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The pandemic, preschoolers and online learning, how to make sense of it all.

Remember the day you dropped your child to school or waved goodbye at the bus stop? That seems like a distant memory. We have come far from it and may never return to the old ways of schooling.

What remains is the fact that learning during the developmental years of a child is foundational in every aspect. Toddlers acquire crucial skills in a short time in the pre-school and kindergarten stage. Brain development is particularly rapid between the ages of 0-5 as this is the time that the brain develops most rapidly, suggests UNICEF. Therefore, delays in development in this phase can lead to lifelong consequences in terms of learning abilities.

The skills young children acquire in preschool might appear simple, but they’re the foundation on which all other learning is based on. From socialising and learning how to share, drawing and writing with a pencil, these are the skills that let children succeed later in grade school. When a situation like COVID takes place, learning is left on the wayside. A kid who hasn’t acquired basic skills in preschool because of the pandemic wouldn’t be able to participate fully in future classes: how do you write sentences when you don’t know the alphabet? How do you do addition and subtraction when you don’t know how to count to 100?

The lack of these skills at such a critical age can cause children to lag behind for years and years. This can lead to a whole range of other problems, from poor socialisation and aggressiveness to bad academic outcomes in later years. Real-time classroom space or not, parents and children need to adapt to the new normal quickly. Online learning tools are the silver lining in an otherwise grey situation. They are proving pivotal for young learners and their parents in the here and now. Online learning is helping to bridge the gap between the skills kids need and the environment and people they can learn from. While virtual learning still isn’t a complete substitute for the in-school experience, we think today’s e-learning tools and strategies ensure your Super-kid gets the wings she needs to fly through grade school.

Let us look at how virtual learning can be the game-changer for your child's formative learning years.

Re-imagining Learning

The pandemic has been a catalyst in shifting our mindset towards education. Despite recognising the digital future, we blindly conformed with the traditional schooling model of sitting in a class, following a fixed time-table, and adhering to the uniform.

The problem here is that traditional approaches to classroom learning don’t always translate that well to stay-at-home online experiences. In a traditional setup, we want our kids to be at attention for the whole forty-five minutes to an hour. We expect them to be physically present and focusing on what’s being taught up front. The problem is clear: home environments just aren’t built with that kind of an experience for young learners in mind. School and college students might not find it a problem to sit still on a Zoom call for an hour. But young learners are looking for stimulation. At preschool, they’re able to talk to other kids, share, and have fun while learning. All of those aspects just don’t translate directly to a virtual environment.

New approaches are needed that take your child's environment into consideration.

In many cases, blended learning is more beneficial than old-school methods. The mundane tasks can be automated so the teachers focus on imparting quality education. The pandemic offers teachers a great opportunity to focus on the kind of active learning best suited for preschoolers. What colour is yellow? What does soft mean? Teachers can ask kids to explore new concepts through their lives at home, and share through video. It’s important to note what we’re not saying here, too. Virtual learning doesn’t mean your kid has to be in front of the tablet or PC webcam for the entire duration of the class. It’s hard enough for adults to do that during work calls! Instead, hands on, hybrid learning approaches can encourage your kid to see the tab and the video call as a hub for their learning. When the teacher asks them to find a yellow object, they’ll run to their room, pick up a toy car, and bring it back. The focus isn’t on mere attendance. It’s on using the home environment to reinforce concepts and enable learning.

Academicians across the world envision a hybrid-learning model going ahead. This is because it helps young learners discover more via their primary senses and marks a change from the regressive rote-learning patterns. Hybrid learning helps to reinforce the idea of “learning by doing” from a young age. This encourages kids to think of the things they learn in class in terms of their lived experience, not just as abstract concepts. Yes, Johny from the math textbook might have purchased 50 watermelons and 25 carrots, but what matters to your kid is what’s inside your fridge. Vast Pool of Resources

The advent of remote learning has practically forced institutions to bring innovation in primary education. Private and government schools alike, with support from ed-tech platforms, are advancing and equipping themselves with new-age tools. This can range from adopting virtual and augmented reality tools along with 3D models.

