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10 Tips: Make Virtual Learning Engaging for Preschoolers & Young Children

Oct 16, 2020    |   COVID-19 Resources & Information

Virtual learning is a new concept for many early learning professionals. Working with children in an online setting is challenging, as much of our work with young children is relationship-based. While you might not be able to replace the experiences of an in-person classroom, you can still set up an online environment that is engaging and developmentally appropriate to help children continue to learn and maintain connections with teachers and their peers.

10 Tips to Make Virtual Learning Engaging

1. Let children guide the way

Just as you would in a regular classroom, in a virtual environment, it is important that we let children lead the way. Ask the children what they have been doing at home — what kinds of games have they been playing or what activities have they been enjoying? Use this information to guide some of your ideas for virtual meetings. If children have been enjoying spending time at the beach, you might choose to read a few books about the ocean or sea animals.

You also might try a few different virtual activities in your meetings, and see what children enjoy the most. If you notice that children are really enjoying music and movement in virtual meetings, but seem less interested in other activities, use that observation to guide your planning for your next meeting. When we follow the cues of the children we work with, we can create engaging learning experiences.

2. Ask for help

If you’re not tech-savvy, and virtual learning feels intimidating to you, ask your team members if they have any tips or ideas to help you get started. If you have a team member who is particularly good at getting meetings set up via Zoom or hosting virtual meetings, that person can be a great resource for you and for other teachers in your program as well!

3. Break it down into shorter sessions

As you know, young children cannot sit and keep focused for long periods of time! Just as you would in the classroom with circle time, it is best to keep your meeting short and sweet. Try to do one activity or a few quick songs before logging off. Children will be much more engaged, and the meeting will be much more productive. If you notice children are having a hard time participating or paying attention during a meeting, don’t be afraid to cut things short. You can let the children know that you’ll pick back up with the activity next time, or try a different activity that you might be more interesting to the children. Virtual activities require the same flexibility that you have in the classroom!

4. Think about developmental milestones

To help keep little ones on track with their learning, you’ll want to ensure that you consider different developmental domains and milestones when planning your virtual activities.

A few activities for each developmental domain are included below:

  • Social-Emotional Development: Try to do a few mindfulness activities, such as yoga or a brief meditation (for older preschoolers and pre-k) to help children relax and develop emotional awareness. Invite conversations about what life is like at home for the children (discuss home languages or different foods that children enjoy for dinner) to learn from each other and to celebrate the diversity of your classroom. Have conversations or try  a few activities, related to discussing feelings and emotions (some of these types of activities are available here).

  • Physical development: Put on some music for children to dance to; for a change of pace you can play “freeze dance” by pausing the song every few seconds. Encourage children to move like different animals (hop like a rabbit, gallop like a horse, slither like a snake, etc.).  Simon Says and Red LIght, Green Light are tried and true physical games.

  • Language and literacy development: Virtual story-time is a great way to practice language and literacy development. To expand upon stories, you might ask children follow-up questions at the end about the characters, or invite them to share ideas for alternate endings. Words taken from the stories you read can be the impetus for  conversations about different letters and letter sounds.

  • Cognitive development:  All of the activities above are great for brain development. Children’s brains develop during conversations, and while trying and learning new concepts and activities.

5. Use music and songs

Singing songs that are familiar to children and inviting them to sing-along is a great way to encourage engagement and to make virtual meetings interactive.

You might try to incorporate some of the songs that you have used in-person for  transitions, morning meetings, or just for fun! If you play an instrument (or if a parent plays one and is interested in joining the Zoom meeting).

6. Include familiar items, activities, and classroom favorites

To help children maintain a connection with the classroom, bring favorite books or activities into your virtual meetings. If children really enjoyed playing a particular game, think about how it might be adapted to be done virtually. If the children were growing plants in your classroom (and if you have access to them) share them in a virtual meeting so that children can see how they are growing. This will help children to feel connected to their classroom and to maintain a sense of routine.

7. Participation Activities

One way to keep children engaged is to ask them to do something. During meetings, invite children to get their favorite toy and to tell their friends about it.  Or have children go find an item at home that is a certain color or shape. Engage them in a conversation about the items they find.

8. Be patient

Virtual learning is new to everyone — yourself, the kids, and the parents. Remember that getting comfortable with the new tools will take time and a dose of trial and error. This year has been full of changes, uncertainties, and challenges and so it is important to be patient with everyone, including yourself! Try not to get discouraged when small things go wrong. Take those experiences as learning opportunities to try to make things better the next time around.

9. Invite families to join in

Especially for toddlers and younger preschoolers, having their parents, siblings, or other caregivers present will make the virtual experience run more smoothly. Having families involved also helps to maintain a sense of community in your classroom or program.

Send invitations for parents to join in on different activities, such as a quick story time or a little bit of music and movement. Because everyone is still spending the majority of their time in isolation, parents will appreciate the social contact just as much as their children!

10. Share follow-up activities for parents

Many parents are struggling with how to keep their children learning at home. To help, you might send parents follow-up activities so that they can continue the learning and expand on children’s skill-building while at home.

Send ideas that are related to what you did with the children that day. For example, if you read a book about autumn,  you might send parents a few fall-related activities that they can do with their children at home, such as going on a nature hunt to collect leaves. Try to send activities that are easy to do, require minimal set-up, and are not too messy, so that you are not putting pressure on parents’ already busy schedules. For more ideas about what to send to families, click here to read a previous Good2Know Network post, Resources for Remote Learning to Share with Parents.

Additional Resources for Educators and Caregivers to Navigate Virtual Learning

If you are looking for more tips and information, check out the following resources:

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