Kindergarten is absolutely an important time for the social and academic growth of students.

“I really wish COVID-19 hadn’t happened during my daughter’s kindergarten year. I feel any other year would have been better,” said Kelly Gaither, mom to a 5-year-old kindergarten student at Kingsville Elementary in Baltimore County, Maryland.

Gaither’s daughter is learning fully online via Google Meet and she said the hardest part is to know that as a new kindergartner, this is her daughter’s first experience with “real” school.

“We were really excited for the first day of school, the first bus ride, and obviously those things haven’t happened,” said Gaither. “It has been really hard watching her cry multiple times because she didn’t like virtual learning and didn’t want to do it anymore. I know she would absolutely love school if she was in with her classmates, so I have been afraid this is ruining her first experiences with school and that it will cause a long-term dislike of school. This should be the time she loves school the most.”

Gaither said she worries less about the academics and more on her daughter missing out on extremely important social growth and interaction at this point in a kindergartener’s life. She has already noticed some negative impacts, such as her daughter not wanting to leave the house much anymore or go anywhere without her.

Upon hearing the argument that kindergarteners may be the subset most affected by remote learning, we recruited the expertise and insights of Rachel Klein, a K-12 consultant for District Management Group in Boston. Klein and DMG have supported more than 80 districts and state agencies across the country in Fall 2020 back to school planning and implementation.

Delving into Gaither’s and her kindergarteners’ experience:

 

What has the experience been like for you as a parent, and what are your thoughts on how the school is handling education during COVID?

It has been quite difficult at times as a parent, especially as a working mom. Luckily I have my mother’s help watching my children at my home and assisting my daughter with virtual kindergarten. However, my mom is not very good with the computer, so many times I have to stop what I am doing to go help my daughter and my mother.  In addition, there’s been many technical difficulties and I have had to message several of her teachers to try to figure things out. It’s just taken up a lot of my time which I wouldn’t mind at all if I didn’t also have a full time job.  So all around it has been quite stressful and upsetting at times.

What has the experience been like for your child?

This has been a difficult transition for my daughter. She is very smart, but can be very shy at first. I have been worried most about her lack of social and emotional growth during this COVID period and virtual learning time. She made a great deal of progress last year in preschool, but unfortunately that was cut short. So then from there we went straight into virtual school for Kindergarten.  It has definitely been tough. There has been many a day filled with tears and frustration (for both me and my daughter). However, her teacher has been absolutely amazing and has even helped her get through a difficult time, such as when she noticed that my daughter was getting upset on camera. I have also discovered she seems to do better when my mom and I aren’t sitting with her, which surprised me. However, we can’t completely leave her on her own at the computer as there are still so many things she doesn’t know how to do herself.

What is working well with regard to virtual learning?

She has gotten really good at learning how to mute/unmute herself and hide/show her screen in the Google Meet. She thrives when the teacher breaks her into smaller groups. She is in a group with only four other girls and I think this has really helped her to come out of her shell. There are 23 students in her entire class and many of the boys are not shy at all and will talk a lot but a lot of the girls, including my daughter are much more shy. But in this small group she really truly thrives.  I think this has helped her to volunteer more during regular class too, so I have really started to notice some huge improvements since the first few weeks.

How is the school keeping students engaged as they learn virtually?

They are trying to do so many fun things on the computer, such as playing videos, having them dance, do yoga, and other fun physical activities.  Her kindergarten teacher has set up a virtual classroom with various centers so it looks like a real kindergarten class. Each “center” is set up with a ton of different activities. You can click on each of these items and each one will take you to a different link – so maybe a learning game with blocks, or a video to watch, or a song to listen to. There are also tons of resources via BCPS like virtual libraries where kids her age who aren’t reading great yet can pick from a ton of books and press a button to have the book read to them. This part of virtual learning I have been quite impressed with.

What are you hearing from other parents?

I have heard thoughts ranging the entire spectrum.  However, most parents I know have so much admiration for the teachers. My daughter’s teacher is phenomenal.  She is constantly emailing the parents and always available to help.  I have spoken to her about the concerns and she has really helped my daughter to make great strides in just these first four weeks. I am so incredibly grateful for her. Her school itself has also been really amazing.

What are the school’s plans for reopening?

Originally they had a plan for BCPS kindergarten only to go back November 13th, which I and many other parents, as well as my daughter’s teacher, were extremely excited about. However, as part of this plan, they were also going to make all teachers go back to teaching from their classrooms virtually in mid-October. The teachers’ unions and many teachers did not want that part of it and protested. Instead of just scrapping the October return for all teachers, they pretty much scrapped it all. So now, we have no clue when she’s going back. It’s set for the beginning of February right now, but at this rate, I worry if they will ever go back honestly. Most parents I know, including myself, want them to go back into the classroom.

Klein’s thoughts and analysis

While kindergarten is a critical year, many families choose not to send their children to full or half-day kindergarten and those students have many opportunities to build relationships with school and with peers in later years, Klein said.

“In fact, only 19 states and the District of Columbia require that students attend any kindergarten. As a former first grade teacher in California, it was painfully clear to me at the beginning of the year which students had attended kindergarten and which had not, but by the end of the year that divide wasn’t noticeable. At that age, children mature and develop at such different rates that a student who comes into kindergarten behind could very well be the high flyer by the end.”

Klein also said it’s important to note that people have an incredible capacity for adaptation.

“Notice how many of the new routines and structures we added in March seemed stark at the time, but now feel almost normal, such as aimless walks to get movement in. Young children are even more resilient as their brains and bodies continue to develop.”

Klein said she understands how painful it must be for parents to see their children feeling the impact of this pandemic. Her own nephew, age 5, is in remote kindergarten this year and her sister and brother-in-law have shared a sense of inadequacy as parents because they cannot provide what they know is best for their son.

“I have full confidence, however, that children will return to school within the next year and that, as children tend to do, they will bounce back to “normalcy” even more quickly than we as adults are able,” she said.

The silver lining

Gaither said while it’s been a stressful time as a parent, she is trying to focus on the positives, such as how her daughter has become tech savvier and knows how to use a mouse and navigate online now, skills she may not have picked up until later on otherwise.

“I am trying so hard to always talk about it positively to my daughter and use this as a learning experience that life won’t always be easy and there will be a ton of adversity to get through.  So we just all have to make the most of it and do our best.”

Klein’s viewpoint mirrors these thoughts.

“I also think this imperfect way of living is providing some opportunities for learning that wholly do not compensate for what is lost, but are notable nonetheless. For example, children are learning how to navigate computers with an agility that parents still lack. The fact that within a few weeks my nephew and Gaither’s daughter were able to effortlessly use the mute and unmute button to participate in “class,” is amazing.

Feeling comfortable with programs and computer features is a skill that will be important for life, especially for this generation, Klein said.

“Children are also experiencing boredom, fatigue and frustration and while parents understandably want to shield their children from these “negative” emotions, these could be opportunities for children to grow productive coping strategies. I would argue boredom shouldn’t even count as negative, as research has shown that boredom begets creativity.”

Verbit can also help guide K-12 schools on engagement tactics to ensure virtual learning is setting up students for success. Our tools offer captioning and transcription which can help teachers and parents with notes of everything the teacher said in a lesson, as well as help to meet the specific accessibility needs of today’s students. Contact us here to learn more.