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  • Writer's pictureAliza

Teaching Preschool On Zoom

Okay. I am going to do it. I am going to write about this topic. Usually when I write about young children and early childhood education, I have lots to say. I have ideas! I have opinions! I KNOW things.

I have seen other educators post a variety of ideas, techniques, and activities. They have ideas. They have opinions. They know things. But how do they know? Have they done this before?

When it comes to teaching on Zoom, I know about as much about school as a two year old stepping into a classroom for the first time. Of course, after 2 and half months, it got a little easier. We figured out some routines and activities that kept children engaged; many children warmed up to the new technology, and became more talkative; I became more comfortable teaching in front of parents. There were moments, days even, where we were a community of teachers and children playing and talking to each other. We ate snack together, we read stories, we sang songs, we celebrated holidays. My favorite moments were when we managed to be engaged in the same pretend story together. When I pretended to hand a child something, through the screen, they pretended to take it, and the story went on.

Those moments took my breath away, and made me happy. Because when it comes down to it, that it what I do. I play with children. I play like it's my job. When I play with children at school, nothing else in the world matters other than the story, the building, or the drawing that is happening before my eyes.

But there are many things that I miss, and did not manage to recapture on Zoom. I still harbor some hope that the whole "spring of 2020 teaching on Zoom" thing, was a once in a lifetime experience. However, I know that there is a chance that that will not be the case. A Pretty good chance, in fact.

While it was happening, we worked really hard, but had a feeling of, "let's just do the best we can in the middle of this crazy situation." We needed parents to bet there, and we needed to be respectful of their homes, and how much mess kids would make because of our activities. While I think, "Let's Explore Glue!" is a great idea, and, in fact, I have devoted multiple blog posts to this topic, our classroom is set up to allow gluey messes, mistakes, and masterpieces to happen. Everyone's living room? Not so much.

While it was happening, we knew our parents' worlds were turned upside down. All of our worlds were turned upside down, of course, but having adult children now, I know all too well how impossible it must be to shelter in place with young children. And so, we were always mindful of not adding to parents' stress. We tried to avoid excessive emails, phone calls, and meetings. I still believe that was the right decision, but it meant I had to change some of my teaching practice and goals. Because while I came to Zoom school each day with a plan, parents were the ones enacting that vision. And that is limiting, especially without constant parent communications.

I can best illustrate this with an example. Lets'g go back to using glue.

On any given day, as I set up the art table with glue and collage materials, I almost never have a plan for "what we are going to make today." I have a plan for introducing a new material that might be useful in a collage. I might chat with children about the material's shape or other characteristics. Can it be folded, curled, stacked, bent?

Meanwhile, the art shelf is set up with other materials that the children are free to take at any time. In this way, they might do something else entirely, or find a new way to attach, color, or cut the materials presented before them.

So much of my work is in response to their work.

Furthermore, sometimes the art table is set up to have everything ready, at the child's reach. In that case, I usually want children to focus on working with materials I have planned. Other times, maybe even the next day, I want children to be more involved in directing the process; selecting their tools and their papers, pouring the glue, mixing the paint. How the table is set up, influences how the children will interact with the materials. And we think about and plan all of those things. Whether we tuck chairs into the table, or leave them out can be part of our lesson plan!

I have spent close to 20 years thinking about the art table, experimenting with ways to set up materials, discovering how to guide children's hands to help them perform certain challenging tasks, figuring out how to use my hands to support children so that they can work independently, and learning from other teachers how they accomplish all of the above.

On Zoom, I have had 3 months to perfect my teaching practice.

And so when we have done art on Zoom, we let parents know what materials to have ready that day. They were on it; they were extraordinarily helpful in bringing their children to the screen and directing their children's attention towards us teachers. Every child who adapted Zoom, did so because they had an adult there who cared that they continued to show up and be part of our classroom community.

When it came time to create a collage, I would repeatedly get the question from parents: "So what are we making today? What are the instructions?" Those are perfectly reasonable questions, but definitely not how we approach our work in the classroom.

And in the desire to help make things easy for parents; in a desire to get through this crazy time the best we can; because I did not know how to transfer all my in-person teaching goals onto Zoom; and because I did not know how best to communicate all those goals to parents, I often said, "we are making a collage with stripes and spots, just like the animals we have been talking about. " They liked, and eve needed, specific instructions for how to help their child.

I couldn't, or I just didn't communicate that I do not care what their end product looked like. I don't care if instead of thinking about animals, they were creating a castle using markers instead of glue and paper.What I care about is that when they came up with a plan, they were able to gather the materials they needed, and to work hard until they achieved their plan. I care that when they encountered an obstacle, they could be shown how to solve it, not have it solved for them.

Really? When I look back on this time on Zoom, it was good enough. Usually, most of the children were engaged. Whether a child was in front of the computer on his or her own, whether the adult in the room was showing them how to cut stripes and spots, cutting it out for them, or giving more direct instructions than I would have given, it was good. We were together. Children were playing and creating. They were home surrounded by families caring for them.

And I know that that is the most important thing of all.

But I missed being able to do the things I know how to do well. How to ask questions, how to guide, how to teach, how to play, how to play with others, and how to be really quiet when they did not need me to intervene at all.

And so, in thinking about the year to come, I know that in order to be bring some of what I know how to do to Zoom, I need to think about the role of parents in a new way than I have needed to in the last 2 decades. To think about how to communicate to parents in a succinct and meaningful way. To break down skills into their parts, and think of entirely new ways to teach those skills. And, to let it all go, and think of a whole new set of skills and how to teach them.

In the spring of 2020, we worked hard on fitting our previous model into Zoom. In the fall of 2020, or whenever we may find ourselves in Zoom again, it's time shake the etch-a-sketch, and start with a completely blank screen. That is what I will be doing on my summer vacation. How about you?

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