Childhood is filled with milestones. First steps. First foods. And perhaps the most monumental of all: the first day of Kindergarten.
But this year, in the midst of a global pandemic, four and five-year-olds across the country prepared for this life-changing experience to begin virtually. Instead of arriving in classrooms, meeting their teachers face-to-face and wearing backpacks bigger than they are, new Kindergarteners are experiencing their first days of grade school in front of a computer at a desk in their living rooms.
How do we make this transition to Kindergarten fun, engaging and…online?
Atlanta Public Schools offered Purpose Built Schools Atlanta a grant from the United Way to sponsor a camp for rising Kindergarteners to help prepare them for the new school year. Kiuleia Brandon, Kindergarten teacher at Slater Elementary School, pioneered the program at Slater, but she faced a unique challenge: make it a virtual camp!
“Our goal was to create an online camp that gave PreK students an idea for what to expect in Kindergarten,” says Dr. Brandon. Together with a team of two teachers and two professionals, Dr. Brandon set out to create an online experience that engaged these four and five-year-olds.
“Their attention span is about three minutes, so we decided to focus on fun, quick activities and switch the adults on the screen about every six minutes,” says Dr. Brandon. The days included a morning meeting, storytime, brain breaks, science activities, art, games, bubbles and scavenger hunts, to name just a few.
Thanks to the generous grant, the team put together camp kits with materials for families to use at home. The kits included all the arts and crafts supplies, Legos and activities the students would need to participate in the online camp instructions.
Every day from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. students followed along with their teachers on the screen. The days each had a behavioral theme that they need in Kindergarten, including self awareness, self regulation and self control.
“When kids start Kindergarten, they’re often not confident yet,” says Dr. Brandon. “So, in the daily share circle, we tried to get them comfortable talking and feeling confident. Kindergarteners need to practice self-regulation skills, so we practiced correct ways to respond to disappointment. They also learned in share circle that everyone can’t talk at the same time. These are all social-emotional skills they will need when they begin Kindergarten–virtually or in person.”
Key takeaways for a successful virtual Kindergarten experience:
- Keep lessons short and switch activities regularly–ideally, every 10 minutes.
- Provide tactile experiences in addition to virtual. Give them things to do with their hands!
- Schedule brain breaks into the day for students to get up and move.
- In addition to the time together online, provide supplemental activities for parents to do away from the computer screen.
- Create a playlist of songs for students to enjoy beyond school hours.
- Use Youtube videos that teach phonics and mathematics.
- Instead of reading on screen, use Youtube videos of books so that students can see the visuals more clearly.
It wasn’t just the students who benefited from the virtual camp. As they begin the school year online, the teachers now feel more prepared, too!
“This was such a good practice run of what to expect and do,” says Dr. Brandon. “I feel confident. As a veteran teacher, I am more than willing to show other educators how to do this well. The virtual camp was great practice of what to expect with virtual learning.”