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Remote early learning during lockdown: a child-centred approach

Alphablocks Nursery School offered learning packs, live video sessions and recorded activities to support an online curriculum at home, from phonics and maths to physical education.

At the core of our mission is empowering children to become confident learners. But how can this happen during a widespread lockdown, like the one we have been experiencing due to the Covid-19 pandemic? As a team of outstanding early years educationalists, we quickly recognised that we had our work cut out for us and that it would not – could not – be “business as usual”. And although the way we deliver our educational approach to our families and children had to change, we still had to focus on the continuity of our children’s learning experiences. This is how we did this, and why.

In the first 5 years of a child’s life the brain matures faster than at any other time. What feels like a month to most of us, as adults, may feel like an awful lot longer for a young child. In addition, social distancing and other imposed measures may be extremely unusual and disruptive to a child, making them feel worried or anxious. Learning experiences are vital for a young child’s development and well-being. We therefore needed to act in a way that balances the learning needs of our children’s young minds, as well as their right to a normal, anxiety-free childhood.

There were various areas where we changed our usual routines and modes of operation, while keeping our core learning experiences as consistent as possible. We introduced and focused on these four areas

  1. Home learning packs
  2. Live video sessions
  3. Recorded sessions for Tapestry
  4. Parent meetings via video calls

Home learning packs

It was something that we had not planned or expected to be offering, however continuing with our hybrid approach we reflected on Reggio Emilia practices

When we provide children with multiple avenues for learning (role-playing, dancing, drawing, painting, mark-making, listening to music), we allow each child to learn in his or her own way.

So considering the current situation and different environments this needed to be considered and we needed to make sure that we provided a range of activities that allowed every child to learn and explore in their own way. The home packs allowed key teachers to provided an explanation around the intent and learning value of each activity.

Live video sessions

Live sessions allowed us to continue to build the relationships with the children and support them through their learning. These involved some specialist classes such as Music and Movement, Science, and Art. We also held regular focus groups with planned activities around our activity home packs and themes. This allowed the key teachers to continue to build on the relationship with the children and families as well as focus on activities to support the individual children’s developmental needs: for example phonic hunts, rhyme time or challenge games. Teachers encouraged the children’s engagement throughout and although at first the children were very keen to show their key teachers their environments, they soon became settled and normalised to this new way of communicating and learning. The teachers were able to observe the children’s confidence grow throughout their virtual learning experiences. The live sessions also provided the children a platform to build their confidence and to be able to continue to socially engage with others from outside their household and acknowledging each other.

Recorded sessions for Tapestry

This allowed parents the flexibility in accessing sessions as well as providing activities focusing on the theme of the term or on the story of the week. The recorded sessions were also used for an extension of the live sessions and to enhance those learning experiences that teachers captured from the children’s learning. For example, in the ‘Make Your Own Abstract Picture’ – which grew out of the original live session – the children were so engaged and inspired by the photos that it was extended for them to try and create a different abstract picture at home, and at their own time, using their creative thinking skills.

Reading of the story of Mr Big, short clip as part of the home learning pack during May 2020

Parent meetings via video call

Our parents have been consulted and engaged meaningfully in various activities, and this is a crucial element in our early learning approach. This, for example, can happen through inviting parents to problem-solve in Effie’s science class or use their physical and listening skills in Evi’s Music and Movement class. Tapestry also allows our parents to share different learning experiences taking place at home, strengthening the key teachers’ knowledge on what they needed to focus on for each child. This collaborative, co-consulting approach applies to a wide variety of subjects, including of course phonics and maths.