I was a classroom teacher and administrator for almost 20 years and taught several grade levels–middle school, grade 3, grade 4… but my all-time favorite was Kindergarten. That was probably because I have a lot in common with 5-year-olds. I am attention deficit, hate to listen, and I don’t like to be still…so we get along just fine.
It has been just a couple of years since I was in the classroom, but I make a point of keeping in touch with so many teachers I’ve met throughout my career. Our usual conversations revolve around what are they currently teaching, how are students changing, and how are they adapting to the different needs of students. However, those conversations all changed this spring when COVID-19 upturned everything we know, or at least was comfortable with when it came to education. When the quarantine first started, a kindergarten teacher friend named Darcie called me in a panic and said, “Don… what am I going to do?! I’ve got to teach my kids virtually 30 minutes a day, five days a week. What am I going to do?” Her stress was evident, and it got me thinking. What would I do if I were still in the classroom?
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My first thought went back to how we functioned. Remember, my kindergarteners and I had a lot in common. We liked to focus for only short periods of time before moving on to something else. We hated being still for more than 10 minutes. We were easily distracted if things got dull. Being on a Zoom or Hangout wasn’t going to change that! After a good amount of brainstorming, I told Darcie to go with what you know works for our youngest learners, but adapt it to this new digital environment. Engage your students with a predictable routine, short segments of instruction, and time to move their bodies.
Darcie’s 30-minute virtual class might look something like this:
- Start with a sentence starter like “Good morning! Today is ________________. (fill in the blank for students to answer in unison on the virtual call)
- date, month, time
- The weather is __________.
- Then, conduct a read-aloud/shared reading with the words or pages shared on the screen. Stick with something short like a poem or a text with short sentences.
- Put one think-aloud comprehension strategy in there and finish the text.
- Then, do an echo read, read along, or a choral read (alternating teacher read, student read, girls read, boys read)
- Wrap up with a quick close read question.
- Since students have been focused on the reading for a while, it’s time to mix it up. Do a scavenger hunt. Give them 30 seconds to find an object in their house that starts or ends with “t”. Let them all show on the screen what object they found.
- Next, move to a math activity with another scavenger hunt. This time, find something in your house that is a rectangle. Or square. Or circle.
- Keep things moving by having them do a rainbow writing. Use a high-frequency word. You write the word, have them say it, have them write it on their own paper, and then trace it with several colors of crayons. Have everyone hold up their beautiful word art!
- End the session with a review of what they did on the call to work on sequencing and signal words like first, next, after.
- Finally, give an interactive assignment for tomorrow’s call such as “Bring 6 rocks to the call tomorrow. Practice sorting them in different ways and be able to share how you sorted them”.
My other suggestion for Darcie was to support parents with quick, hands-on learning opportunities, such as:
- Have your child gather sticks and twigs from the yard, and direct them to build shapes (“Build a square. Build a triangle.”). Or have the kids make shapes and have the parents identify the shape they created.
- Parents can take those same twigs and sticks and give children directions to build things. Use this as an opportunity to reinforce positional words. (“Draw an arrow pointing left. Put the big stick over the small stick.”)
- Another activity is a guided drawing, where the parent gives the child verbal directions on how to draw a picture. This is great for practicing listening skills and vocabulary words.
- Suggest that families take a walk in the neighborhood and look for certain shapes or objects that start with a certain sound or letter. (“How many things can we see that start with b?”)
- Take a box or can, and give the child a sharpie to find letters, words, or numbers on the labels.
Ultimately, I told Darcie to remember that making the change to remote learning is WAY more difficult for adults than children. Kindergarteners are resilient, so don’t be afraid to change things that aren’t working. Kindergarteners are forgiving, so don’t worry about making mistakes. And kindergartners really just want to connect with the teacher they love, so keep loving those little learners.
To hear more ideas for kindergarten distance learning, including avoiding the summer slide, transitioning to first grade, and preparing upcoming kindergartens, listen to Don’s podcast on Apple, Google, or Spotify and be sure to subscribe for updates!
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— Savvas Learning (@SavvasLearning) April 16, 2020