After an enviable COVID-free stretch, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was suddenly plunged into lockdown. Overnight, Hughes Preschool was off-limits to children and families, except those deemed essential workers, and learning from home began. The educator team created physical resources, such as home learning packs, and a virtual classroom. We used the knowledge gained in 2020 to ensure experiences and resources promoted play and investigations. Additionally, this time we focused on children’s relationships to ensure that they continued to:
- feel valued and connected in the relationships they had developed before the lockdown
- maintain a sense of belonging to the preschool learning environment, each other, staff and the local community
- view themselves as resilient and resourceful learners regardless of the learning space
- value their at-home learning.
We documented and shared aspects of the preschool that enabled children to see themselves and their learning at home and in the preschool environment. We gave value to the range of home learning experiences, deepening the exchange between home and preschool. We shared photographs of the preschool, resources from around our learning environments, symbols representing the groups and virtual visits to places we used to frequently explore together. This helped maintain children’s connection to—and ownership of—the preschool space and their relationships with each other, staff and the local environment. This also encouraged children’s enthusiasm for sharing experiences through their posts and comments and in our small-group virtual meetings.
Despite this rich engagement, we were concerned that after ten weeks of not seeing their educators, peers and the setting in person, children’s passion for preschool might be negatively impacted. We used a relational lens to support their transition back to preschool. This approach was further guided by a Community of Practice based on the relational curriculum described in Ann Pelo’s book, From Teaching to Thinking.
When the children returned to learning at preschool, they were thrilled to see the documentation of the creations and photos they had shared online. They brought their home learning into the preschool and acknowledged that they missed seeing each other daily. This delight and the depth of their understanding about the importance of relationships in their physical and virtual worlds is evident in the way they have continued maintaining and extending the fantastic relationships they developed as engaged online learners.
This prompted the preschool team to explore, along with other ACT educators, social relationships and identity through the question of how children understand themselves in relation to one another. We are now more mindful of what we observe and hear and how we reflect, interpret, respond, resource and interact through children’s relationships. It also highlighted the centrality of relationships to intentionality of practice, reinforced important beliefs about children, and contributed to our continued growth as educators.
Despite the changing landscape and the stresses of the unknown, we discovered a lot about our own and children’s capability, resilience, flexibility and adaptability. We have been back together now for a few months and the children have been connecting in different ways, learning things with and from others they may not have otherwise. They have continued acknowledging their relationships and have worked out each other’s strengths to help each other. They still value collaborative learning experiences and have been demonstrating independence and autonomy through our new COVID-safe routines and procedures.
Shifting between learning spaces has confirmed that play, relationships and communication—principles that underpin our pedagogy—are foundational to a successful and engaging preschool experience. At the centre of any child’s early childhood education experience is their unique personality and the relationships they develop.
- What differences have you noticed in your service since returning to face-to-face learning?
- What learnings have you implemented into practice this time and how did it go?