Family & Education

In a time of crisis, we need to find the rainbows

With the right approach, early years can be engaged by digital learning


I have been an early years teachers for over 15 years and have a deep understanding of the way young children make connections and how they thrive when their emotional needs are met. In a world that was turned upside overnight by the pandemic, meeting these needs has remained a priority but it can still be done through remote teaching.

We need to ensure that each child feels seen, heard, validated and respected. If we do this, their desire to engage during the remote learning process increases dramatically.

Let me illustrate this with one topic I worked on with the very young children I teach. They had all been designing rainbows as a thank- you to the NHS. We talked about the NHS and this led onto our own class rainbow project that I put together as a video montage, which we sent to our local hospitals.

The children received messages back from doctors and nurses, thus fuelling the connection between them and the world around them. John Dewey, one of the most important educationalists of modern times, explained that all of these real-world, meaningful connections contribute to creating educational experiences that shape young minds, resulting in socially responsible citizens.

Confusion and anxiety has crept into the world of these children, and it was paramount to find a way to help them make sense of it all. I wanted my pupils to recognise that at times of challenge, it is a time we try to recognise and find God in our lives.

We achieved this by articulating feelings of happiness, wellbeing, friendship and learned how to become aware of experiences in our lives that could be linked to examples of God connecting with the world. This developed into a project on the six days of creation.

Through this project, I was amazed by the creativity of my pupils and learned that we sometimes provide our pupils with too many prescribed resources. Instead, we must remember when designing learning experiences, to plan and frame curriculum but also to give students options, voice and choice to enable their own creativity to shine.

Feedback is key to academic performance, it promotes motivation and self-belief. Although giving feedback through remote teaching was challenging, using the digital world in which we were already immersed enabled us to overcome this obstacle. I created weekly videos which encapsulated the learning of the week and I began to notice that these feedback videos were improving the children’s confidence and enthusiasm for learning each week.

My own father contracted Covid-19 in April and was placed on a ventilator for six weeks. He miraculously made a full recovery. I had first-hand experience of the challenges that the children and their families may have been facing, so communicating with parents and offering support to those facing difficult circumstances was also paramount for me.

The wellbeing of our families and building the children’s self-awareness, self-care, positive relationships and purpose were always at the heart of my teaching and strengthening these core pillars helped build their resilience.

We are now back in lockdown, again teaching remotely. As teachers, we need to have the strength, drive and belief that we can develop independent, lifelong learners while maintaining our pupil’s emotional wellbeing, when we take this crisis and turn it into an opportunity.

Shana Burton is the early years foundation stage lead and a reception class teacher at Broughton Jewish Cassel-Fox Primary School, Manchester. This article was based on a session she gave at the National Jewish Education Conference for Primary School Teachers at the London School of Jewish Studies last month

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