Can Virtual Preschool Be Developmentally Appropriate? Tips and Thoughts

In a rush to convert preschool and pre-k programs to online classrooms, we must not lose sight of developmentally appropriate practice. So many programs are requiring their teachers to continue virtual teaching on the internet. Google rooms and Zoom are increasing in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. We know that we should limit screen time for young children and yet the trend seems to be to slip back to using worksheets and asking children to be more passive in watching videos or presentations.

Now is not the time to toss out everything we know about developmentally appropriate practice and play based learning.  

Using technology with young children is not a black or white issue. Used thoughtfully, technology can be a great tool. Turning to apps like Zoom and Google rooms that have long been used for secondary and adult education should not mean that you have to use them in the same manner.

Remember, we know that young children learn best in relationship based care practices. Stated simply, relationships are the “active ingredients” of the environments. We can promote connections and relationships in a virtual setting.

In his article, Beyond Screen Time: Better Questions for Children and Technology in 2020, Chip Donahue asks,” What are the implications of children using technology tools that were designed for adults? “He lists these important considerations:*

  • Old theory informs the use of new tools. The work of Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, B.F. Skinner, Seymour Papert and Howard Gardner, remind us that even as the tools, technologies and context changes rapidly, child development remains constant.
  • Relationships matter most. Fred Rogers taught us that it is not about the technology, it’s about relationships. Educators and parents can select and use interactive media that invites and encourages interactions with others, promotes social emotional learning, enables co-viewing and joint engagement.
  • Early childhood “essentials” are always essential. Play, open-ended materials and manipulatives, large motor activities, time outdoors and social interactions are just as important in the digital age as ever. Educators and parents can avoid displacing or replacing essential early childhood experiences with screen-based technologies. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
  • Proper pedagogy complements technology tools. Young children need support to become makers, media creators and digital storytellers, STEM learners, computational thinking and coders.
  • Technology-mediated family engagement and nudges work. Use tools to enhance family engagement and relationships, help families keep in touch at a distance and strengthen parent-child interactions.

With those considerations in mind, here are a few ways that early childhood professionals are virtually connecting and engaging young children.

  • Start out by just letting them see their friends and their teacher. Give the children ample time to explore the new technology. For your first few times, you may allow them to talk and play around.
  • Most programs require that a parent is in attendance with the child at all times.
  • Just like in a classroom setting, small groups are better, shorter duration is better. Some programs split their group into smaller group groups of 4 or 5 children for a 10 minute session rather than meet with 20 children for 30 minutes or more.
  • Once you start any structured time, you may find it helpful to mute children until you wish for them to interact.
  • Make sure each child has a time to talk, demonstrate or share at least once.
  • Keep it simple, a greeting song, a story and an interactive movement activity or game may be plenty. Just remember not to let it turn into a show and tell on your end.
  • You can send along a list of materials and directions for parents if you wish to try to do a craft of project together.
  • Be creative and ways to engage and interact. Have a virtual picnic or tea time together.
  • Encourage them to get up and move, share a yoga pose or try a short workout routine. Perhaps, Have a dance party
  • One popular activity is scavenger hunts. Asking the children to find and show the group what they found.

Check out our online class: Staying Connected Online Class

*Used with Permission , Entire Article is here:

For Further Reading

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships: Working paper no. 1.

Including relationship-based care practices in infant-toddler care: Implications for practice and policy.

Making Connections. There’s No Such Thing as Online Preschool

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