Beth Graue is a Sorenson Professor of Early Childhood Education at UW-Madison and the director of the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.
She’s also a former kindergarten teacher. Her research focuses on how school policies translate into opportunities for teachers, students and families.
Like many students and teachers expecting to be in brick and mortar buildings, Graue was planning to spend a portion of her upcoming sabbatical in classrooms this fall. A reality that she said is a “small price to pay” compared with what others are facing.
Q: All the challenges presented to teachers, staff, parents and students this fall surrounding the return of school are some we’ve never faced before. What is your advice to parents on how to untangle these issues?
A: I think my major advice would be to be willing to accept uncertainty. I think a lot of parents try to figure out how to get the best fit for their child and the pandemic has made it so that choice isn’t necessarily an option.
I think being willing to learn new things to support your child in this very unusual period ... and being kind to yourself as a parent... that you can’t know everything ... are the only things that I think of that are going to work.
Someone working in higher education had a little one and didn’t know about the silly factor in early childhood teaching and learning — making silly sounds, making games and stories — that’s how kids learn. Being free enough to do that is going to be a gift that you’re giving your kids and yourself.
Q: What concerns are you hearing from early education leaders and parents?
A: We heard a lot of stories from teachers that were trying to juggle the technical part with the instructional content they were trying to develop while also keeping things social enough. One of the best ideas I heard was a kindergarten teacher, during play time, put pairs of kids in breakout rooms and had them play together, virtually. That gave them space to have the social interaction that is so important.
Q: What is one advantage to online learning?
A: I think one of the advantages I’ve heard is that teachers who are interested are learning more about the children and their families through this virtual format. They see the dog running around, they see grandma. If that can be an invitation in building a stronger relationship between the teacher and the (student’s) home, that’s a huge plus. It requires a lot of teachers managing relationships. I think also in situations they start to understand the complicated lives that kids have in a way that can (increase) empathy on both sides.
Q: What are some disadvantages to online learning?
A: Rather than trying to build a case for or against it, it just is. This is what we’ve got. Making the best of the very strange situation is the only way we can make it through.
Q: Does a child’s age play a role in the success of online learning?
A: I think this is going to be a different challenge across the board. The needs are different, the stakes are different (for all ages). It’s hard regardless of age. The other piece I hope people will come to value more is the idea of how kids of multiple ages can teach and learn from one another. Children aren’t born in litters. Until the 20th century kids were much more likely to interact with children of all different ages. This could provide an opportunity to provide more cross-age interaction.
Q: Any last thoughts as to what parents should keep in mind this fall?
A: I think just reminding people that both parents and teachers are exhausted. I think some people might see the plans for a 4K or lower elementary teacher for the time she’s doing (online education) and think ‘oh, this is easy,’ but there’s an immense amount of planning that goes into it. And a constant fear that technology won’t work. Make sure any plan has time for people to enjoy each other and recharge themselves.
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