The most common question asked by parents who are looking for alternative kinds of education for their child is how do we make online learning fun and appropriate for early years’ children? “It’s not easy”, is the reply from Sophia High School’s Director of EYFS Online Education, Vanessa Temple.
By going back to the basics of EY pedagogy we can start to see how there are elements of online education that are made to bring learning to life in this way. Small groups in an intimate and controlled setting are a great start to capture the children’s focus and really engage them for an appropriate length of time.
Sessions that are paced to have different elements of active engagement with new concepts or themes, small group peer discussion, time for reflection and connection – this is what we would see in a traditional classroom and it is no different online.
The small group of children, the teacher, must remain constant so that relationships can be established and connections made. This is key to success of the online classroom. Children need to make friends, to have that relationship with others where they anticipate their online friends showing up on screen and excited to see the work that they have done.
Not only the children, but also the parents! Online learning really does bring the classroom into the home, and so the partnership of child and parent and the relationships they establish through screen time, are very important.
If you look at the school day for a Nursery or Reception child (age 3-5), the time spent with the teacher engaged in large group or individual time is such a small part of the day. The majority of the day is spent in exploration, group work set up by the teacher to facilitate exploration and learning, and also time to develop the social skills that are so necessary in the larger classroom setting.
How do we replicate this online? Clearly, there has to be an edit in the curriculum to ensure that what we believe is important can be clearly communicated and facilitated and done so in an appropriate amount of screen time. The reality is that work continues off-screen, but is shared with the group online in meaningful and fun ways.
The use of videos, photos, online workbooks, engaging technology and the metaverse, all make this possible and bring learning to life for our little ones.
Also of key importance is the teacher. Early Years is a specialist area, and should expect your teacher to be EY qualified. For those of us with an EY background, we know that learning for our little ones is spiral, cyclic, not linear.
You go over, repeat, refresh and rephrase what the learning is and needs to be. Activities support this style of learning and offer children different opportunities to develop and make connections. The most significant mind-shift for our teachers is to transition from facilitators to receivers.
Delivering curriculum is not the focus during screen time with the children. Their role is now as a gatherer and supporter of learning, using what you know the child can do and where they are on their learning continuum, to consolidate their learning and extend at a highly individual pace.
They ask what do we see the children doing in their work, how does that relate to the curriculum and their individual learning journey, and then where do we want them to go next? This goes back to the true principles of EY education, individual, personal, meaningful.
By offering a balance of time spent online with the teacher and friendship group, extension activities which facilitate connected learning to engage the child in skill and social development, and specific tasks related to the curriculum shared through videos and online content, every day is a busy day.
It gets messy, noisy, funny. We like that! Those at home supporting our young children are excited to join in, share the joy, and reap the rewards alongside their children. Our focus is to encourage everyone on both sides of the screen to help bring learning to life.
It’s a global classroom, and everyone is invited!