CoronaSchool: The Beginning
Yesterday, the NC governor announced that schools would be closed until at least May 15, due to the coronavirus pandemic. That effectively ended the preschool year for my three year old, and whether or not my kindergartener will return to school this year remains to be seen. We're a week and two days into school being cancelled and we've fallen into a loose routine that I'm calling CoronaSchool. It's not true homeschooling, but this isn't school as we know it either. It's a weird blend of virtual learning, attempting to keep the kids occupied and feeling safe in the midst of so much unknown, and getting a chance to try all the fun Pinterest activities that I've been pinning for years, but haven't gotten around to.
I've never been a teacher, but I've been a camp counselor and a preschool director, so planning our CoronaSchool has actually been kind of fun for me (though there have absolutely been moments of wanting to pull my hair out, as well as wondering if this is all just a dream, because this whole thing is still quite surreal).
I know we're all trying to figure this out, and this is different than anything any of us have ever experienced, so I wanted to share a few things that are working for us in this bizarre new world we are living in, as well as document our experience during this weird time in history. I have a six, three, and one year old at home, so I'm trying to come up with activities that work for both preschool and kindergarten. I'm a big believer in hands on learning and learning through play. In normal times, I try and limit screen time and we don't do apps/games at home, but my kindergartner does use the Letterland and Dreambox apps at school, so he has been using those. We've also been sprinkling in virtual read alouds & art classes (@petethecatofficial has been a huge hit!), PBS Kids, Storyplace.org for my preschooler who typically receives speech therapy, and Zoom calls with school friends. We've had more movie nights and screen time than we would normally, but I'm trying to balance it with as much outside time as possible. I also know that this is going to evolve as we continue--our school district is working on getting some more formal virtual learning in place, and I'm trying to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Our general schedule at the moment is:
- walk/outside time (weather permitting)
- outside time
- virtual art class
- zoom call
- tv or outside
It's pretty flexible with other things thrown in as needed (for example--this morning my kids woke up extra early, so when I put my one year old down for a nap, I turned on the tv so I could take a shower). I'm trying to find things my kids are interested in and plan activities/centers that they are excited about because at the end of the day I want them to love learning, and to remember this as a time where, while we couldn't go anywhere or see our friends, we still had a lot of fun at home. I also want to keep things as normal-ish and fun for them as possible (while also keeping my sanity intact), and having a loose schedule and things for them to look forward to is helpful for them.
Doing centers is part of keeping things normal-ish for them (and was actually my kindergartners idea). Both my three and six year old typically have centers in their classrooms, and setting up centers at home has given them a way to make some independent choices about what they would like to do in a time when it feels like everything is out of our control. I've been setting out some different things around downstairs, and they can choose where they go. The centers are things like blocks, trains, puzzles, building toys, etc and then I'll sprinkle in a few themed activities or things that I want them to work on, like sight word/letter matching with cars or sensory writing trays.
St. Patrick's Day fell on Tuesday of our first week of CoronaSchool, so we did a few St. Patrick's Day themed activities. Anything leprechaun themed was a big hit with my crew! We did leprechaun gold counting trays, shamrock cut and paste art, shamrock marshmallow painting, leprechaun rocks, built leprechaun traps and built a LEGO leprechaun city. I also printed out a few different St. Patrick's themed coloring and activity pages, all saved on my St. Patrick's Pinterest board. We had green eggs for breakfast and Lucky Charms for a snack!
The second half of the week we went with a Very Hungry Caterpillar theme. We watched a short animated film, listened to a Spanish reading of the book, sang along to a Hungry Caterpillar song, and did some Cosmic Kids Hungry Caterpillar yoga. I made a sensory bin with food from our play kitchen and tissue paper. Normally I would have used dried beans or rice instead of tissue paper but seeing as there are grocery shortages right now, I didn't want to use food. However, I think it would have held their attention longer had I used rice or beans--they mostly just wanted to throw the tissue paper around like confetti. We also did an activity where you hole punch through the Very Hungry Caterpillar's food, which they LOVED. Egg carton caterpillars were a fun craft, and this Hungry Caterpillar Pom Pom drop was a big hit with my one year old!
This week we've been doing an Ancient Egypt theme (a current interest of my kindergartner). We'd checked quite a few library books about ancient Egypt out in the weeks before all of this craziness started, so I thought doing some Ancient Egypt activities would be fun. I have had to skip some of the activities that I think my kids would really enjoy, like making toilet paper mummies, because of the grocery/supply shortages. I've had to get creative with using what we have at home, because we are only going out for grocery pickup once a week, so no running out for last minute supplies.
I found a few different kid friendly videos on Ancient Egypt (though, my three year old thought the Sesame Street one was too scary, so... there's that). PBS has a Who Built the Pyramids and How the Pyramids were Built that my six year old really enjoyed. The National Museum of Scotland has some Ancient Egypt games, that he was able to play with some help. A few of the activities we've tried so far are making our own papyrus (they were less excited about this than I thought they would be), using PlayDoh and blocks to make an Ancient Egyptian landscape, and a sensory bin (birdseed with laminated pyramids, letter magnets that spell out Egypt, animal magnets. If this was a normal time, I would have used sand and buried the contents of an Ancient Egypt toob). I also found a few different Ancient Egypt printable packs, and printed off a few pages from each. So far, Ancient Egypt week has been a hit, and we still have plenty of activities to try!
Next week we're supposed to have some more direction at what virtual learning is going to look like, so all of this could change, but I'm hoping that there is enough flexibility to continue with our themes and centers, because I'm enjoying them, and so are the kids. I'm thinking a National Parks week and an Outer Space week are in our future!