Melanie Muskin is a New York based educator. In this interview she gives us some tips for managing distance learning with preschoolers.DFI International
Melanie Muskin is an early childhood educator in New York City. She has a graduate degree in educational leadership from Teachers College at Columbia University where she focused on teacher development. Melanie believes deeply that children learn best in schools where teachers are learning, too.
My name is Melanie Muskin. I am an educator based in New York City where I have worked for the past decade as a teacher and administrator in various elementary and early childhood settings. Currently, I serve as the education director at Brooklyn Schoolhouse, a small progressive preschool located in Brooklyn, New York. At Brooklyn Schoolhouse, we adhere to a constructivist and child-led philosophy that is heavily inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. Our teachers build curriculum based on children’s interests and leverage play-based learning to teach social-emotional and foundational academic skills.
It seems abundantly clear that the global pandemic will not be over by September. Any effort to return to school must take into account that the coronavirus will still be present in our communities. With this in mind, we plan to adjust our daily operations in alignment with federal and state regulations to ensure the safety of children, teachers, and families. At Brooklyn Schoolhouse, we plan to offer in-person schooling in a limited capacity that minimizes the chance of spreading the virus. We will serve smaller groups of children, assign each family a unique arrival and departure time, and equip our staff with personal protective equipment. In addition to in-person schooling, we plan to offer virtual programming similar to what we have offered this spring. Any family who does not feel comfortable sending their child to school in the fall can choose to participate in distance learning. By continuing our virtual programming, we ensure that our school is ready for mid-year closures in the likely event that a community member shows symptoms of COVID-19 or another major outbreak occurs in our city.
Older students can participate independently in lengthy synchronous online lessons. Preschoolers cannot. For preschoolers, co-viewing short virtual lessons is ideal. In our virtual programming this spring, we found that preschoolers’ attention spans range from 2 minutes to 30 minutes. We also found that, for preschoolers, distance learning is most meaningful when a caregiver is present. When a child participates in a synchronous virtual lesson or views a pre-recorded video alongside an adult caregiver, that adult can reinforce vocabulary, contextualize or modify directions, and answer questions a child may ask.
Teaching and learning is a human endeavor. While we connect over a digital platform, we must not forget that it is the people who make teaching and learning possible. Successful distance learning programs keep the people involved front and center.
Children: Elevate children’s curiosities. Co-create curricula with children. Listen to them. Leverage their interests. For example, if a child asks a question about the solar system, spend the next week facilitating lessons about the solar system. By following the tenets of emergent curriculum, you can demonstrate a deep respect and appreciation of children’s abilities, empowering them to take ownership of their own learning.
Teachers: Honor and support teachers. Many teachers have little to no experience with virtual programming. They are learning, too. Praise their creative efforts. Remind teachers to keep it simple. The goal is not to create flashy videos or graphics; the goal is to connect, maintain relationships, and inspire authentic play or project-based learning at home. Play is the harbinger of learning for young children. Sometimes all it takes is a well-crafted text message or email prompt to spark a playful teachable moment at home.
Caregivers: Partner with caregivers. Teaching is an embodied practice.Preschool teachers often lead through touch or hand-over-hand assistance when modeling new skills to children. With the closure of our school buildings, this crucial task now falls on caregivers at home. Caregivers can be parents, guardians, grandparents, older siblings, nannies, babysitters, etc. Figure out who is the primary caregiver for each child and invite that person to participate in as much virtual programming as possible. Co-viewing ensures that children receive the in-person reinforcement and support to fully internalize a virtual lesson. Encourage caregivers to continue activities beyond the virtual session and to share photos or videos of children’s play so you can monitor growth and development. Connect with caregivers to check-in on their well-being and to elicit feedback.