By Jordan Barry
I’ve been teaching young students for the past five school years—but our virtual launch this year meant that the first weeks of the school year were full of firsts for myself and my students and families at KIPP Seek Academy.
Kindergarten is such an important year for our students and it’s usually filled with learning lunchtime routines, enjoying hallway hugs with a favorite teacher, or finding a favorite activity at recess. Our virtual start means these firsts look more like learning how to mute and unmute, make friends, and enjoy wiggle breaks over Zoom.
Despite these unique circumstances, I’ve been amazed at how my kindergarten students have handled these challenges with patience, an enthusiasm for learning, and a desire to form new friendships. Below, I’ve offered a few tips for kindergarten families on how they can make the most of a virtual launch and keep their children engaged in learning—even as COVID-19 changes the classroom experience.
- Physical activity matters. Research shows that play helps children with coordination and motor skills—and also helps promote creativity and empathy. At Seek, we’re offering bags of different objects through supply pick-ups and occasional home deliveries that students can play with and manipulate themselves. Building blocks are great for supporting eye-hand coordination. In my classroom, we also take wiggle breaks every 10 to 15 minutes to help break up the day and keep students engaged. Kindergarteners need to move their bodies often—so we prioritize movement!
- Learning opportunities are everywhere. Have children count objects around the house—even cereal works! You can buy a bag of magnetic letters for them to arrange words—or cut out letters from paper. Labeling items around the house is another way for them to learn spelling. Car trips and errands are great opportunities to practice counting and spelling. Be sure to spell street signs as you pass them, or have them count every red or blue car they see.
- Read, read, read! Reading is by far the most important academic skill to instill in students during this time. Read together and encourage your child to pick out books that interest them from RAZ Kids.
- Mental resets. It’s important for students to have the opportunity to reset mentally throughout the school day at home. At Seek, we’ve found that activities like yoga and meditation are critical for helping students center themselves and be in a good place to learn. We do those activities throughout the week. Parents and even older siblings at home can support with quick breathing exercises that ensure students stay mentally healthy. Breaks from the computer are important—and that’s a good tip for adults, too!
- Stay in touch with your teacher. We’re holding office hours each day, so parents and students both have a chance to connect with their teachers and ask questions. There’s no question that’s too small and we’re here to support our students in any way possible.
- Offer incentives. In the classroom, we use Class Dojo to incentivize great participation and student work. I encourage parents to offer incentives around learning goals or chore completion so children feel like they’re working towards a goal each week or each month. The incentive could be an activity or game they really enjoy, or a trip to their favorite outdoor park for socially distanced fun with a friend.
I hope that we’re able to return to the classroom and resume in-person instruction when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, I’m heartened to see my students already forming friendships over Zoom during dedicated time for class conversation. They’re developing skills through Zoom and Google Classroom that will help them become confident users of technology throughout their lives.
Until we can be together safely again, remember these tips and please be sure to reach out to teachers for support!