I am still sometimes in disbelief when I see the changes educators have had to make to support our learners after our months-long school closures. Young children are experiencing education in ways that are significantly different for them, as well as for their teachers, whether it is in-person with social distancing restrictions, a fully virtual experience, or a hybrid combination of the two. I think it is safe to say that most young children learn best in-person, but virtual learning in the era of COVID-19 is unavoidable. With my own little one experiencing what we are affectionately terming, “computer kindergarten,” I’ve been thinking often about what families can do to support our youngest online learners when they are offline.
There are many things teachers can do to provide instruction remotely, and I’ve see some real creativity in making instruction engaging, child-centered, and as interactive as possible. There are, however, just as many crucial things that teachers cannot recreate online. In this first edition of Raising Remote Readers we will explore what a simple bedtime story can provide for your child’s emotional and educational needs.
Remote teachers can find creative ways to make virtual connections, but children still need a personal connection during learning experiences in which they can receive immediate, in-person feedback about their thoughts and efforts. A 10-15 minute bedtime story (or longer if you both prefer) is all it takes to provide that type of connection for your little one. This should be a time when your child and a loved one sit comfortably together in a cozy and quiet space with minimal distraction so that your child knows that for the next bit of time, all attention is on them and their ideas.
Whether you have an extensive collection of children’s books at home, or you use the nearest public library to stay stocked, it can make a world of difference for a child’s motivation if they have some say in what you will read. A pre-selected stack of 8-10 books will do the trick and will prevent choosing a book from taking all night while your child searches through their entire library. Online learning does not always lend itself to self-selection, particularly in the younger grades. A bedtime story will offer a consistent time of day when your child can count on controlling the decision.
When your child is young, children’s literature is often written at a higher level than what your child would be able to read on their own. Children’s stories and books will contain sophisticated language patterns and vocabulary. This is why it is so very important to read a variety of books aloud to your child because it exposes them to volumes of concepts, vocabulary, and language. Developing your child’s background knowledge and vocabulary is critical for future reading development. The one-on-one time spent with your child will make it even easier to talk about the meaning of concepts and words, and to recognize right away when they are confused. This type of immediate feedback is difficult in an online setting, so keep those bedtime stories coming!
Speaking and listening skills are found in most standards and curriculum. They may sound complicated, but they can be reinforced easily with just a nightly bedtime story! Reading aloud to your child is essential, and so is conversing about what you have read. It is best to make this a natural process and not an interrogation of questions. Simply share your thoughts and feelings about what has happened in the story, or about the information in a non-fiction book and ask your child to share their thoughts as well. Make it as enthusiastic as you are able to muster after a long day, and say things like, “Wow! I can’t believe she just did that! Why do you think she did that?!?” or “He must be having a big feeling right now. What do you think it is?” If your child is not sure how to respond, you can demonstrate by explaining what you are thinking. Ask your child if they agree or disagree with you so they can stay involved in the conversation. Five minutes of conversation during and after a bedtime story will help strengthen your child’s thinking skills with a tangible book and mentor right there in front of them. Online learning can accomplish many things, but it cannot replace one-on-one attention and tangible books in your child’s hands.
Whether you are home with your child facilitating their online learning, or if you are working while your child is learning online elsewhere, it can feel overwhelming to do one more thing at the end of the day. If that is the case, be as creative as you want. Do a breakfast time story if that works better for your family. What is important is finding 10-15 minutes each day to read and talk to your child about books.
If you have a virtual learner and you want to incorporate routines into your day that will support their offline literacy learning, then stay tuned for more Raising Remote Readers posts in the coming months. And remember, don’t skip the bedtime story!