COVID-19 and Online Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a crisis in education in general, but particularly for the education of young children. As schools have closed to contain the spread of the virus, the virtual learning environments educators have heroically been navigating to connect with their students are, unfortunately, limited in their ability to support the ways that young children learn. Because the science of early learning informs us that young children learn best through active, multi-modal learning experiences – with materials, other children, and adults – having young children sit in front of a computer to listen and to watch others talk and do things does not provide the hands-on interactions that are required for young children’s optimal learning. Adult caregivers in the family home are left to supervise and teach while also being responsible for completing the work of their jobs. Many do not have the materials at home to support the projects and activities – i.e., blocks, manipulatives, art materials, etc., – that are the foundational tools of young children’s learning. Many do not have the technological equipment and internet connections to tap into what schools and childcare centers offer (both of these factors disproportionately affecting women and those from low-income communities). And many do not understand that the way many of us were “taught” when we were children – by being told things – is an outmoded method that does not provide the experiences children need to help them construct understandings of the ideas and skills being presented. 

While we are pleased to see that NYC centers that serve young children are approved to reopen soon, we hope that this means that the educators working in them will be treated as “essential workers” who are provided with the resources needed to operate safely and who are compensated fairly for their critical contribution. Because we know it will likely be a long haul before all centers and schools will reopen in full force, and that there will still likely be a mix of in-person and online learning, in what follows we share some of the teaching we have become aware of that attempts to address some of young children’s unique and critical needs: for understanding of their feelings and what they do or don’t understand; for learning experiences that utilize the resources found in most homes; and for activities that offer the children some opportunities for active, hands-on endeavors.

To begin, we share some resources from pediatricians, developmental scientists, and educators about how the pandemic can impact young children’s development:

Next, we feature the work of some notable teachers’ efforts to address children’s understandings and/or misunderstandings of what is happening to the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The COVID-19 health crisis has changed life as we know it. Schools are closed. Children are not able to see and play with their friends. The adults in their lives are working from home or leaving them with others to work out in the world in stressful jobs. Young children may not understand what is going on – why their routines have changed, why they can’t go to school, why the grown-ups around them are upset. Additionally, they may not have a full understanding of their feelings or the ability to communicate their feelings in words. This can mislead the adults in children’s lives to believe that the children have not been affected by what’s going on. Or – because we adults are focused on our own adjustments to the crisis, we may not be able to notice the subtlety of children’s emotional expressions.

To help them, we first need to understand that children’s reactions to a crisis are often related to how the adults in their personal lives are coping with that crisis. Regardless of how scared or upset we are feeling, our job with young children is to let them know – through our words and our actions – that we are going to do whatever we can to help them feel safe and secure. Here are some guidelines to help us do this: 

• Talk to children about what is happening. Start with what they know, what they have heard, or what they understand.

• Begin by providing them only with the most basic information about what is happening. Wait for their specific questions to add other details.

• Listen and observe. Respond with empathy about their concern rather than minimize or exaggerate what they may be feeling. 

• Allow yourself to express emotions. Children can tell when adults are authentic in their communications, especially by the tone of voice and nonverbal behavior. 

• Keep the focus on the children and their experience. Share with them strategies that you and others have found helpful to deal with challenging situations.

• Offer reassurance and your commitment to do everything you can to take care of them, to help them, and to keep them safe. 

• Realize that just because you have discussed the situation once, that you may not be done. More questions and concerns will arise over time. Try to remain accessible, concerned, and connected.

VIDEOS

Here are some examples of Pre-K teacher Lydia Jeong’s efforts to explain the COVID-19 crisis to her class and to talk about their concerns through read-alouds that she shared virtually throughout the weeks of the COVID-19 crisis:

Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry MacLean

The Kindness Book by Todd Parr

A Letter to Amy by Ezra Jack Keats

One of Lydia’s colleague’s created the book at the link below for families to read together with their children: 

This School Year Was Different

And here are several puppet show videos created by Pre-K teacher Glenn Peters that offer another approach to addressing children’s feelings: 

Bebe Kingdom: Episode I

Bebe Kingdom: Episode II – Everything is Yuck

Dr. Susan Linn also offers another way to help children understand what is happening and how they are feeling in her videos from Defending the Early Years:

Dr. Susan Linn and Audrey Duck Talking about the Coronavirus

Audrey Duck tells Dr. Susan Linn “I’m Tired of the Virus!”

