Digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, however it also comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. Over the last seven months our school has been engaging children through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One strategy that remains consistent with our in-person approach is the use of objects. This blog is authored by Juliana Venegas and Sarah Huffman, one of our preschool teaching teams, and shares their experience using objects with their class in a virtual format.
SEEC uses an object-based learning approach because both museum objects and everyday objects are a powerful learning tool as they tell stories, are tangible, real, and spark wonder. When we moved to virtual lessons, we wanted to keep true to the object-based approach we use in the classroom by sharing museum objects digitally and encouraging children to bring related objects to our online lessons. While some aspects of a museum object are lost when sharing digitally, we found that the addition of children bringing their own objects was a benefit we didn’t have when in the classrooms or museums. Having each child hold an object gives them a tangible way to connect lesson content to their immediate lives as the objects were coming from their own homes.
The children responded very well when bringing objects with them to virtual lessons. They could not wait to share what they brought and enjoyed seeing what their peers brought as well. They also seemed to have a sense of pride in the objects they had to share, which may have increased their overall engagement in lessons. They were quick to make comparisons between each other’s objects and the objects and images we shared in our PowerPoint presentations. Often, the children would recognize another item that we were showing but had not asked them to bring; then they would excitedly go find it in their home to point to or show us. We did not ask them to do this, but we supported these opportunities when they occurred.
Objects Support Anti-Bias Education
Having students bring their own objects to our virtual lessons supports the Anti-Bias Educational approach really well. Children were able to closely examine the objects they brought and compare them to the museum objects on the screen or to those of their peers. As teachers, we facilitated this by giving each student an opportunity to describe their item. Then we would go to each of the other students to ask if their object had something similar or if it looked different. It seemed that it may have been easier to have their own object than to share an object like we would do in the classroom because the children could continuously examine their objects throughout the lesson (they didn’t have to remember what they looked at before). After everyone shared, we, as teachers, would ask if all the objects did the same job and if they were all tools. This reiterated the idea that while some tools for mixing, for example, looked different, they all did the same thing. We would often connect that idea back to previous lessons: all our kitchens look different, but they are all places where we cook and spend time with loved ones. We all look different, but we are all chefs and help in the kitchen.
Having children bring an object to a virtual lesson is a great way to ensure you are reaching all different types of learners. Some children are perfectly fine sitting in front of a computer screen and listening to their peers and teachers, while others need to have a tangible object in their hands to help focus.
Also make sure to think outside the box and provide options. We were very aware that families may not be comfortable or able to go out to purchase materials. When we asked families to send their child to our lessons with an object, we made sure to provide options. For example, during our unit on cooking, when learning about mixers, we asked our class to bring something they use to stir – some brought spoons, some brought whisks, and some brought hand mixers. Being general about what we asked for allowed families to use what was accessible to them and provided an opportunity for children to engage by sharing what they brought. Sharing objects in this way also allows children to see the variation and nuances of a theme or concept, expanding their view of the world.
Lastly, be prepared in case a child does not bring an object. Families had a lot going on, so we didn’t want to make any family or child feel bad if they forgot to bring an item or didn’t have time to look for a particular item. In this case, one of the teachers may not show their object, instead opting to ‘not have an object’ as well. The teacher leading the lesson would reassure the students that it was okay to not have an item and would facilitate careful looking of others’ objects and the images on the screens. Even without an object, there were still ways for every child to participate.