Bringing Reggio Home by Louise Boyd Caldwell is an insightful resource for many Reggio-inspired educators. The title also described my goal for teaching remotely. I wanted to bring the essence of a Reggio-inspired school experience into the homes of the children in my class.
My first task was creating a daily schedule. Our class was to meet three mornings a week, similar to a half-day in-person preschool program. The school I was working with had offered a remote summer camp program using a “log-on, log off” model alternating between 30-minute group Zoom sessions and 30-minute breaks in which children worked on an activity introduced during the group session. Since some families in my class had participated in summer camp and liked the structure, I decided to try the same format.
After my first day with the children, I was exhausted, discouraged, and knew I needed to create my own remote teaching model rather than trying to adapt to someone else’s.
Ninety minutes of group Zoom sessions each morning felt too long - for me as well as the children. And despite my efforts to make them shared, interactive experiences; they felt too much like direct instruction. When the children returned from a break to share their work, I saw only the products. I had not observed or facilitated the process. I did not know if they found the experience engaging or boring, easy or challenging, and if they had worked independently or needed adult support.
This was not consistent with the way I taught in-person. If my goal was to bring a constructivist, Reggio-inspired school experience into children’s homes, I needed to begin with the structure of the day.
I considered the daily schedule of half-day classes I had taught in-person:
Outdoor Choice Time
Indoor Choice Time
Story Time and Closing Reflections
Our group gatherings were like bookends to the core of our day when the children engaged in creative, playful exploration and moved throughout the carefully designed spaces like a complex choreography they created anew each day.
With my families huddled inside their city condos, I could not replicate an outdoor experience. But I could reimagine the remainder of an in-person day, beginning with Morning Meeting and followed by Choice Time.
Since my class was a small, but diverse group of children, I decided to facilitate an experience individually with each child for 20 minutes during Choice Time, a more structured version of my classroom facilitator role. (If my class were larger, I might have met with children in pairs or extended the Choice Time period.)
When not meeting with me, the children could choose from a list of Choice Time experiences, using materials from their Learning at Home bags, just as they would choose among materials and experiences offered in a classroom. Our morning would conclude by coming together for Story Time and Closing Reflections.
9:30 – 10:00 Morning Meeting
10:00 – 11:30 Choice Time with individual meetings
11:30 – 12:00 Story Time and Closing Reflections
This felt “right”. I scheduled a Zoom meeting with each family to share my proposal, which was significantly different from what they expected when enrolling in the program, and was elated when each family expressed their support.
However, just because something feels right does not mean that it immediately falls into a natural rhythm and flow. I found that I needed detailed “lesson plans” of my intentions for each group session for reference, rather than allowing them to evolve naturally from a flexible mental plan as I could in-person.
Watching children on separate screens was more difficult than focusing on a group of children sitting a few feet away; and time-delays, muting and un-muting, and background distractions added to the complex "dance" of preschool group interactions.
Our initial group and individual meetings did not last the full time allotted on the schedule. I found myself watching the clock in a way that I never did in-person, worried that allowing our Zoom sessions to reach a natural conclusion meant that I was falling short of the expectations I had created. I had to remind myself that children’s focus lengthens as the year progresses and they develop relationships with the materials and each other.
During our 21 weeks together, we gradually settled into a comfortable routine and our time together evolved, in both quantity and quality. Eventually, when I looked at the clock I was often surprised at how quickly the time had passed. More importantly, the children gradually took a more active role – asking questions, sharing ideas, describing their work – and our Zoom sessions had the improvisational give-and-take that permeates a social-constructivist approach to teaching and learning. Perhaps I was bringing at least a “taste of Reggio” home.
With a schedule in place, I shifted my attention to other questions:
What materials could I make, find, or purchase inexpensively to replicate ones I used in the classroom?
How could I organize them so they would be easy to store and ready to use?
How could I create a cohesive, yet flexible and evolving focus to our experiences?
How could I develop meaningful relationships with and among the children and their families?
Those questions are the focus of the remaining posts in this series. The answers I found took time, patience, imagination, and a DYI attitude. They also helped me grow as an educator and will continue to influence my teaching and consulting when I am once again “at home” in a classroom.