CONTENT LEARNING

One way to support children’s learning is to focus on an extended study that includes books (read by the teacher through videos) and follow-up activities that children can do. Head Start teacher Elsie Figueroa put together these series for the children in her class: 

Studying Plants

Parts of a Seed

Different Types of Seeds

Growing Salad

Parts of a Plant

Measuring Onions

Here is a set of read-alouds from Kindergarten teacher Evangeline Greene about shadows:

Studying Shadows

Guess Whose Shadow?

Moon Bear’s Shadow

Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow

FIELD TRIPS

Cultural institutions all over the world are making their resources available on line.  Teachers can invite children to tour these and then hold discussions about the trip and have children draw a picture and/or write/dictate something about what they saw.

Here are a few virtual tours of zoos and aquariums around the country:

  • American Museum of Natural History: Virtual Fieldtrip to the Butterfly Conservatory
  • Atlanta Zoo: The Georgia Zoo keeps a “Panda Cam” livestream on its website.
  • The Bronx Zoo: The Zoo has livestreams of the sea lions, lemurs, and the aquatic bird house with scheduled feedings every day. Also links to the New York Aquarium’s livestream.
  • Cincinnati Zoo: Check in around 3 p.m. when the Zoo holds a daily Home Safari on its Facebook Live Feed.
  • Georgia Aquarium: Sea-dwellers like African penguins and Beluga Whales are the stars of this aquarium’s live cam, amongst others.
  • Houston Zoo: There are plenty of different animals you can check in on with this zoo’s live cam, but we highly recommend watching the playful elephants.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium: It can be Shark Week every week thanks to live online footage of Monterey Bay’s Habitat exhibit.
  • National Aquarium: Walk through tropical waters to the icy tundra in this floor-by-floor tour of the famous, Baltimore-based aquarium.
  • New England Aquarium: Virtual visits and related projects and activities that can be done at home.
  • The Shedd Aquarium: This Chicago aquarium shares some pretty adorable behind-the-scenes footage of their residents on Facebook.

Here is an example of how Head Start Teacher Elsie Figueroa crafted a learning experience from a virtual fieldtrip: 

Zoo and Aquarium Virtual Tour Activity

Being outdoors as much as possible is recommended for schools opening in person. Here are resources for outdoor learning

OTHER WEB RESOURCES

And finally, here are some other websites that offer other educational activities for young children: 

Resources from The New York City Department of Education for Early Childhood

A sample daily schedule to follow for at-home learning and other resources from Khan Academy.

Tips for creating a good learning environment at home

Resources for Literacy Learning:

  • BookFlix: K-Grade 3. Approximately 500 titles, organized into pairs of related topics, one fiction & one non-fiction), e.g., Animals & Nature, Earth & Sky, People & Places, ABCs and 123s, Adventure, Family & Community, Celebrations, Music & Rhyme, Imagination.
  • Epic!: This e-book subscription provides instant access to a digital library of books, learning videos and more. Includes read-aloud and read-along options. Teachers can assign books to individual students and monitor progress.
  • Lalilo is a web-based phonics and literacy comprehension program in the form of a game.
  • Learning Ally: Audiobooks (human-read), quizzes and videos available via paid subscriptions.
  • New York Public Library: See detailed instructions below to obtain a library card online and get access to books and other publications. Allows free access to Flipster, Bookflix, TrueFlix, ScienceFlix, Explora Elementary, TumbleBooks, World Book Online, Scholastic Go!, Kids InfoBits and others.
  • NOVELNY: A free online virtual library that enables libraries across New York State to give their communities online access to the full text of thousands of journals, newspapers and other references.
  • PBS Learning Media
  • Pioneer Valley Books offers Literacy Footprints, a guided reading system designed to teach children to read and write. Each kit contains sequenced leveled texts in a variety of genres. Lessons include word study and phonics instruction. Free digital subscription offered during the time schools out of session due to the coronavirus.
  • Ranger Rick offers a subscription including magazines, games, videos, recipes and family activities: Ranger Rick (7 – 12 years), Ranger Rick Jr. (4 – 7 years), and Ranger Rick Cub (0-4 years).
  • Raz-Kids: A leveled reading resources for students with hundreds of eBooks offered at 29 different levels of reading difficulty.
  • Reach Out & Read
  • Scholastic has great projects for each day of the week and different grade levels.
  • Sora by Overdrive
  • Storyline Online has a large library of read-alouds by celebrities, including a Celebrate Black Stories and Black Voices section. There are some details about the book and the intended grade levels.
  • Time for Kids: The magazine offers news on topics that are interesting and encourage children to think about the world around them.
  • Tween Tribune is a free online resource provided by The Smithsonian Institution offering daily news articles, K-12. It is also available in Spanish.
  • Unite for Literacy

Resources for Math Learning:

Resources for Science Learning:

Additional Educational Websites: