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Shifting Our Thinking About Virtual Learning in ECE

How in the world are young children supposed to participate in online learning, when everything we hear and read about discourages screen time for young children? Since March, children, families, and educators have had to pivot and partake in unique learning environments. For some, trying to navigate online learning while schools are closed to in-person learning has proved a huge challenge. Working with early childhood schools, I have experienced the discord surrounding virtual learning for young children. One solution to the way in which we approach online learning for young children is to shift the way we think about it: shift from online learning to online experiences centered on relationship building.

Teachers are not able to duplicate online the in-person experiences and learning that takes place in their early childhood classrooms. Young children learn best through play. They learn and develop everything from social skills to STEM to physical and linguistic ability through play. According to a helpful post by NAEYC, 10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play:

“[c]hildren practice and reinforce their learning in multiple areas during play.”

It is imperative to remember that in-person early childhood classrooms offer a wide variety of experiences and opportunities for young children that cannot be duplicated online, so we must shift our thinking in the experiences that educators provide to young children online. Online experiences can be very valuable when done with the appropriate goals in mind.

When done correctly, online experiences in early childhood can provide continuity for children, by giving children a sense of security, normalcy, and rhythm in their day. When children’s lives are disrupted so globally, as they have since Spring 2020, providing an opportunity for young children to continue to see, hear and interact with their teachers can ease the hardship of the disruption due to the pandemic. The goal of online experiences for young children should always be focused on continuing to build and support the relationship between educator and child, educator and family, and child and family. When we shift our language from online learning to online experiences it helps support what is developmentally appropriate for children.