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Virtual preschoolers stay on track, connect through activities

Special education teacher gets students moving, learning

Wyoming Preschoolers in Amanda Costlow’s virtual class were dancing, singing, counting and spelling on a Monday afternoon. 

“What are these?” she asked students as she showed a page from the children’s book, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” on Zoom.

“Bears!” yelled Sawyer from his home, where he is learning remotely.

“Let’s count and see how many bears we can find,” said Costlow as the class said in unison, “1, 2, 3.”

A musical rendition of the classic story played as students boogied, smiled and sang along. The 20-minute weekly group sessions are how Costlow gives her preschoolers much-needed together time while they are enrolled in distance learning. 

“This is Baby Bear. He is small. Can you all show me ‘small’ with your fingers?” Costlow asked, as the children made tiny spaces between their index fingers and thumbs.

A preschool special education teacher at the Wyoming Early Childhood Center, Coslow began the semester with 21 preschoolers fully virtual. Now, with more parents comfortable with in-person school, she spends half  the day in person and half remote, with 11 students still fully online.

“It definitely does feel different across the screen, but it’s nice to see them weekly when they sign in virtually.”

When it comes to serving the district’s youngest learners who have special education needs, the goal is to keep them learning, connected and as on track as possible. Staff members recently presented to members of the district’s Board of Education on just how they are connecting. 

“We have a weekly group on Mondays, or synchronous days. We do read-alouds, songs and language activities,” Costlow said. “We usually do one of those activities, and have kids take turns doing activities just to get a sense of seeing other kids and being with other kids, even in a virtual space.”

She also meets one-on-one with parents and their children once a week for 30 minutes to work on specific Individualized Education Program plan items, such as language goals. IEPs are developed for students who are eligible for special education. 

Students and parents also meet via Zoom with speech therapists and work with at-home learning kits provided by the district. “The one-on-one piece with families is really working on language goals and, if they have them, fine-motor goals,” she said.

Amanda Cosltow, Early Childhood Center Special Education preschool teacher, leads storytime on Zoom

Remote Services Ideal for Some

Tara White, speech language pathologist, works one-on-one with virtual students once a week, using activities similar to those used for in-person sessions. “It’s been the same except for the added benefit of having the parent right there with their child,” she said.

She works on communication targets such as articulation through games ideal for preschoolers. For example, a student might practice the “K” sound by saying “cookie” while filling virtual cookies into a jar. “At the beginning and end of the session I ask (the parent) if there is anything new they are wondering about.  A lot of the learning for the parent happens during the session itself.”

White sees the potential to continue to offer virtual services post-pandemic. Some students aren’t enrolled in the preschool program and can more easily meet online. “It has been beneficial for families to meet virtually to talk about progress,” she said.

As for students learning virtually, she’s still seeing lots of growth. “We are still meeting their IEP goals and objectives. The students who have elected to stay virtually are still making progress with goals and objectives.

Costlow said she had concerns knowing she would be working with students a lot less than is typical, so parent coaching is more crucial than ever. She hosts sessions for them to watch her group games and lessons.

“It’s been really nice to be able to show the parents what I am doing and explain the reasoning. I think kids have made a lot of growth, (and) I can tell those parents have been practicing those skills on the days we are not together.”

Tuesdays and Thursdays are asynchronous time, when students work with their parents using resources provided by Costlow.

Still, she looks forward to returning to a classroom where all her students are present. “A lot of parents have expressed, especially in the past few weeks, that their kids are really excited to come back. They are hoping the next school year, whether they are going on to kindergarten or coming back to our program, that they will be able to come in person.

Preschoolers work in Zoom breakout groups and independently
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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