Carnegie Mellon University
April 15, 2020

Children’s School Shares Resources For At-Home Learning

By Julie Mattera

Julie Mattera
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The Carnegie Mellon University Children’s School is sharing its resources with the public as a way to help families who are home with preschoolers or kindergarteners, as well as educators who are teaching students from home.

The Children’s School and Carnegie Mellon’s Cyert Center for Early Education, which is also connecting remotely with its own students ranging from 12 weeks through kindergarten, are among the campus children’s centers at universities across the country experimenting with different ways to reach students while children, parents and teachers are staying home to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“There are so many ways for children to learn through play while at home,” said Sharon Carver, director of the Children’s School, which includes preschool and kindergarten classes for children from 3 to 6 years old. “Since not all preschools have the resources to develop age appropriate support for remote learning, we wanted to make the suggested activities and videos that our teachers are creating available in a central location so that everyone can use them.”

As part of the resources, parents have access to daily suggestions by age group, including videos with sing-alongs, readings and exercise routines; arts explorations, and math challenges. Teachers searching for ideas also can peruse various thematic unit resource guides on birds, theater, building, art, games and wellness.

Over the past few weeks, The Children’s School has been sending families daily emails and scheduling Zoom calls to virtually connect students with their classmates and teachers. Teachers also have been using videos to share lessons using resources available to them at home, whether it’s spotting signs of spring on a recorded walk or leading students through the steps to create their own miniature production of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," with a bridge made from a stack of books and simple paper puppets.

“When we send a video that has a teacher, the children get to see and remember that teacher,” Carver said. “Half of what is happening here is about the relationship. The children know that the teacher still cares about them, and that’s what motivates the children to pay attention to a video and play along.”

Parents have said that the daily suggestions have offered new ideas to supplement their own. They’ve also provided a routine for their children as families adjust to a new normal. With many parents working from home while also parenting, Carver cautioned that the children still need the parents’ help to participate. Until the age of 8, many children’s cognitive development hasn’t reached a stage where they can manage their own schedules or complete extended projects on their own.

“Not all parents are going to have the opportunity, depending on what their work demands are,” Carver said. “Some of our families are essential workers, including people in the hospitals, which might leave only one parent at home during the day, and there’s a large chance that parent also is working from home.”

Kindergarten teachers are providing an even more detailed schedule, Carver said. Lesson plans include a daily question — “Can you make an instrument that you can tap using things you have at home?” — challenge — “Learn a new joke and tell it to your family members” — and suggested activities that combine learning with fine or gross motor skills, such a counting while doing jumping jacks. Students and families then share photos of children and their resulting creations, which teachers post on their classroom web sites for other students and families to see.

“The photos are especially good for the students, who are able to see their friends,” said Grace Dzina, an associate kindergarten teacher. “Our students went from being together each day to seeing each other on Zoom once a week. It’s a good way to foster the relationships they have with one another and spark creativity on what projects others are doing.”

Dzina and other teachers said the dramatic shift to teaching remotely also is making them consider the “why” behind the typical classroom model and how that can be best adapted to home life.

“When we are planning activities for the week and considering the skills and learning domains we want to focus on, it’s easy to go through a list and believe we’ve hit all the correct marks,” Dzina said. “But in a time like this, it forces us to really think about which skills are most important right now when it comes to the social wellbeing of the child.”

David Allen, an associate teacher in the school’s 4-year-old classroom, said the videos he’s creating for his classes also are helping him reassess his teaching methods. For instance, by rewatching a Zoom call where he led a game with the students, he was able to see ways that he signaled the children to the correct answer through his body language or the intonation in his voice.

“Since I’m with 4 year olds, we’re very focused on play,” Allen said. “While cuing the students isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if I want to consider ways to make the game more challenging for them as a learning experience, I can take that into consideration, and that helps me think about how I teach in the classroom, as well.”