The online schooling model is, therefore, vast and presents endless opportunities. It offers a pool of interactive resources like videos and graphics that help children seek a better understanding of the topic. It also leads to higher attention spans, and fewer distractions, experts suggest. The very nature of online schooling makes it interesting for kids, who have a natural flair for technology these days.

Moreover, the upcoming virtual tutoring platforms are a cherry on the cake. The personalisation, one-on-one tutor-student relationship, and technology-based learning techniques are accelerating the developmental learning of young students.

There is so much more that schools and teachers can do with technology to reinforce and augment the learning experience. While VR is still at an early stage, AR (augmented reality), via smartphone and tablet cameras, has the potential to offer very interesting learning experiences. Parents can help kids to use AR tools and games, by scanning the environment with the camera to get fun media and videos.

Virtual tutoring also offers a range of other possibilities. Notably, online classes can help teachers give kids one-on-one attention. Class sizes in physical preschools can often be large and in the double digits. But by staggering class times, teachers can connect with smaller groups of kids to give each individual learner one on one attention. This is especially important when it comes to some young learners who are struggling to learn key skills. If your kid doesn’t know how to use a pair of scissors or glue, a closer one on one interaction, together with parental support can help them pick up vital skills.

More Confidence, Higher Engagement

Zoom and Skype classrooms are proving to be interactive and engaging for young learners. Let's say an otherwise shy child wouldn't participate in the usual classroom setup. Yet, when it comes to video conversations, children open up easily.

The youngest learners are just getting socialised. This creates a unique opportunity to build confidence in preschoolers at an early level. Many kids love to share and video chat based sharing can be used to reinforce this. And the virtual nature of online class makes it easier for teachers to encourage the shyest kids in class to break out of their shell.

Socialisation is a big part of what makes the preschool experience so valuable. When forced to stay home in the long term, the biggest risk that kids face is not being able to mature socially. Online classes and video calls can help immensely in this respect. Kids are often shyer in unfamiliar environments, which can prevent them from being as vocal as they could be. From the comfort of home, though, your kid will feel much less pressure when it comes to talking in class, chatting with peers, and answering the teacher. While the quarantine’s forced into physical isolation, virtual classes can help ensure that your kids don’t miss out on socialisation.

Improved Learning and Tracking Progress

Researchers say that the re-invented model has immense benefits including focussed teaching, improved learning outcomes, and higher retention rates. This is because students can learn at their own pace, revisit concepts, skip or accelerate their learning as they like.

What's more, is your child's progress can be measured and tracked in real-time instead of a half-yearly report card. New-age analytical tools offer insights into your child's learning ability, weekly performance, and comprehensive assessment. So every student's progress is measured. In turn, this helps teachers to curate and structure course modules accordingly.

In a normal preschool environment, teachers monitor progress in a more or less ad-hoc manner. Even in higher grades, standardised tests only tell one part of the story when it comes to learning outcomes. Analytics and big data-based tools can help overcome these limitations. Teachers become aware of student progress at every stage. The correct remediation steps can be taken early on to make sure every learner is in the best possible position. For instance, if your kid has trouble with the alphabet, an analytics solution could flag this after one or two at-home quizzes. Spaced repetition and other engaging techniques could be used to fill in the gaps. Summing it-up

Undoubtedly, e-learning will have a lasting impact on traditional education pedagogy and children's learning capabilities. You should prepare for tech-infrastructure for your child and find ways to personalize learning at home too.

Like you, young toddlers are adapting to the new world, so don't forget to provide a structured environment because the young ones can easily get distracted. Finally, allow them the flexibility and autonomy in their learning choices and see them grow into smart primary-schoolers. Also, don't forget to add home-schooling and virtual learning to your education lingo.

For better or for worse, virtual learning is here to stay. What matters now is how we use virtual tools to ensure that children aren’t missing out on learning, fun, and personal development because of COVID. There’s a whole generation of learners here right now and it’s our collective responsibility to make sure that, lockdown or not, they develop into healthy well-developed young people.

This article was originally written for ParentEdge magazine, Nov-Dec 2020 edition.

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