October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and as much as it is time to review our own online activities and learn about safety practices, it is also the perfect time to talk to our children about their relationship to technology. The questions and concerns are not new. How much? When? What applications at what ages? How healthy is it? How safe is it? Do the positives outweigh the negatives, or is it the other way around?
In this age of digital acceleration, parents have been worrying about how technology affects their children for as long as they have been parents. It is a parental instinct to try to control it, measure it, and minimize it – anyone remember concerns about TV watching? But while screen use moderation has always been difficult, the pandemic created the problem of technology as essential to education and socialization. What was previously considered excessive screen time became necessary and normal. Screens were no longer simply Facetime with grandparents or watching Paw Patrol on the plane. Lockdown added remote school to the technology mix.
To mitigate the potential negatives of that necessity, Montclare Children’s School’s Director Cathy Makropoulos and the teaching staff integrated remote education and remote socialization with mindfulness and intentionality. The school, faced with this new challenge, remained committed to a balanced approach to learning. Needing to bring its teachers’ creativity into the students’ homes, Montclare set about designing an appropriate and effective remote program.
Despite the need for screens to create a new school environment, Makropoulos didn’t waver from her pre-pandemic mantra about screen time–”as little as possible.” The school explored how it could continue social/emotional learning for its students, enabling them to connect with the teachers and see their friends too. Montclare ensured the curriculum was delivered both synchronously and asynchronously, all the while discouraging passive screen time.
“We incorporated physical activity during the day and used lessons to engage students, allowing them to communicate, learn and create,” Makropoulos said. “We also varied the students’ daily schedules, as was appropriate for their age, limiting required screen time to only 15-20 minutes at a time for our youngest students. In addition, our teachers demonstrated extraordinary creativity when finding ways to continue meeting developmental benchmarks from a distance. They learned to engage their students in new ways which will no doubt enhance their classroom practices forever.”
To keep the community connected, the school chose to utilize a digital management system to support the development of collaborative and shareable digital learning portfolios and resources. School plans were designed in partnership with parents and caregivers, ensuring that everyone was included in the conversation and ultimately informed and aligned. Retaining connections to teachers and friends was a top priority for creating a semblance of normalcy through very abnormal times.
“Despite the challenges, we were able to adhere to Montclare’s mission and guiding principles,” Makropoulos said. She noted how the remote experience incorporated all the elements of the school’s in-person practices: a balanced learning approach, focus on academic as well as social/emotional learning, a belief that imaginative and unstructured play is central to the early childhood years, and that following routine and engaging in cooperative play helps create the foundation upon which a child’s self-esteem is built.
As the educational landscape evolves and the continued presence of Covid and variants remain of concern, if needed, Montclare is positioned to pivot to remote learning again. Whether in person or from a distance, Montclare continues to deliver 21st-century skills – collaboration, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving – to every class, ensuring its graduates are ready for kindergarten and beyond.