I’m a kindergarten teacher and have been for a very long time. I LOVE my job. It’s my passion. But life threw a curveball on Thursday, March 12, 2020 when COVID-19 and the need to social distance shut down our school. Just like the rest of the country it was time to delve into remote learning.
My teaching team went into panic mode. What would it look like for kindergartners? How would we manage it? Could the kids manage it? Cue the hyperventilation and the waterfalls of tears.
We breathed in and breathed out. We wiped the tears. We did what we do best – we began to plan for children. I'll admit, there were trials and a learning curve most certainly, but in a matter of days, we implemented remote learning in short order.
A repeatable daily structure
Just like us, the lives of young children have been turned upside down. The world as they know it has temporarily changed dramatically. Unlike us, they don’t have the maturity to understand what is happening and the big feelings they may be experiencing.
Our job, as one of the adults in their lives, is to help them navigate this temporary new world and their big feelings. We need to connect with them on an educational level but more importantly on an emotional level.
Educators know young children thrive in an environment that has loving rules and an expected structure. It’s what makes them feel safe and allows them to take risks. So my teaching team knew our first step was to create a predictable daily structure.
Our goal was to make that structure look as much like their day at school as possible. We needed to balance it with instruction, independent practice and most importantly play. We needed to see them daily. It was also important for us to keep in mind, parents were now tasked with working from home at the same time their children needed to be remotely learning.
OTJ crash-course learning
In our early planning discussions, my teaching team went big. We knew Google Classroom and Google Meet were going to be our platforms for communicating, posting assignments and teaching children face to face. The problem? None of us were experienced with either. So together virtually, on Google Meet, we self-taught ourselves the ins and outs of both platforms by trial and error in a couple of hours.
From our new experiences, we thought we knew what we would have to teach both our parents and our children about Google Classroom and Google Meet. First we emailed instructions to parents on how to log into and join our Google Classrooms and sent a link for our first Google Meet.
It was fun and exciting to see everyone’s faces but it was crazy, at first. Everyone was talking at the same time, microphone feedback, screens were bouncing from speaker to speaker, and children were running around the house with their device or showing their favorite toys. My teaching team had the same experiences with their classes on Google Meets.
Out of that chaos came the need for some order. So, back to the drawing board. My teaching team put our heads together again and did what we do best…plan with five and six year olds in mind. How could we make a Google Meet easy for them so they wouldn’t need to rely on their parent’s assistance for 15-20 minutes twice a day? We decided to create a screen cast (Also a new tool that needed to be learned quickly!) that taught both parents and children how to:
- Choose the appropriate view for an instructional Google Meet.
- Pin the teacher’s picture so we stayed on the screen.
- Unpin the teacher’s picture so we could share our screen with the children.
- Mute and unmute so there wouldn’t be a lot of microphone feedback.
Our next Google Meets went smoother and smoother. By mid-week and six Google Meets in, our children could navigate them well and we found our groove. We were even learning new material.
On my teaching team’s end, finding the Google Meet Grid View extension was a game changer. Now we were able to see all 20 children in our Google Meets at the same time. We could see them working hard and raise their hands so we could call on them to unmute and share their thinking with the group.
Mastering a remote-learning plan
There is no more hyperventilating and no more tears for my teaching team. We know what we are doing moving forward. We have mastered Google Classroom, Google Meet and screen casting. We know we can be successful because we have a really good plan:
- We will have two 15-20 Google Meets a day. One focused on math instruction and the other focused on phonics instruction. These Google Meets will be recorded and shared for those children who were not able to attend.
- We will start to have small group Google Meets (4-5 children). Each child will hopefully participate in one small group a week to connect with teachers and friends on a more personal level to just talk and share.
- Morning Meeting will continue with a greeting slideshow, a morning message, a videoed guided writing activity, a fun skills based video and our weekly poem with videoed instruction.
- We will provide Purposeful Play choices (building, pretending, creating, acting) taken right from our classrooms.
- We will provide math, reading and writing choices so children can continue to independently practice skills they have already learned.
- We will provide fun choices for science and social studies explorations.
- The specials teachers (art, music, gym, media center) will also add their weekly lessons to our plans.
Our parent feedback, student’s smiles and work they have shared says we have hit the nail on the head. Even though they are quarantined at home with their families we are providing just the right balance of independent work, play and most importantly face to face connections.
All is the best it can be in my kindergarten world during this global pandemic. I still LOVE my job, but I miss my children terribly.
Carolyn Helmers has been teaching kindergarten at Maddux Elementary since December of 1991 when she graduated from Northern Kentucky University. She earned her masters degree in education from Marygrove College and became trained in Reading Recovery in 2004. Her passion is early literacy but she has a growing passion for early mathematical understanding. She has been happily married as long as she has been teaching, has two grown children and resides in the school district where she teaches.