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.


Learn At Home: Learning About Plants

A Note For Educators

This is a compilation of activities to support young children in playful learning about plants. I prepared this activities resource list for families in my nursery school class of two- and three-year-olds during the COVID-19 pandemic. My goal is to provide parents with optional, developmentally appropriate activities to do at home if they are seeking out ideas.

As the teacher, do frame these ‘suggested activities’ in proper context for the families you serve. I am being clear with parents that this is not their “homework assignment”, and it is totally fine for them to do their own open-ended play without this degree of topical focus. See my earlier post about the value of connection with the children and families we usually guide and teach each day when our programs are open.

Learning About Plants Activities

There are many ways to provide children with learning opportunities about plants.  Here are the key concepts we teach young children about plants:

  • Plants start as seeds, and grow into plants.
  • Plants need food (from soil), light, water, and air. 
  • Parts and functions of a plant:  roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit/vegetables.

We learn about plants in many ways at preschool. Here are examples of activities we do at school, to give you options for activities you may want to try at home. 

Parents, please do not feel that this is an assignment; you may skip it all and simply play and connect with your child.

Observing and growing plants

Art with and about plants and flowers

Exploring plants with our senses

  • Provide opportunities to safely see, touch, and smell plants and flowers, and taste fruits/vegetables;
  • Sensory exploration of soil.

Learning songs and rhymes about plants

Reading stories about plants

Additionally, here are a few videos of plants growing

ECE Trainings

Stephanie Schaefer is an MSDE-approved Trainer for Core of Knowledge (COK) trainings and Continued Trainings in Maryland. Stephanie is an independent trainer, and she also works as a trainer for Family Services, Inc., and the Silver Spring Day School Training Institute.

Trainings Stephanie currently provides:

  • Making a Difference for Young Children: Public Policy Advocacy – (3 hours, COK, Professionalism). How can early childhood education professionals educate policymakers about the importance of child and youth care services? This introductory training will define advocacy and identify key considerations for child care professionals in communicating effectively with policymakers to advocate for children. Participants will identify their own skills and determine how these skills align with advocacy strategies. Approval Number CKI-155685.
  • Basic Health and Safety – (5 hours, COK, Health, Safety, Nutrition) Fulfills new MSDE requirement. Beginning on July 1, 2017, this workshop is required as pre-service training for all childcare center staff, including directors, teachers and aides, as well as home day care providers. Learn about basic safety and health guidelines for both indoor and outdoor areas.
  • Early Learning Assessment – (12 hours, COK (8 hours Professionalism, 4 hours Child Development) The Early Learning Assessment (ELA) is a formative assessment tool designed by the Maryland State Department of Education to assess children ages 3 – 6. Successful completion of this training enables FREE access to this tool for Maryland educators. Educators who complete this training before October 30, 2017 may be eligible to receive a $100 stipend per person to help pay for the training.   The ELA is based on research-supported Learning Progressions that are aligned to early learning standards. Formative assessment using the ELA is intended to be a ongoing process through which early childhood teachers collect and use assessment information to tailor instruction to the individual needs of each child. This training focuses on formative assessment, observation, and use of the ELA tool.

For more information, contact Stephanie at schaefer.research at gmail.com or 240   441   3280.

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