COVID-19: How to keep your preschoolers engaged during isolation

March 26, 2020

By Mary Ann Cahill
Suddenly, it’s a new world. Your child’s preschool has shut down amid the coronavirus crisis, and you’re wondering how you can provide educational experiences for your littles. Unlike school-age children who may be provided with online curriculum and virtual visits with their teachers, preschool children have not been offered many of these options.  
The best thing to remember is that children are learning all the time. They learn from every single conversation they engage in, every chore or task they perform at home, every interaction they have with media.
Mary-Ann-CahillThe very best thing you can do with your preschooler is to engage them in reciprocal conversation. Reciprocal conversation is different from using command language such as “Brush your teeth” or “Feed the dog.” It invites your children to use language to convey ideas. This moves the conversation from passive to active and gives them important opportunities to explore and retain vocabulary and practice discussion skills.
These kinds of conversations can go a long way in lessening the vocabulary gap that often exists by the time children reach kindergarten. Life gets hectic, and between rushing to work and daycare, making meals and paying bills, actual conversation often is limited. If you spend this entire quarantine time only offering conversation opportunities, you will have provided outstanding homeschooling. For additional background on reciprocal conversation, click here.
Reading interactively with children is another excellent way to pass the time. They can learn many concepts of print just by paying attention to the way you hold the book, turn the pages, draw attention to the pictures, and demonstrate that words hold meaning. Be mindful of asking questions about the story—not necessarily to test comprehension, but to demonstrate how your brain is making meaning while reading. Making statements like, “I can picture this in my mind just from the words” or “I wonder what will happen next” sets children up to actively interact with the book.
It may be tempting to hand over the smart phone or tablet, but also consider using things around the house to set up activities: a game of flashlight tag, for instance, or a neighborhood hike on which you wrap some thick masking tape around your child’s wrists, sticky-side out, so they can stick small treasures like feathers to it and make a hiking bracelet. Some other ideas that don’t involve technology can be found here.
Sometimes, though, technology is absolutely necessary, especially if you are engaging in work by telecommuting. We’ve all seen the commercials where the dad is trying to be professional online and the kids come barging in. I’m hopeful that we are all being kind and gentle with our colleagues during this time, but these sorts of interruptions should be kept to a minimum. In these cases, I have found myriad online activities for children that are more interactive than watching Frozen II for the eighth time:
  • Audible is offering free streaming of children’s stories online. You can access information about Audible Stories here.
  • Mo Willems, one of my very favorite children’s authors (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!), is leading doodle activities online every weekday at 1 p.m. EST. You can access information on these 20-minute sessions (which are also being archived) here.
  • Many other children’s authors are also reading their books aloud online and offering activities on social media. You can find a list of more than 50 of these activities here
  • You can also broaden your child’s scope of experiences with virtual field trips. It would be especially valuable if you could watch with your child and talk about what they’re learning (talking is key!). Here is a list of more than 30 virtual experiences, from farms to zoos to Mars.
There is so much available at your fingertips. But again, if nothing else sticks with you from this article, please remember to read and talk to your child as much as possible during your time together. These are by far the most important “homeschooling” activities that can take place.
Dr. Mary Ann Cahill is an associate professor of literacy and the chair of the Undergraduate Teaching and Master of Arts in Teaching program in the Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education at Bellarmine University. Her research focuses on promoting literacy skills for early readers. 

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