It’s 2021, and things still aren’t back to “normal.” With many centers still reeling from shutdowns and feeling the pinch of reduced attendance, they are turning to alternative programs like virtual preschool to generate enough revenue to keep the lights on and their businesses running.
Teaching virtually, as we’ve all seen by now, has its challenges at any age, but it can be even more difficult to set up and execute when you’re running a smaller childcare business geared for very young children.
Even within organizations without IT departments, center directors and administrators have successfully implemented online learning with the use of tools like Zoom, Google classroom, and Facebook live. There’s a learning curve for sure, but with a little research and some trial and error, you can determine which tech tools are best for your virtual preschool program.
The demand for virtual learning
Parents are growing more and more concerned every day that the isolation from the pandemic quarantines and shutdowns will have a negative impact on their children’s educational development. Your childcare center can mitigate these fears of falling behind by offering structured virtual classes, led by your preschool staff, that help keep children engaged, connected, and learning.
If you’re considering offering virtual preschool for your program, whether temporary or as a new permanent staple of your childcare business, be sure to consider these 8 tips for structuring online classes that children will enjoy – and that parents will be willing to pay for.
Offer both live and recorded virtual preschool sessions
Ideally, all of the little ones enrolled in your in-home learning program will be awake, alert, and ready to learn for each and every session. And hopefully, mom or dad will be available to offer assistance during the times they are needed while juggling working from home.
Recording and posting videos of previous sessions or even just offering them as “on-your-own-time” activity guides is a great way to make sure each child has the same opportunity to enjoy and complete the same activities. Learning on-demand for professional development has been in place in the grown-up business world for years, and it makes even more sense to offer that flexibility and technology for little ones.
Plan some hands-on activities
Today’s parents worry about how much screen time is too much, so ensuring that you’ve paired that screen time with actual hands-on activities is important. We’ve all seen too many children so engrossed in staring at a television or tablet that they don’t seem to see or hear what’s going on around them.
To prevent that thousand-yard stare into the depths of the computer screen, make sure your learning sessions don’t just rely on screen interactivity. Try some hands-on activities that feel more like in-person classroom play.
What kinds of hands-on activities can be incorporated into your virtual preschool?
- Counting and doing basic math with objects on the table or desktop instead of on a screen
- Creating an art project using felt or noodles and glue
- Writing letters on paper or a small whiteboard instead of pressing keys on a keyboard
- Drawing shapes with crayons and paper or using those same crayons to learn about colors
Create a supply list
When you incorporate hands-on play and learning into your virtual preschool, you’ll want to make sure all of the children have what they need to participate. That means creating a list of supplies for parents to have on hand in advance.
For those great planners out there, you can provide a list of supplies children will need throughout each session, like a whiteboard and dry erase markers, paper and crayons, all the basics, at the beginning of each school year or session. It is also helpful for parents to be able to find or purchase any special supplies needed for the next week’s activities in advance in their “spare time” over the weekend if needed.
Provide course materials at the beginning of each week
Making sure your virtual preschool course materials are available and accessible at the same time each week provides benefits to both you and the parents in your program.
- Establishing a set routine ensures that parents know where to find what they need and when the information will be available each week.
- Parents can view activities in advance and gather any supplies they’ve forgotten so children are prepared to participate in every activity.
- Setting specific deadlines to deliver these materials ensures your lesson planning is organized and completed in advance.
- Providing a full week of materials and activities in the beginning of the week means you’ll only have to worry about it one time instead of each day.
Start each virtual preschool day off the same way
Many virtual learning programs begin each day the same way, usually by sharing and reviewing the agenda for that day’s activities.
Figuring out the best way to operate your virtual preschool class can be a challenge—muting everyone once you get started, muting no one so children can interact and say hello to each other, muting some activities but leaving the others open, or going back and forth to manage both interactions and distractions—and it may take a few tries to get it right.
Why is it so important to establish a routine for your virtual preschool sessions?
- It helps to set expectations early. Parents can know what’s coming and make decisions about where they need to budget time to be on-hand to help.
- It reduces anxiety, and children can become excited about the day’s activities instead of nervous about what’s next.
- Routines are also helpful when parents and children transition from at-home to in-person learning when the time is right.
Promote learning in short bursts
We all know plenty of grown-ups whose attention spans can run a bit shorter than we’d like, and that goes quadruple for the under-5 crowd. Your virtual preschool program should take that into account, especially since in-home learning isn’t as likely to hold attention for the same length of time that in-person instruction does.
Matt Carroll of Upper Moreland Elementary School in Pennsylvania swears by short 20-minute bursts of learning.
“The perfect length is no more than 20 minutes, that’s for sure”
By keeping sessions short, you allow children to participate at a pace that suits them better, and by recording these short sessions, you allow parents to be able to catch up quickly when classes need to be missed.
Incorporate some form of movement
The well of toddler and preschooler energy seems bottomless sometimes, and incorporating some sort of movement throughout your virtual preschool sessions is essential to releasing some of the wiggles and giggles to help sidestep some of the attention span gaps during focused learning time.
When moving from one activity to the next, or even on the fly when you sense you’re losing the room, try holding a pop-up dance party for 2-4 minutes to release some pent up energy.
Exercise and movement is also an important part of physical education, so be sure to incorporate those elements into your daily routine. Toddler yoga is an activity for which you can find a wealth of material on the internet, and Alyssa-Jean Klazek of DoYogaWithMe does a great job of adding music and imagination to her very short videos like this one.
Understand when some children – or their parents – just aren’t feeling it
It’s a stressful time, and wrangling the attention of a group of toddlers is challenging even when you’re in a classroom setting. When you first kick off your virtual preschool program, your attendance is likely to be robust, but as the weeks past and the “newness” wears off, you’ll notice that some families are choosing to skip sessions here and there. There are a few reasons for this:
- Screentime – If a parent feels like the best thing for a child is to unplug and play for a bit, encourage it! When parents get involved in play and learning, it’s great for child development, and it strengthens the partnership between parents and teachers.
- Parent conflicts – A sibling has a doctor’s appointment. Mom has a Zoom call for work. Dad needs to run an errand. Whatever the reason, it’s okay, as long as you have materials for them to review and work through on their own.
- General crankiness – whether a child is ill or just in a terrible mood, there may be some days when having that child online is a distraction. It’s okay for them to skip and come back when they are ready.
There are plenty of other reasons that you may be missing a few faces each day as time passes, but this is why you recorded your sessions for an added on-demand learning experience.
Managing a virtual classroom can be a challenge, but it can also be a fun, engaging, rewarding way to bring staff, children, and families back together. It can also be a great way to recoup some of that missing income from 2020. Give it a try!