Preparing to support Online Junior Kindergarten

It was announced this week that elementary students in Ontario will remain at home until January 25. The original plan was for one week only, then a return to F2F learning in schools. In our family this meant only one partial day of learning for our grandson in Junior Kindergarten: he hung up on his class by mistake, and wouldn’t go back.  And with both his parents working full-time from home, he was left to his own devices for much of the following four days.

So, since he will be at home for another two weeks, I offered to have him move in with us.  I picked him up on Friday, and I am already getting to know the idiosyncracies of the four-year-old brain.  He loves to multi-task: eating while playing with cars, playing with cars while watching Netflix, watching Netflix while trying out tumbling moves on the carpet.  None of this promises to work well with a Chromebook and headphones when he returns to class on Monday.

His parents, one of whom is teaching two classes of grade 11 Biology synchronously, weren’t able to sit next to him while he participated in his class Google Meets, nor assist him to navigate Google Classroom as a pre-reader.  I’m not sure if I am going to be any more successful, but I am going to give it a try.

Here’s what I am going to do, hoping for better success for him:

  1. Create a standing desk for him, with his Chromebook at eye level.
  2. Set up the microphone and speaker in the Chromebook, so that he isn’t tethered to the device.
  3. Seat myself at a desk next to him, for my parallel work.  I will be able to view his screen, hear his teachers, and generally monitor his interactions.  But I will be working on my computer at the same time, so that he doesn’t feel isolated.
  4. Provide a table next to him, with fidget toys, small puzzles, and other items that he can use if his mind wanders.
  5. Allow him to leave it gets to be too much.

Our Kindergarten programs are play-based, and there is little in the online environment that supports this approach. However, his teachers pivoted to remote learning last March, with mostly asynchronous content provided via Google Classroom, and so they will have created rich resources.  In September there were elementary online schools created for families who chose not to send their children back to physical schools, and there is now a huge pool of expertise and experience. His current teacher and early childhood educator will be able to learn from their experienced colleagues, so I am confident that the instruction will be strong.

My main concern is his attention span. I have watched him devour video content, but when he does so it is usually in 10 to 15-minute chunks, and usually with a great deal of physical movement on his part.  There is no HDMI output on the Chromebook, so I can’t even attach a larger screen, as I had originally hoped.  This would have made the teacher and class visible anywhere in our room, and would have allowed him much more physical freedom to move.

So, I will try to mitigate the limitations of the small screen, untether him from the audio, and we will see how it will go. We will build in lots of physical activity in the nutrition and body breaks, and Grandma will benefit as well.

Wish me luck! (And please send me any suggestions you might have.)

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