Remote learning in early childhood: can it work?

One early childhood educator is pushing against remote teaching for our youngest children and this is why.

With the current rapid evolution from classroom teaching to online and remote delivery, the early childhood sector is in a strange place. We’re an evolving industry that’s been pushing for more recognition as educational professionals for years now; something which is more deeply embedded in the everyday practice of the job than many could imagine.

It’s an important job, that we know; especially with our new fancy label of being ‘essential’.  The research backs us up, the families we work with back us up, and the government is beginning to back us up also. But, this fight to be viewed as professionals is, in some ways, a double-edged sword. Yes, we have much knowledge about how our youngest citizens learn. Yes, we teach (even when it looks like play). Yes, we plan lessons, we plan activities, we do ‘yard duty’, have endless staff meetings and attend professional development.

We are teachers. But must reflect on the knowledge which we’re holding closely to our chests- knowledge which turns heads, which makes our friends say ‘so you just play with kids all day then?’, and makes people raise their eyebrows or roll their eyes. Our children, your children, young children, learn through play. They learn through experiencing things, through investigating things, through feeling things. This is at the very core of what we practice in early childhood- and yes, that still makes us teachers and educators.

Here is the problem, as I see it: COVID-19 is encouraging a push to online learning, even in our sector.

In some ways, it’s a privilege for us; it’s a subtle nod in our direction- what we’re doing is important and the government doesn’t want any child to fall behind. Hooray, we have the power to keep children from falling behind! What recognition! We’re being closely grouped with schools; this rarely happens!

It’s both a privilege and a huge step towards the recognition we both crave and deserve. But here’s the catch: teaching remotely won’t be largely beneficial for our children.

It can’t be.

We can offer a prescriptive, inauthentic curriculum with videos of us reading stories, we can show videos of educators dancing, sharing happiness and joy, but nothing we do remotely will substitute for the pure physicality and intentionality of what we do each day. We can’t observe a child using tongs and note that their fine motor skills need developing; we can’t see their authentic and deep interest in bugs in the garden bed; we can’t theorize together, experiment together, laugh together, hug together or make funny faces at each other from across the classroom.

Video chats can only do so much in lieu of the pure physicality that is early childhood; it’s about relationships and it’s all about play.

As a sector, maybe it’s time to adjust our ever-so-tight grip on this most central knowledge. Maybe it’s time we take a step back, and let our parents know that over the coming weeks and months, it’s okay to get let their children be. Now, more than ever, it is important to emphasize the importance of what we do by sharing our knowledge, rather than sharing meaningless videos or activity ideas.

Let’s take this opportunity to let parents know the value of play. We can equip them with our knowledge-that play, without adult-intervention, builds resilience, problem-solving skills, motor skills, imagination, self-expression, and everything else.

Instead of planning curriculums for children who we can’t touch, hug, wipe their tears or blow their noses, let’s empower parents to view play and learning just as we do.

I’ll be writing an email to my families this week, outlining the different types of play, the differing stages of play, and the skills which are developed through each type.

I’m going to tell them to follow their child’s lead— to simply see where that takes them, and to go from there. I’ll be there, on the other end of the phone if they need support, but, most importantly I’m going to tell them that their children are in the best place they could be at the moment; at home with the people who love them the most.

Words: Meg Anastasi