“Virtual school for kindergarten? No way.”
“It’s impossible to have online classes for the little ones!”
“You can’t teach kindergarten online.”
So the naysayers chimed when schools across Hong Kong were closed due to the coronavirus. I am a teacher at The Harbour School’s prep program in the Harbour Village campus and six weeks ago, we faced off doubters who said that kindergarten can’t do virtual school.
Leave it to The Harbour School to prove them wrong.
What they did not know was that THS was already prepared and have an incredibly supportive community. Due to protest action in November, the THS community had already had a taste of VC@T. For me, the experience was interesting to say the least, and was thankfully, short-lived. But we learned, we collected feedback and we tweaked. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief when schools re-opened and life went back to normal. And then the coronavirus happened.
When rumours began to surface about possible EDB mandated school closure after Chinese New Year, our wonderful admin team sprung into action (during the CNY holiday, I may add!) and drafted a comprehensive plan for a new and improved VC@T – VC@T 2.0 - taking heavily into account feedback from faculty and families in November. The closures were initially expected to go on for at least a month (but school has since been delayed three times going from 2 March, then 16 March and now, 20 April). It was important to have a plan that was sustainable for several months, with built-in flexibility to take into account how families would engage with it.
While it is challenging to work with young children online and vice versa, for young children to work online, six weeks into VC@T, I can safely say it has been a great success so far. I would attribute a very large part of this success to our wonderful and cooperative families who have been 100% onboard. With kindergarten aged children, parents and primary caregivers have to assume a more integrated role in virtual learning, and THS families have risen to the challenge admirably.
For us teachers, the challenge is to plan lessons that are hands-on and engaging, and yet easy to execute at home using resources commonly available in most households such as toys, food or furniture and having students use their powers of observation and creativity. For example, using objects like dinky cars or toys to form the shape of the alphabet, or looking for numbers in things around the house such as bananas.
Looking back at the last six weeks of VC@T 2.0, it’s amazing to consider all that we have accomplished as a community. We celebrated 100 Days of School - a well-established Prep tradition. We’ve had a virtual assembly, complete with Star Students. We are in the middle of our 21 Day Reading Challenge. There is Black Dolphin Cove Exploration time, Show & Tell, Journal Sharing .. and the list goes on.
VC@T is an emergency measure, and is by no means a long- term substitute for real school. We are all waiting to return to regular classrooms. However, every crisis also presents learning opportunities and this is no different. Teaching and learning virtually have been an insightful journey. As a teacher, I have gained insight in how parents engage with their child’s learning at home and this has in turn helped me to better personalise lessons and learning. Parents tell me that after working more closely with their kids at home to complete the daily tasks, they have a better understanding of how their child learns and what they can do to provide more support. By responding to VC@T so positively, THS prep parents are also great role models for their child. Even as the coronavirus forces us to distance ourselves socially, we are virtually forming real bonds.
In so many ways, our THS community has become closer from this experience. We’ve come together and picked up the lemons that we’ve been dealt with and made lemonade together. I feel like I know my students more now. It has been fun to watch the videos of what they get up to at home, and observe their different behaviours at home compared to school.
Each year as a teacher brings its challenges, and this academic year has been no exception, but with each challenge also comes unique learning. I’m grateful that I got an opportunity to teach virtually and I’m so thankful I did it with the supportive THS community.