How Can Virtual Preschools Support Children and Families During Unprecedented and Unpredictable Times?
This global pandemic has changed education forever. During the first wave of country-wide lockdowns in April 2020, with schools globally being shut in more than 165 countries, close to 1.5 billion children were out of school classrooms. Out of these, at least 40 million children – below the age of 5 years – without access to online learning and virtual preschools would have completely missed out on early years education in a time that is critical to their overall development. According to UNESCO, as the pandemic continues, more than 826 million children worldwide still have either no or only partial access to physical schools. The pandemic has resulted in monumental changes to education throughout the world and a massive shift to digital and distance learning.
In the UAE, we have been fortunate that all educational institutions, including nurseries and early learning centers, have reopened. However, many parents remain cautious and wait to return to physical childcare, and a large number of children participate in virtual early education.
Are virtual preschools viable alternatives to their physical counterparts?
Research shows that during the first five years of children’s lives, the brain develops incomparably faster than at any other time and is the most malleable it will ever be, making the early years a critical period. It can have lifelong negative implications if a child is not exposed to structured early learning opportunities, or their learning curve abruptly stops for a prolonged period.
We know that young children learn best through interaction and the meaningful relationships they build with their educators, peers, and the environment surrounding them. The current global situation has dramatically restricted children’s access to physical interactions and learning opportunities in a physical nursery environment. Efficient, high-quality virtual preschool programs consider how young children develop, how they stay engaged, how to adapt to children’s learning styles, needs, and interests, and how to efficiently and objectively measure children’s progress. Virtual preschool programs must be based on live interaction between experienced educators, children, and peers to ensure that young children benefit from online learning.
Learning activities should be multisensory, engaging, and meaningful, and grounded in and supported with research and child development, and of course, a lot of fun. Virtual preschools with such online learning programs have already shown extraordinary resourcefulness, dedication, and creativity in keeping children engaged and their learning curves sustained and progressing. Parents of children enrolled in such programs have reported that their children continued learning and developing. Furthermore, they have started building a community with a sense of belonging with their classmates and educators in virtual classrooms.
Supporting Families by Developing Emotional Resilience and Establishing a Sense of Normalcy in Young Children
COVID-19 has shaken all of us to our very cores. As parents, professionals, and individuals, we had to – in many cases – reinvent ourselves, and go through a prolonged state of uncertainty, that naturally becomes a source of stress. Our children can easily absorb this stress from us and from the unfiltered and potentially anxiety-inducing information they are bombarded with from newscasts and a multitude of sources around them. Children are more vulnerable than adults. They depend on us for their safety and security, even when we as adults may not feel safe and secure ourselves. Children are more vulnerable to the emotional impact of the many aspects in which COVID-19 has disrupted our everyday lives, threatening their sense of structure, predictability, and security.
Participating in a structured virtual preschool program will help your child maintain a sense of normalcy and support their emotional well-being. Virtual preschool programs give your children a safe and reassuring place where they can build nurturing and secure adult and peer relationships in an environment that offers them routine, structure, and opportunities to learn self-regulation. High-quality virtual preschool programs will support your child’s all-round development with a holistic and multisensory approach that will also have mindfulness and emotional well-being elements integrated. With consistent support, children can become incredibly resilient.
What Will Education in a Post-Pandemic World Look Like?
As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, hybrid forms of teaching and learning across all age groups dominate our new normal, and we can expect these to continue into the future beyond the pandemic. High-quality virtual preschool programs are rapidly becoming the next best alternatives to brick and mortar physical schools, ensuring that children’s development continues even if they continue to stay physically distant from their peers and educators.
This article is written By Fruzsina Benyei-Anirudhan, Head of Curriculum and Training, Kïdo Education – with over than 15 years of experience in multiple facets of Early Years Education.