Virtual Learning Schedules: One Size Does Not Fill All
When it comes to creating virtual learning schedules, one size does not fit all. In fact, there are so few situations in life where a “one size fits all” approach actually works. And when I think about scheduling for the realities of this school year, I can’t think of a more ineffective approach.
However, so many educators have reached out to us for our “suggested schedule” of what distance learning should look like for early childhood programs, and, though I find nothing more rewarding than trying to help programs solve their most pressing problems, this is just one of those places where we can’t offer one answer for everyone.
Even when a school is implementing The Creative Curriculum® in a typical, in-person school setting, we offer a variety of different schedules to address the varied structures of schools’ programs: half-day, full-day, extended day, mixed-ages, etc.
As we have engaged in conversations with current customers and programs, we have been able to help troubleshoot what kinds of schedules will help them achieve their goals in the most developmentally appropriate ways. During these conversations, we began to see a few key trends and reflections that determined the final schedule.
4 Considerations for Building a Virtual Learning Schedule:
- Plan for your virtual learning schedule to evolve over the course of the first few weeks, just like you would in a traditional setting.
Yes, your goal may be to host 20 minutes of large-group time remotely on a Zoom call, but just like a 20-minute large-group time is often unrealistic during the first days or weeks of school in the classroom, it is also unreasonable to have that expectation during distance learning.
Consider ways to build up to that ideal time-frame.
-For the first few days, meet with just one or two children and their families at a time so that you can develop relationships with the children and can support relationships between the children as well.
-After a few sessions that help children become comfortable navigating the routine (welcome song, attendance, shared writing, etc.) and learn the expectations for large group (raising your hand so that others know you have something to say) in a distance learning setting, you can start combining groups to have 4, 8, or 10 children at a time as you work up to including the whole class.
2. Remember that children need a balance of different kinds of experiences.
Remote or otherwise, this best practice, among others, hasn’t changed. A full day of teacher-led virtual instruction is not likely to set children or classroom communities up for success—children need a balance of teacher-led, child-led, high-energy, and low-energy experiences.
Think about ways to replicate this balance remotely and share its importance with families.
-For instance, start the day with a quick large group to welcome everyone and set a positive tone for the day, but then set up rotations of small groups after that to allow for more individualized instruction and support for 3-4 children at a time.
-Consider hosting two read-aloud sessions so that groups can be a bit smaller, which will help facilitate more meaningful conversations about the story.
-Try to wrap up the day by inviting everyone to come back together as one large group to share what they learned during the day and set some excitement for tomorrow.
-Remind families that when their child is not actively engaged in online learning, it’s best to offer them open-ended choices for what they would like to do at home—art, building with blocks, playing outside, or looking at books.
3. Be mindful of every opportunity you have to build children’s social–emotional competencies.
Though you have less time to spend directly with children, implementing key strategies can help you support pro-social behaviors even in a limited time frame.
Consider implementing these strategies:
-Try scheduling informal virtual lunch bunches or snack chats to allow children to lead the conversation.
-Designate time to help children connect with one another based on their common interests.
-Regularly connect with families and their children together to talk about how things are going, identify successes, and celebrate those moments together.
4. Keep in mind that the quality of the interactions and experiences children have are more important than the quantity.
To continue to foster positive approaches to learning, it’s critical that we all keep in mind the most developmentally appropriate approach for young children and families.
Here’s an example of what a typical day’s virtual learning schedule might look like during distance learning.*
8:30-8:50—Large Group 1 (half of the children)
9:00-9:20—Large Group 2 (half of the children)
9:30-11:00—Small Groups (4 groups of 4–5 children)
11:00—Group Lunch Time
11:30-1:00—Independent/Family Activities and Rest Time
1:00-1:15—Whole-Group Read-Aloud and Movement Activity
1:20-2:40—Small Groups (4 groups of 4–5 children for about 15 minutes)
2:50-3:10—Large Group 1 (half of the children)
3:15-3:35—Large Group 2(half of the children)
If you are working in a hybrid model, prioritize the elements of that week’s instruction that children would best benefit from hearing directly from you (such as the introduction of new concepts, new vocabulary, and new skills) and then share Guided Learning Plans with families to help build upon and reinforce those ideas and concepts at home on days children are not at school.
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