Updated August 1, 2020
Last March, on a Sunday morning, Minnesota governor Tim Walz announced that every school in the state would transition to distance learning to slow the spread of COVID-19. He gave schools two days to close their doors to students and two weeks to develop a distance learning plan.
In my district, we went to school that Monday and stood in front of half-filled classrooms. We wondered how long we were saying goodbye for. We scrambled to get our students’ things together to send home. We didn’t know what they would need, how long they would be gone, or how we were going to be teaching them when they couldn’t be right next to us. And not for a second did we allow ourselves to think we wouldn’t be seeing those faces in our classrooms again – there was just too much to do.
The truth of that day is heartbreaking. We didn’t get to say goodbye, and if that was our chance to say goodbye, we didn’t know it. Half of my students weren’t even there. And the students who were there didn’t get the attention they deserved. I was too busy trying to get all of their things packed up by the end of the day.
- Build a Strong Classroom Community (Despite Social Distancing Rules)
- The First Week of Kindergarten: Lesson Plans
- Socially Distanced Centers: 4 Brilliant Ideas
The Challenges of Distance Learning
In the beginning of distance learning, the logistics of it all seemed so daunting. My students are 5 and 6 years old; they didn’t know how to do any of this independently. As kindergarten teachers, we knew we would have to rely on parents to make sure the work was getting done.
On top of that, some families didn’t have internet or a device that their children could use. Suddenly so much of their learning was out of our control. But still, it was our responsibility to try.
Our school staff wasted no time getting started. We sent our students home on Monday, and that Tuesday morning, every employee in our school gathered together in our little cafeteria and got the gears turning. At that point, there were so many questions and so few answers.
Our District’s Distance Learning Requirements
- have interaction with students on a daily basis
- take daily attendance
- meet academic standards
- honor IEPs, 504 plans, speech services, and ESL services
Never mind all the other, non-academic things that had to be addressed:
- providing childcare for healthcare workers
- making sure students had food
- getting materials to students who weren’t there that last day
- finding out who needed internet and a Chromebook in their homes (side note: sending a survey via email is not a good way to find out who does not have access to technology).
And, for the love of all things, HOW DO WE USE ZOOM WITH 5 YEAR-OLDS?!?!?
It all felt so impossible. But day by day, our district solved the big problems and our team of kindergarten teachers hammered out those things that were within our control. And before long, it felt manageable. It was definitely a work in progress. We kept tweaking throughout the closure, but I want to share what worked for us.
Distance Learning Tools We Used
Seesaw is a digital portfolio app for students. I’ve used the Seesaw Family app for a few years as a way to communicate with parents and share photos of their kids. But after using Seesaw as a distance learning tool, I have to say….I should have been using it a LONG time ago! There are so many cool features (check out this post from Kristen at Eat. Pray. Travel. Teach.). Then keep reading to find out how we used it with our kindergartners!
Zoom is an online video conferencing platform. Honestly, I had never heard of Zoom until our superintendent said we had to use it.
Luckily we received some training on how to use it before we started distance learning. Our trainer was a kindergarten teacher with the online learning program. She showed us some examples of how she used Zoom…and it suddenly seemed not only possible, but exciting!
Zoom worked really well for kindergartners. I loved seeing their sweet faces and hearing their voices. And having the ability to mute them was kind of a bonus too, though I probably shouldn’t admit that!
Distance Learning Daily Attendance
One of our requirements was tracking attendance. We decided to use the Seesaw Class app to assign a Question of the Day. Each day, students had until 8 pm to complete a simple task within the app to answer that day’s question. That way we knew who was (at the very least) logging in every day. Below are activities for the first week – getting students familiar with the Seesaw tools. As kids (and parents) got the hang of it, the questions became more focused on our learning objectives. You can get these 5 activities + 6 more weeks of themed Questions of the Day for FREE at the end of this post!
Day 1: Using the drawing tools
Day 2: Grabbing & moving objects
Day 3: Using the camera
Day 4: Using the microphone
Day 5: Using the text tool
UPDATE: More Questions of the Day have been released!
It turns out people really loved these Questions of the Day! They started requesting more, so now I have two more sets available in my TpT store:
Another option is to join the Seesaw Lover’s All-Access Club! You get access to both of these sets, plus all the other current and future Seesaw activities created by Little Playful Learners! You also get exclusive video tutorials for you, your students and their families. And there are no recurring monthly membership fees – pay once and get lifetime access!
Distance Learning Daily Lessons
When we started planning for our daily instructional delivery, we decided that we can’t overwhelm parents by expecting them to do too much. We knew our little learners would need more support than most older students will.
Let’s face it, parents didn’t ask to become home-school parents, and most weren’t thrilled to suddenly have this new responsibility added to their plates. Many of them had full-time jobs and multiple kids, and frankly, just didn’t want to be teachers. We kept these things in mind when developing our distance learning plan.
We decided that we would put all of our daily assignments in a Google Doc then post it to Seesaw. That way, we weren’t bombarding our students with a bunch of individual assignments. Plus parents could find all the information in one place, like a checklist.
The document included “Must Do’s” and “Extras.” It was hard for us to make the decision to limit the assignments to the bare minimum, but we wanted to be realistic.
Here are our Daily Must Do’s:
- Question of the Day
- 1 literacy activity
- 1 math activity
Here are our Extras:
- Social studies
- Just for fun
- Zoom meetings
Our phy ed and music teachers were also required to post daily, so students got activities from them as well. Here’s an example of one of my Daily Learning Documents. Click on the image to open the file – you will find a couple of freebies!
Zoom as a Way to Connect During Distance Learning
As a team, we decided would not be using Zoom to deliver instruction, only to connect with students and build a sense of community. Why? Because we couldn’t find a way to make it equitable, since:
- Our students are too little to be expected to connect on their own.
- Some students were still at day care during the day and wouldn’t be able to join a live video conference.
- Many families had multiple students sharing a single device.
- There were families had both parents working from home and did not have the internet capabilities for multiple people to use it all at once.
So how did we use Zoom for distance learning at the kindergarten level? At least once a week, we invited students to connect via Zoom – just to talk to their friends, listen to their teacher read a bedtime story, do show & tell, etc. Not all of our kiddos connected with us, but it became really special for those who did.
So there you have it…our district’s distance learning plan in action. Now get your FREE activities here!
Click on the image below to get the PDF download, which contains links to all 35 Seesaw activities that I’ve featured on the blog!
Or join the Seesaw Lover’s All-Access Club! You get access to all 170+ Seesaw activities I’ve created so far, plus weekly new releases.