With the vast majority of our nation’s schools—from preschools to universities—shuttered, there has been a mad scramble for remote learning resources. Parents are deluged with myriad apps and links to online lesson plans, while teachers are expected to seamlessly convert in-classroom experiences to an online screen. For the children and families living in underserved communities, the educational inequities that existed in spades before the COVID-19 crisis are now being magnified for policymakers and other leaders. Most of that attention, however, is focused on the issue of technology and access to it. That is certainly important, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, and especially for young children, it is not a silver bullet.
From its inception, Jumpstart has based its work with young children on high-quality adult-child interactions. These practices are drawn from decades of early childhood education research and science that emphasize the importance of a strong curriculum and the integration of teaching practices recognized in the field, including strategies for building children’s vocabulary, working effectively with dual language learners, and using adult-child interactions to extend and deepen children’s learning.
A principal element of Jumpstart’s approach is playful learning. Research tells us that children’s play supports their development across multiple domains, including oral language, social-emotional, and literacy development. For young children, learning is an active and social endeavor. Indeed, “paper and pencil activities are less useful teaching tools, on the whole, than hands-on activities such as dramatizing fairy tales, squeezing clay into animal shapes, hanging from a jungle gym, building block castles, or getting messy with paint” (Copple and Bredekamp, 2009, p. 10). Young children learn best when they are actively engaged with materials and ideas in playful contexts.
We have held this knowledge front and center while developing resources that are now available through our website for families and educators to support their children’s learning during this time. To better reach families with limited access to computers and technology, we will be pushing out tips and activities, including videos of storybook reading, through Ready4K, an easy to use texting platform in both English and Spanish.
Our learn-at-home guides focus on three simple actions:
- Read together
- Talk about new words and ideas; and
The suggestions for play make use of found objects at home. In the story, The Lion and the Little Red Bird, for example, lion turns his tail into a paintbrush and paints the walls of his cave in different colors. Parents or caregivers can encourage children to name some of the colors from the story’s pictures, like the green forests, orange flowers, bright blue sky, and deep blue lake. Then ask their child to pick a color and say its name aloud, followed by a hunt around the home to look for small items that match that color. Children may want to collect items in a small basket or paper bag. Parents or caregivers are encouraged to talk with their children about the items they found, taking time to name the items and describe their color, features, and use. Then, they can play again with a different color.
These activities reinforce a basic fact: the relationship between a child and adult is the foundation on which learning occurs. While recognizing the very real challenges brought about by COVID-19, we can help families support their children’s learning by reading, talking, and playing. Please visit our At-Home Learning resource page.