Early Childhood Teachers From Afar: Connection, Not Instruction

I teach two- and three-year-old children in a preschool program in the Washington, DC area. Since our school is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our teachers are finding creative ways to stay in touch with the children in our classes while we are all at home.

Amid our efforts at new ways to share information and to connect with families, it is so important to keep in mind our priorities as early childhood educators, based on what we know about how children learn and grow. My personal mantra for this has become: Connection, not instruction.

Connection, not instruction.

For the young children we teach, the most important thing we can offer them from afar is connection.

Activity ideas are nice. But maintaining relationships with children and families is a valuable social support we can offer.

What I can do right now for the children I usually guide and support in the classroom is maintain our relationship. I cannot directly provide the hands-on learning through intentional play-based activities I usually do. I cannot sit on the floor and engage in serve-and-return interactive play with children using toy animals, or model how to negotiate conflict over a desired toy. I cannot provide the small amount of direct instruction I typically do, nor can I set up a classroom context for engaging and interacting with materials that promote active, child-led learning opportunities. But I can continue to engage with children in other ways. (And I still believe that there is no such thing as on-line preschool.)

So, in this time of early childhood program closures, while we can offer activity ideas to parents, the most important thing we can do for children and families is maintain our personal relationships and connections with children. We know that we are important adults to the young children we serve. Reaching out to families to maintain that connection in new ways is valuable.

We can be in touch with the children and families we work with via phone calls, video conferences, and even through the mail. At my nursery school, teachers are sending children letters and making personalized art for children that they can color or paint. The children are so excited to receive mail, which for many is a novel form of communication in this digital age.

As an early childhood teacher, I am reaching out in new ways to the children and families I usually would see each day in my classroom. I am using Zoom to host interactive circle times and create-along art sessions. I am using Marco Polo, a video chat app, to send brief video messages back and forth with children and families. I am uploading videos on YouTube of me reading stories and singing songs. And I am emailing home optional activity ideas that parents can use as a resource if they would like to try them with their children.

The research on risk and resilience in children bears out the fundamental importance of relationships as a protective factor in supporting children’s well-being. As educators, we know that relationships are essential for young children’s learning and development, and we do things every day to support children’s social skills and relationship-building with their peers. In times of stress and adversity, a positive relationship with a trusted adult is the fundamental protective factor that children need. Of course, parents and families provide the primary relationships in a child’s life. But educators are another important adult in a child’s life; finding ways to stay connected is vital.

Published by Stephanie Schaefer

Teacher, trainer, policy analyst, researcher.

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