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Virtual Classroom for Young Children?

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My hair stood on end. That’s the best way I can describe my reaction to the article in the Washington Post reporting that Virginia public schools were paying for some young children to learn “virtually.”


When I think of virtual education, my mind goes immediately to the online course I teach for Northern Virginia College’s Extended Learning Institute, a course for adults who need college credits in their field and find that online learning helps them maintain their sanity by cutting out driving to “brick and mortar” classrooms. They are already working full-time and raising families. Online learning for them is the perfect solution.


Why would virtual education for young children make my hair stand on end? Because the courses I teach at Nova are on Early Childhood Education. I teach that young children do not learn subject matter in separate categories. Quality programs do not teach science for one period, language arts for another, and physical education in another. Young children learn all of these things all of the time through working with other children and knowledgeable adults. They learn not only how to write, but how to share pencils; not only how to observe a science experiment, but how to discuss that experiment while jockeying for position around the science table. Learning about vibration, letters, math facts, and insects goes hand in hand with learning to disagree without being disagreeable; to encourage a friend; to converse about a topic of interest.


According to the article, the most successful virtual student has a learning coach/parent at home to supplement the lack of social-emotional learning that is crucial to a child’s future, but that definition of success is test scores. Test scores don’t measure ability to get along in a group of diverse children. In the workplace that ability will be as important as the ability to do math or to read and write. Relating to your loving mother just won’t replicate this experience.


Most young children are also kinesthetic, or physical learners. According to my friend, Rae Pica, a nationally known expert on movement education, children learn best through movement. How much better can a math lesson get than when children learn to count, add and subtract by participating in a game involving the whole body?


Physical cues integrate the various areas of the brain involved in learning all subject areas. Creativity also gets short shrift in today’s test-driven world, but those we most admire in society, from the late Steve Jobs to Gloria Steinem, have lived on the creative edge, pushing for change to improve the lives of millions.


I pose the question: Can young children who are educated by sitting in front of a computer from the age of four be able to access their own creativity when that treasure chest inside their body/minds is relegated to last place in their educational toolkit?


According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC), children learn through play in a nurturing learning community of peers and knowledgeable adults. Does this image match that of the child sitting alone, or with his/her mother in front of a computer screen? You decide.

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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog, The Arts and Young Children is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is a lead teacher at Clarendon Child Care Center in Arlington, Virginia, which is a Reggio-inspired program. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities.

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Guest Sunday, 29 November 2015