The Journey of Teaching Toddlers Online

By Rachel Reid

Life as we knew it is now a distant memory. With the shutting of schools, I have constantly been in a state of processing my thoughts and feelings about this new world we are living in. On one hand, especially for an introvert like myself, it’s freeing and relaxing being told to stay at home and avoid contact with other people. I get to spend time with my kids and puppy. I’m home to actually work on my house and cleaning efforts. And I finally have time to do some of my favorite things: writing, gardening, and doing fun projects (like online videos for the toddlers I teach). On the distant other hand, everything is unclear, unpredictable, and somewhat terrifying. Feeling lonely has never sunk as deeply. And being a single mom of a teenaged daughter and a preteen son is alienating and challenging at best.

Then, there’s this new entity that we’re trying to create as an emergency knee-jerk reaction to schools closing. Online preschool. As a toddler teacher, I fully endorse the benefits of group care for both providing supervision for working parents, but also for building language, social and emotional skills. In my line of work, the norm is to strive to always reach higher goals in our own practices. So I also fully embraced online teaching when I was told that schools were closing. This was my way to continue to bring that quality care to the families I work with.

That was at first, when I was still in the metamorphosis phase of staying at home due to COVID-19. The honeymoon phase, in which my schedule flowed with my family’s needs, pressures and deadlines were temporarily lifted, and people were communicating and supporting each other in local communities in ways we never had before. I don’t exactly know what phase to call right now, but the honeymoon has definitely worn off. As schools around the country scramble to provide online education, it brings a lot of questions with it. What is important to be teaching children in a time like this? What are the main goals of education overall, and how can we deliver these outcomes through distance learning? I still don’t think there’s a consensus. But while we’re all still figuring it out, I am appreciating the conversations and debates that are popping up everywhere. And at the same time, being a preschool teacher puts me in the category of people who stand to benefit more from unemployment than working full time.

Now that I have applied for unemployment, I feel a bit more comfortable in my “volunteer” status of working. I am still meeting with coworkers and students in Zoom a few mornings and afternoons a week, as well as staff meetings in evenings (after teachers with young children have put their kids to bed), and making videos inspired by Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street for my students. My role as a mentor for amateur teachers has continued, though I feel more like a television producer than a teacher. Convincing adults to talk to puppets, to record the world around them, to look at everything as a teachable moment, has brought life to our videos. We are all very hopeful that our online classroom is supporting parents in this time, rather than overwhelming them. I’m looking forward to updating my resume to include my new technological skills!

I miss the hugs. The genuine curiosity. The unabashed silliness. The magical face-brightening smiles. I miss the children. And I miss their families. I miss the routine of reminding children to hang up their coats in their cubbies, come into the classroom, wash their hands, and begin to engage in an activity that would then spark discussion, thinking, learning. I miss teaching. Performing is not exactly my strong point, but to reach the children I miss so deeply, I will follow in the footsteps of Fred Rogers and Jim Henson, my lifelong heroes, and provide respectful quality educational videos: the preschool of the times.

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