What does high-quality early learning look like during the Coronavirus Crisis? And how can we as educators, researchers, childcare providers, and family members, provide it? Lisa Guernsey, director of the Teaching, Learning, and Tech program and senior advisor to the Early and Elementary Education Policy program at New America, presented on this topic at our 2020 InterAct Now: Virtual CLASS Summit. Below are a few of the ideas she shared. You can also watch the entire recording provided at the bottom.

How can we start to make things better? This is unprecedented. We don't have solid answers. So much has not been tested, so we are in a very much of a kind of a trial and error stage. However, we're not starting from scratch. We can apply what we know about high-quality learning environments. 

3 Practices Indispensable for High-Quality Teaching and Learning: 

  1. We need to engage in positive interactions with children and their families, recognizing the strengths and diversity of their backgrounds. That word interaction is key here. The way that we have our back-and-forth kind of communications with children and that give-and-take with them and that elaboration on their thoughts and ideas, that is still something we've got to hold dear even in this time.  But how do we do that with our little ones when we may not be able to be with them in a classroom? The second part of this framing is to engage in positive interactions with children and their families, I think the and their families part matters so much right now. 
  2. Use learning trajectories for young children in subject areas and various domains, supported by effective curricula, to help children meet goals in learning and development. This is harder. I mean we have to just be totally straight-up honest with ourselves. This is going to be really really tough to do given the environments that we are constrained by now.
  3. Promote social development and self-regulation. This is where we have to be thinking creatively in these at-home environments. How can we help children grow socially and how can we help them build self-regulation skills? It’s important to be doing this in ways that reflect an understanding of the multiple biological and environmental factors that affect behavior. Today's kids are in all sorts of different home environments right now that may have all sorts of stressors involved, whether it's with their parents being incredibly distressed because they've lost their job or someone in their household who is, in fact, sick.
    These are all going to affect our children's behavior. We need to be cognizant of that and then help provide support to our families so that they can feel that they have some sense of control and some sense of confidence in being able to help their kids.

We have to do everything that we can to support the home learning environment that our children are in right now.

We need to think about how we can use what might already exist in the home and I’m talking about everything from cereal boxes or catalogs that have been sent in the mail. Consider how to use some of the media that might be coming into the home to provide a quality learning experience for our kids.

Framework for Choosing Quality Media: The 3 C’s

We can help parents by lowering the anxiety over screen time and we can help parents in choosing quality media.

When I was looking at the research on what we know about how screen media affects the way young children learn and what the science really points us to is that it's not just about how much time children might be looking at a TV or looking at a screenwhat really matters is the Content the Context and the individual Child and the child's needs. 

Content is everything from ensuring that they're not seeing anything violent on the screen to ensuring that they're seeing information, stories, and materials that are designed to help them learn. We know that programs like Sesame Street, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, or other high-quality programs that have come up over the past 20 years are designed and researched with the idea that children can learn from the screen if things are designed well. Content is super important. 

Context can be really tricky to understand, but it is key to all of this⁠—and that's recognizing whether a child is co-engaged when they're looking at something on a screen. So, is there a co-viewer with them, maybe a parent is watching with them or playing a game with them? Or maybe they're with a sibling or their parent or a grandparent. Maybe they're actually co-watching in a virtual way, like in a Zoom or FaceTime kind of environment, where they're both engaged and looking at something together and talking, laughing, and singing around that media together. 

Child means tuning into the individual needs of the child. Every child is so different, so recognizing that some children might be really sensitive to certain things they're seeing on a screen and might be made more anxious by certain things. Even something simple like Curious George could cause some children to get really anxious where it could be less upsetting to other children. It also means finding what they want more of, maybe they're really engaged in dinosaurs and that particular child would love to see more on dinosaurs. You can really help to build their learning trajectory by tuning in to that child's needs.

It’s hard to be a parent right now, especially if you’ve got lots of little ones at home or if you’re supposed to be teleworking at the same time. We've got to have some understanding that our families are probably using screens, whether it's an app or a game on an iPhone or an iPad or a tablet, they are probably using this to park their children and occupy them and that's not going to be the end of the world, as long as it's good content that they're parked in front of. 

But parents can also use a screen to engage with their little ones when they

  • Watch and play together
  • Let children be in the driver's seat but you can be there with them and see what they know
  • Let children give a tour through what they're experiencing so that you can get a window onto why they love what they're doing so much
  • Ask why they're so excited about that character or why they like that game so much 

Want to hear more? You can watch the entire session here:


Lisa Guernsey is director of the Teaching, Learning, and Tech program and senior advisor to the Early and Elementary Education Policy program at New America. She also co-founded and leads the Learning Sciences Exchange fellowship program at New America. Guernsey focuses on new approaches to help students and families succeed in the Digital Age, and her work involves leading teams of analysts and writers to translate research, examine policies, and generate new ideas for developing high-quality learning opportunities for underserved and historically disadvantaged populations. She is on Twitter @LisaGuernsey. Learn more about her latest book here: http://www.tapclickread.org/.

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