Photo by DJ Harris
By Shelly Bautista
After taking the weekend to gather myself, I began to reflect on what distance learning might look like for us. Even though I was home, my teacher's mind couldn't seem to turn off. As much as we have tried to keep student’s minds calm by reminding them that these few weeks - with no clear end date - are precautionary, we continue to wonder how they may be taking this change. They’ve shared so much with me that I am able to get a sense of what “home life” might be like for them. I wanted to give the kids an opportunity to socialize with each other and also provide some perspective for them on what is going on. I knew that seeing each other in our homes would let them know that we’re all in this together!
Preparing for Virtual Education with Little Learners
I started reaching out to parents through Seesaw’s messaging feature. Fortunately, most of my parents were already signed up and were hooked from the moment I started posting pictures of their kids learning in the classroom. I called families and emergency contacts. Once all families were connected, I used the old trick of sharing past pictures of the kids in the classroom with positive and encouraging messages. Letting them know that “we’re going to get through this together,” was the first step in expressing my care and support. It wasn’t about academics. It was about the wellbeing of my students and families.
I knew that the kids missed each other and it was time to join together for a virtual social gathering for my class. As you can tell from the photo, I had a blast! I wanted the kids to see that they were not the only ones who are learning from home. One kid made an expression like he thought I was lying to him, but seeing me confirmed that I really wasn’t. It seemed to be working and the message was coming across.
We talked about our feelings, showed work samples/toys, gave each other house tours. Then, I let them all turn their mics on to talk to each other. The parents really learned what TK sounded like!
Open Up Discussions To Open Communication Lines
I asked parents and kids if they had any questions. Here were the kids responses:
- “I have lots of questions.” (but didn’t have one at the moment)
- “Look at the picture I drew of us.” (s’cute!)
- “Want to see my doll?” (we really need a lesson on statements vs questions)
- “When are we going back to school?” (Uhhh..How do I respond/ react to that?)
That was very difficult for me to answer. My response was, “I really don’t know when. You see, we’re such good friends that we can’t help but hug and give each other high fives, so for now we’re going to be learning from home to keep our germs to ourselves. My number one job is to make sure you’re safe and this is how we are going to keep you safe!”
Our Kids are Watching Us for Guidance in a Stressful Situation
It was interesting to be looked to for answers, not just from my students, but also their parents. All those feelings that you have about this whole pandemic is being seen by others, whether through physical or virtual quarantine circumstances, including your little learners. They see how you respond to these types of situations. It's okay to feel the way you feel. We are all dealing with a situation unparalleled from past experience. Try to remember that now these kids are creating memories and how you react will play a big role in how they learn to respond to these types of stressful situations. It’s okay that they are scared, confused, have questions, and make toilet paper jokes. I say, “Different copes for different folks,” but be aware that now they are looking to you for how to respond. You are their model. You show them how to handle the situation. You don't have to stop yourself from having your own uncertain or uneasy feelings but allow your kids to join in and be a part of the process.
Show them what it looks, sounds and feels like to be aware of your feelings, regulate your emotions and how to cope with it all so that when they have those feelings they know how to deal with them.
Tips to Model Positive Behaviors and Manage Feelings with Little Learners
Try some of these ideas by first modeling these tasks then allowing your child to try.
- Check in daily with your feelings. Ask yourself how you’re doing. Talk and label your feelings with a word. (ie. I am sad).
- Rate your level of feeling. I am “very” mad. Try feeling your heartbeat when you're upset. Kids can run in place to mimic the feeling.
- Explore ways to bring that rate down. Show them how to take deeeeeeep breaths to lower their heart rate. Invent different breathing techniques like breathing in flowers and blowing out candles or cover your mouth to make a mask over your mouth and breath while making Darth Vadar sounds.
- Allow yourself to experience your emotion. The next time you want to cry, try to explain to them why you’re crying. Maybe even let them cry with you.
- Practice being happy. Set a timer and smile at each other for that long. Download Daniel Tiger Parent App and have a singing party!
- Think positive. Train yourself to think that when something is difficult you can think of positive things to put the negative things into perspective. List off all the things that you are thankful for. Include them in your list!
- Let them know you need space. Show them that space isn’t just a corner. Sometimes it’s just time to yourself. Make sure to come back to them when you are ready! Talk about why you needed space.
- Think out loud to yourself so they can hear and learn how you problem-solve. Not all those ideas will work, and when they don’t, you can always try something else.
- Explain that sometimes it can be scary to not have all the answers but that it is okay. When things seem super dark that you just have to take one step at a time (Frozen II reference). Maybe limit the amount of questions they can ask (for your sanity) or learn to find the beauty in their sense of wonder.
And of course, remind them that the toilet paper jokes are in fact just jokes and that it’s important to be environmentally conscious. There are many alternatives to tissue that can be used (technology now and then lesson).
Shelly Bautista is a 7th year primary teacher at Carson Street STEAM Academy in Carson, CA and is currently teaching TK. Shelly received her Master’s in Education Technology and Media Leadership to find fun and creative ways to integrate technology in her class, school and community. Through professional development and conferences she is working to empower others to do the same! She has spent the past 8 years as a director for the San Pedro and Peninsula YMCA Resident Summer Camp providing support to youth development counselors. As a PBS Early Learning Champion, Shelly hopes to elevate the early learning profession through empowering early learners, teachers, parents and caregivers to better meet the needs of our young scholars. Follow her teaching journey on Instagram at @SpunkyLittleScholars
Reprinted with permission of PBS NewsHour Extra.