Sound Advice for Parents of Young Children

Last updated: 10-01-2020

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Sound Advice for Parents of Young Children

Denisha Jones, an expert in early childhood education and a lawyer (and a member of the board of the Betwork for Public Education) has prepared an excellent report for Defending the Early Years.

DEY advocates for sound educational practices for young children, and their advice in this report is balanced and humane.

Be sure to read the recommendations at the end of the report.

Though the push to online learning/remote schooling was necessary to deal with a global pandemic, it ushered in fundamental changes to the lives of young children, their families, and their teachers. The speed at which schools were closed and how quickly we expected children and families to learn online or at home made it difficult for parents and teachers to prepare children for this new reality adequately. Now that another school year has begun, time to adjust to hybrid or full online/remote schooling has slipped away. As children and families spent their summer trying to regain a sense of normalcy, they now face the reality that a return to schooling as we knew it might not happen for quite some time. Some families will send their children back to socially distant schooling while others will keep them home and hire tutors or teachers and replace traditional schooling with “pandemic pods.” We recognize that all families, regardless of the option they can choose, continue to want the best for their child’s education and health and need support, resources, and guidance. We propose the following recommendations to assist families of young children and their teachers to reap as many benefits from online learning/remote schooling as possible and mitigate the challenges.

1. Do not try to replicate school at home. This might seem unrealistic faced with another quarter, semester, or year of online learning/remote schooling, but it is essential to recognize that we cannot do at home all the things we do at school. First, parents are not teachers and even if you are a teacher, teaching your child is different than teaching someone else’s child. If you are homeschooling your child during the 2020-2021 school year, then you are your child’s teacher, but if you are working from home, you should not expect to be a full-time teacher, full-time parent, and full-time or part-time employee. Online learning/remote schooling is not traditional schooling. It is a substitute for the educational environment we typically provide children and, just like when your child has a substitute teacher at school, things cannot be precisely the same. Traditional schooling is set up to function very differently than online teaching/ remote schooling. We expect children to spend an entire day in a room with many other children and at least one adult and to complete a variety of tasks in a variety of different formats. Teachers come prepared to facilitate this environment, and, over time, many children adjust to it. Online teaching/remote schooling should not have the same expectations. Yes, children are at home all day, and yes, parents who are working from home need to keep them engaged, but that does not mean we should sit them down in front of a computer or tablet and expect them to do the same things they would do in school. In-person instruction cannot transform into online teaching for young children. Remote schooling should not mean that we expect children to do the same things that they did in school at home. For children, their families, and their teachers to gain benefits from online learning/remote schooling, we must separate the functions of traditional schooling from the realities of online learning/remote schooling.

2. 2. Use screens and technology sparingly and wisely. Many of us are aware that an increase in screen use can be harmful to young children. But we also know that Zoom and other platforms provide valuable connections for children whose lives have been disrupted by COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, many families used technology-based communication platforms to stay connected when they lived in different geographical locations. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers love seeing grandma and grandpa on the tablet, and many love seeing their teachers and peers as well. Thus, we must find ways to incorporate these platforms that maximize their benefits but also limit their exposure. We should not expect young children to spend more than 30 minutes a day, a few days a week, on technology. Brief opportunities to connect with their teacher and classmates that are engaging and developmentally appropriate are crucial to maximizing the use of technology. Reading stories, sharing items from home, singing songs, watching a puppet show, and playing are good examples of how technology can bring young learners and their teachers together. However, we must keep these sessions brief and optional. We know not all children want or need to be on Zoom every day. Even if the teacher offers daily 30-minutes class meetings, families should be able to decide whether to attend as many or as few as their child can handle each week. We do not recommend longer remote schooling sessions that include online teaching for young children. Just as we did not (or should not) expect young children to sit still at a desk and listen to a teacher for extended periods of time in schools, we cannot expect them to do the same at home. Remote schooling does not mean that all teaching and learning has to happen through direct online instruction.

3. Prepare children to be s 2. Use screens and technology sparingly and wisely. Many of us are aware that an increase in screen use can be harmful to young children. But we also know that Zoom and other platforms provide valuable connections for children whose lives have been disrupted by COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, many families used technology-based communication platforms to stay connected when they lived in different geographical locations. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers love seeing grandma and grandpa on the tablet, and many love seeing their teachers and peers as well. Thus, we must find ways to incorporate these platforms that maximize their benefits but also limit their exposure. We should not expect young children to spend more than 30 minutes a day, a few days a week, on technology. Brief opportunities to connect with their teacher and classmates that are engaging and developmentally appropriate are crucial to maximizing the use of technology. Reading stories, sharing items from home, singing songs, watching a puppet show, and playing are good examples of how technology can bring young learners and their teachers together. However, we must keep these sessions brief and optional. We know not all children want or need to be on Zoom every day. Even if the teacher offers daily 30-minutes class meetings, families should be able to decide whether to attend as many or as few as their child can handle each week. We do not recommend longer remote schooling sessions that include online teaching for young children. Just as we did not (or should not) expect young children to sit still at a desk and listen to a teacher for extended periods of time in schools, we cannot expect them to do the same at home. Remote schooling does not mean that all teaching and learning has to happen through direct online instruction.

The report goes on to identify ways that parents can best help their young children navigate these difficult times.


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