Tips for teaching online preschool: Reaching Our Youngest Children
BY DENISE SHIELDS
When the COVID-19 pandemic closed my in-person Creative Kids Preschool in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the spring of 2020, I had to get… well, creative to continue to do what I love—teaching our youngest children—and get preschool students excited about learning. I started the free virtual preschool program Creative Kids Virtual Preschool.
Teaching children virtually brings challenges that are different from those in the classroom setting. My goal is to get children ages 3 to 6 so interested in educational programs that they ask to do school—and I’m humbled to say that I’ve succeeded with dozens upon dozens of youngsters!
You can use some of what I’ve learned by doing virtual preschool if you’d like to be a preschool teacher online or if you need fresh ideas to hone your teaching skills.
Here are a few tips to help you teach children virtually.
1. Use Kid-Attractive Themes
Some of the themes I use for preschool are FARM LIFE, INSECTS, COMMUNITY HELPERS, TRANSPORTATION, and SEASONS. These translate well online when you cannot have children with you in a classroom. It’s all about keeping their interest, and that can be difficult when you aren’t in the classroom with them.
Often, you can point out these themes as present in their own lives, and they will add to the lesson on their own, fostering another layer of their education. For example, perhaps they will notice a barn or cows in the pasture when on a car ride. Or they may pay more attention to a butterfly they see outside at home when you’re working on a lesson about butterflies.
For online teaching, themes help our young students branch out into activities such as hands-on projects, and a theme helps them visualize and remember their lessons, too.
2. Turn Educational Topics Into Dynamic Lessons
Children can learn so much without even realizing it when you keep them active in their own education, even at the preschool level. Intermingle educational themes into activities that help the subject material come to life for them.
For example, I use story time segments to help preschoolers to become familiar with today’s most popular children’s books. Also, we do projects based on themes such as those mentioned above. We’ve done a lesson on farm life and included an activity of drawing and cutting out a barn and different farm animals – and they love it! This is great active learning.
And again—teaching virtually certainly poses challenges beyond traditional classroom education. But these are the kinds of techniques that improve children’s interest and success in absorbing educational topics, even as they learn multiple skills and gain knowledge in a multi-layered manner.
3. Get Into The Habit
Why not precede popular preschool activities such as at-home projects and crafts with a verbal “warm up”—and end them with a “cool down”— that preschoolers can enjoy? Children will immediately begin to associate learning with the fun of the activities they typically can’t stop talking about. For example, I do this with a “Hello” and “Goodbye” song for each core lesson.
Often, Creative Kids Virtual Preschool students extend the lessons they learn online to their daily lives, singing songs they know from my puppet assistant Ollie the Crow while they play around the house. Isn’t this the goal of starting our littlest ones on the road to a lifetime of learning – seeing them use their education? Parents have told me that they hear their children singing the “Hello” song on their own, for example, helping show me that these methods definitely help educational materials stick with the preschoolers!
4. Be—Or Have—A Role Model
My puppet Ollie is a popular fellow among our preschoolers. He’s just the kind of role model who gets children’s attention and keeps them captivated and learning their lessons. We all know that preschoolers especially will mimic behavior, and seeing you, a character, a puppet, or other friend do or talk about educational topics will encourage them to learn more about any given subject.
Human beings often learn better simply by doing. This is just as true for little ones as it is for adults. You can be the role model – and/or enlist help from others – and show them how to get started!
5. Keep Their Attention by Giving Your Attention
One of the most challenging things about engaging with children virtually is keeping their interest – also a tall order with in-person teaching, too! One of the best ways to do this is to talk to them through the camera as if they are with you in person. I ask a lot of questions to keep them active with a lesson, and I pause to wait for their answers. This takes practice, but it’s worth it!
Don’t forget to keep it fun – smile often and use a helper such as a puppet like Ollie to give the children another “teacher” with whom they can interact. I hear often from parents that their children will talk to Ollie and respond to what he says during lessons. They are definitely paying attention!
Limit your virtual lessons to 25-35 minutes in length, AND break up your full lesson up into several short mini segments, 5-10 minute per segment. As you know, preschoolers do have short attention spans!
Another tip, be consistent with the flow of your lessons. I typically open with my partner Ollie the Crow, teach on the daily subject for a brief period, play a game, read a story, and end with a project. Your preschool students (and parents) will appreciate this and know what to expect from you.
Finally, keep their interest by prompting their interaction naturally. I often do a week-long project by doing a piece each day and adding to it every day. For example, in my “Farms” series, as discussed above in this article, we built a barn and added animals to the “Farm” each day that week. That gives them something to think about and look forward to from one lesson to the next. And invite parents and youngsters to send in photos of the children with their finished projects. I use Facebook and email to accomplish this, they love feedback from their teacher!
These moves on your part will keep lessons fun and interactive for children – and they’ll love learning so much they’ll just keep coming back for more!
About the Author
Denise Shields is a preschool teacher from Virginia. When she had to close her preschool last year due to COVID restrictions, Denise brought her preschool program online to offer a virtual experience to young children. She has worked with preschool children for 26 years, with 13 years as a preschool teacher. She is the owner and founder of both Creative Kids Preschool in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the free virtual preschool program called Creative Kids Virtual Preschool, which has helped thousands of families educate their young preschoolers during the COVID-19 pandemic.