Due to COVID-19, the majority of early care and education (ECE) programs have either closed their doors to millions of young children, or only opened them for essential workers, with uncertainty about how long programs will be closed. As ECE providers look for ways to remain connected to families and support young children, many are considering or being asked to provide remote learning opportunities. The early years are a time of rapid cognitive, social, and physical growth, and remote learning is critical to helping families foster development at home. While there are many online resources suggesting activities to promote children’s learning at home, less guidance is offered on how ECE providers can work with families remotely. Drawing on research and practice, we offer five recommendations for how providers can best support at-home learning.
Providers could schedule dedicated weekly times to communicate with families. This includes regular times when ECE providers can check in with each child and their family, as well as dedicated times when providers and administrators can be reached if families have questions or need support. Not all families have access to the internet, so providers can use alternative forms of communication such as phone calls, mailing information, or creating designated drop off and pick up locations for materials and other resources. It is also important to consider families’ language abilities, both orally and written: Do materials need to be translated? What are methods for communicating with families who have reading challenges? West Virginia and Washington compiled a list of best practices for at-home learning, including suggestions for how and when to communicate with families.
Even when families are juggling their own work and schedules, it is important for children to follow a consistent schedule at home whenever possible. ECE providers can work with families to help develop individualized routines, such as having a daily reading, activity, or regular outdoor time. Both Oklahoma and Maine identified tips for how providers can work with families to create a predictable routine, noting regular breaks for snacks and lunch are also important.
Families should understand that young children may only be able to stay focused on a particular activity for 20 minutes or less, and that it is okay if their child needs to take a break and come back to that activity later. North Carolina worked across agencies to create recommendations for at home education, reminding families that young children learn through play and may become distracted when sitting for long periods.
Along with providing families with activities, books, or resources, ECE providers can include a list of prompts or questions that families can ask their children to encourage critical thinking (i.e., learning how to draw on knowledge and experiences to analyze and assess new information and situations). Georgia posts daily activities for their pre-K program with questions that develop young children’s critical thinking skills.
For families that may not have books at home, or need more books, ECE providers can identify program, community, or state efforts that supply free books to children, including options to download electronic books onto their devices. For families who don’t have strong reading skills, ECE providers can work with families to identify online options where children’s books are read aloud. Rhode Island issued a daily reading challenge for children and families, encouraging families to read to pre-K-aged children at least 20 minutes per day.
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