Teaching in the Time of Coronavirus

toddler wearing glasses looking at a computer

Possibly teaching from your living room via technology and not actually seeing your students face to face is not what you signed up for. These are strange times we’re living…and teaching…in, and all our teacher prep courses didn’t necessarily prepare us for this. Never-the-less…here are some things to take into account:

  • Think about what technology is available to you. Your district’s tech department can give you access to one-on-one or group meeting features like Zoom, Google Hang-Outs, or Skype. Some of these features you already have on your phone or computer. The question is, will your families have the equipment in their homes to access these tools? The most likely tool that families will have to communicate face to face with you is FaceTime via their cell phones.
  • How do we work on IEP or IFSP goals from a distance? We’re now in the zone of relying on families to do our teaching for us.  How have we prepared families to do this…home visits, parent group meeting? We know that families are the first teachers of their children.  How shall we make certain they have the tools to help their children continue learning? Thing is, their children are learning all the time…we just need to help families direct that learning toward the things we’ve agreed their child should be focusing on.
  • Who are the family members we’ll be working with? The child’s parents? Family caregivers like grandparents? Some of your family members may be essential workers and first responders and not home to work with their child so, again, you may be working with other family members or child care providers. Or they may be working from home and not have much time to focus on anything beyond basic care. If parents are not available, how do you keep them in the loop regarding what their child is learning? Some may not speak English and you’ll need an interpreter to work with them. Some may not have reading skills so written materials may not be appropriate. Are there other children in the home who, if older, are likely needing help with school work themselves or, if younger, are just needing attention?

So how do I do this? It’s not the same as planning for your classroom…though closer to planning for a home visit if that’s how you deliver your services. But it’s possible to translate what you do in your classroom to the home…even using technology. Here are a few ideas and later I’ll give you some resources you can use and share with families.

  • Now’s the time for that Routines Based Interview I’ve been harping on for years. What’s that? It’s looking, with the family, at the structure of their day, where the trouble spots and quality time spots are with their child. For our purposes think about a modified interview over the phone or on a mailed or e-mailed questionnaire. How does their child’s day start? What are the sequences of activities during the day? What are the times their child has difficulty?  What are the times that goals and objectives (or outcomes) on the IEP or IFSP are most needed or assist their child’s functioning and learning? What materials do they already have in their home and what must we supplement?
  • What objectives or outcomes are on the child’s IEP or IFSP that can be addressed with what’s at hand or with a naturally occurring activity?
    • For example, we’ve been working on the child’s using two words to ask for or describe something. What are times of the day when it’s important or typical for the child to use language? We can give the family or caregivers the words to model for the child and ways to reinforce her attempts. We can talk about this on the communication platform you are using and we can follow up with an e-mail outlining what we talked about.
    • Food preparation is a good learning time for language, colors, shapes as well as using (age appropriate tools) to increase fine motor skills…measuring, filling and pouring at the sink (or later, in the bathtub), or even a bit of cutting…even a three-year-old is capable of cutting a pb&j sandwich in half with a table knife. Your occupational therapist will also have some great ideas to share. There’s also math and science involved in these kinds of activities. We can give caregivers these ideas and, again, follow-up with an e-mail.
    • Is there outdoor space or a nearby park (where we are still able to socially distance) to practice gross motor objectives? Or even some space in the house for a bit of running, hopping, or crawling.  We can work on development as well as just burn off the energy accumulated by being restricted to the house.  My granddaughters are fond of building obstacle courses that create opportunities for practicing motor skills as well as planning and problem solving, math, and understanding of place (under, over, on top of.) Families can use whatever they have on hand—sofa pillows, tape, blankets, paper, books, chairs—to create something together that children can recreate over and over. And, again, your physical therapist will have some ideas about this.
    • What television programs does the family watch? Families can become language models by talking about what their child is seeing, describing scenes, interpreting action (that man is climbing a ladder; he’s on top of the car.)
    • What are natural times to use serve and return techniques? Times when the caregivers can be attentive and responsive to the child’s activities…language, toy play, etc. Families can learn to pay attention to what their child is doing/saying…’car’…and follow up with a comment, a reinforcer, or an extension…’yes, a red car.’  And, once again, your speech pathologist will have some ideas about how to extend language.

These are just some ideas for you to begin teaching adults to teach their children.  A couple of things to remember:

  • Let families know that they don’t have to be formally teaching all the time but as they begin to understand and develop skills in using naturally occurring activities throughout the day they will be teaching.
  • Let them also know that teaching goes best when it’s around what the child is interested in. Especially with preschoolers at home the idea of it’s time to sit down now and learn is not always effective.
  • Encourage parents to have a routine in which the same type of things occur each day. This helps a lot with figuring out what those naturally occurring teaching times are and give children some structure and expectations about what comes next.

It will be useful, if you haven’t already done it, to create packets of some basic materials for families.  Crayons, markers, paper, children’s scissors, glue sticks, maybe even a few books that you may not get back or that you may have to thoroughly sanitize when you get them back.

Here are a couple of resources that may help you as you focus on helping families that they are teachers:

And More Resources for You and for Families

  • My current favorite is PBS Kids. Lots of videos, games, and activities for a variety of age groups.
  • Reading Rockets…might be focused a little older but still some great ideas you and parents can use…especially for your off to kindergarten in the fall   They have some tips for parents for growing readers.
  • An interesting article, Parenting During Corona Virus: What to Know About Playdates, On-line Learning and More will be informative for teachers and families alike.
  • Choice Literacy has a good video about picture walking through a book. It’s a nice demo for you or parents to look at for ideas about how to use a book.
  • PreKinders, which usually sells their materials (though not expensive) has some freebies you can access to give to parents or just get some ideas from.
  • ADDITUDE, an on-line newsletter primarily focusing on children who have ADD/ADHD has tips for families about helping children thrive as learners at home.
  • ABC Mouse, which typically charges for its materials, is currently having a 30-day free trial. It has videos and activities many of which would be appropriate for families at home.
  • APPS To Communicate with Families has several possibilities for on-line communication.
  • StimolaLive is a website with live and archived events from real authors and illustrators. Age ranges from preschooler to teen.  

And lets don’t forget Dolly Parton reading bedtime stories on Facebook at

And finally, when you’re feeling down and burdened with all the changes and all you now have to learn and do try the adultitis fighters, Jason and Kim Kotecki. Some of you may have seen Jason a few years back at the Infant and Early Childhood Conference.  At their site, Escape Adulthood, they do a daily coffee time, tour Jason’s studio, introduce you to some of the ideas in his books, and give you sneak peaks at his art. A good remedy for a grey, stressful day.

This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the Early Childhood Express newsletter.