Educators
A couple weeks ago, Nathaniel’s former Kindergarten teacher, Jackie Boyle, reached out to me to talk about online teaching.
I was really excited to chat with her. It meant that I got to (virtually) hang out with Jackie (from now on, known as Ms Boyle), a generally amazing ICT and Early Ed teacher in the Brooklyn public school system. In addition to being a beloved teacher, Ms Boyle is also a Yogi and animal rights activist. She organizes beach clean-ups on Coney Island with the kids and often has hair in brilliant hues – much to the admiration of her young charges. Ms. Boyle has been known to slip my nature-loving-son Audubon field guides in the hallway, even though she taught him several years ago. Needless to say, I was looking forward to hanging out on Zoom.
But most importantly, talking with Ms Boyle meant I got to reflect on ways the work at Child’s Play NY could translate into the academic classroom. I appreciated that she had gathered questions from her educator-peers around online teaching. The points raised were (and are) representative of some of the concerns facing educators in this new landscape.
Into the mix, I enlisted Alla Ilyasova, a former Pre-K teacher herself, and the lead teacher of Child’s Play NY’s early education classes and camps. My respect for Alla – and the magic she weaves in the classrooms she works in – knows no bounds. Together, she and I answered questions surrounding:
- Ways to create positive and playful routines r
- The structure of a typical 45 minute class
- Ideal class length, size and strategies to handle break-out rooms
- Creative ways to help challenging behavior while on Zoom
- Strategies to empower kids within the virtual classroom
- Parent communication
- Resources to use to make the class engaging and dynamic
I offer up our conversation below as professional development for classroom teachers, paras, parents and others who are finding their way (aren’t we all!) in the virtual classroom and online teaching.
School teachers are facing an unprecedented year in districts that have woefully underprepared them. In New York City, the Mayor and Chancellor have kicked it over to the principals to determine how to re-open. There has been little to no support for the remote teaching expected of many.
I am hopeful that our conversation can support others looking for tips for online teaching. If you would like clarity around any of the topics we discussed, don’t hesitate to be in touch. Additionally, if you think your school or institution would benefit from a tailored consultation or PD, please reach out – I’d love to hear from you!
Zoom as a Playful Mirror
Here we talk about why Zoom is like a playful mirror. Alla and I offer up some ways to set-up the virtual classroom so it is a fun space to come into, including sharing our favorite ice-breaker: “Nose In”. We offer tips on ways to empower kids – even the shy ones. Additionally, we go over routines on zoom that have worked for our classrooms.
In a Zoom room, it’s quiet and awkward so: How do you make that space playful and silly so it will hook them and get them excited? Like if they know they will play “Nose In” or someone will have a puppet or something. Just to think about that “hook in” right away.
– Jocelyn Greene
Class Timing and Movement Breaks for Online Teaching
Here, Alla and I answer questions around the ideal timing for a Zoom class for Preschool and Kindergarten. Also, we discuss breakout rooms and tips for making the younger set understand how to access them. There’s tips for screen-sharing fun stuff for the kids. Finally, we chat about movement games and songs that work well for the classroom!
A lot of kids won’t get up unless you let them know that it’s time to stand up and stretch out and to make some room to move around. Or you turn on music – because it really does wonders.
– Alla Ilyasova
Parent Communications and Empowering Imaginations
Here we talk about how “less is more” when asking parents to come up with materials. You can unburden parents of responsibility to source stuff ahead of time. We suggest making it about the imagination and seeing what kids can come up with spontaneously during the class. Additionally, we talk about how to handle muting and break-out rooms.
I like the idea of doing it in the moment, letting the kids be in control and empowered to find this item, imaginary or real.
– Jackie Boyle
A Typical 45 Minute Class
Here we describe a 45 minute class. We talk about:
- “Quests” or “missions” that can ground the arc of the class
- ways to use story and storytelling to provide a through-line for the playing and learning.
- How screen sharing a letter from a character can add dimensionality to the work
- Using movement moments to support emotional literacy.
Finally, we share an anecdote about our teachers in quarantine and the magic of a black sock as a puppet.
When you guys were talking it made me think, “Okay, maybe one day of the week is a quest, and instead of it being fully theater based maybe we are drawing pictures along the way, and then the next day it’s a making up characters kind of things.” It’s the limitless possibilities that connect back to the standards for writing and reading. So, this feels good.
– Jackie Boyle
Zoom Games to Build Community
That feeling of togetherness can still exist even though we are in our own little worlds and rectangles. And sometimes, with little kids especially, it takes saying other people’s names and looking at each other’s faces to actually feel that.
– Alla Ilyasova
We talk about how to use virtual backgrounds to create a magical sense of place. This will help when you do dramatic play games like “store” or “pet vet”. The community building games are so important while we are learning distanced. We also share about a favorite game: “I got you something!”
One of the standards that exists from Pre-K up until high school is “speaking and listening”…Taking time to listen is a skill that truly takes time and that’s a great way to start it.
– Jackie Boyle
Classroom Control and Norms – and Being Kind to Yourself
The beauty of it is that in the classroom when the kid is having a really hard time and needs a break often they really don’t know how to soothe themselves because they are in the classroom with people they might not want to be surrounded by. On Zoom, they are in their own homes so for them to be able to walk away and get a snack and grab a toy, it might actually be a quicker process. It sounds daunting and overwhelming, but it is actually kind of easier.
– Alla Ilyasova
There are creative ways to help manage the classroom over Zoom. We talk about limit-setting and relaxing expectations across the board. We also talk about supporting kids with IEPs and English-language learners in this virtual setting.
I’m in the yoga world, and just that idea of being kinder to yourself the expectations that we put on ourselves daily and when they aren’t met we get really intense on ourselves. And I think that is great advice that a lot of our teachers need. It’s a crazy time in history so how we show up for it will be really interesting.
– Jackie Boyle
This idea of lowering expectations – but raising your presence – we owe to Nicole Brewer, whose Anti-Racist Theater Training seminar both Alla and I attended. As we mindfully approach distance learning, I encourage all my fellow educators out there to un-burden yourselves of the onus for the experience to be perfect. It is a deeply challenging time we are living in and classroom teachers are true heroes. Anything you do to inspire community and joy in these times – even as you teach in an academic setting – will be a boon to your students.
I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions, concerns or want more support around online teaching training.