Erika Bocknek, associate professor of Educational Psychology in the College of Education, quoted in Chalkbeat Detroit, “Helping kindergartners adapt to virtual learning challenges Michigan teachers to be creative.”

Chalkbeat Detroit, 1/21
Helping kindergartners adapt to virtual learning challenges Michigan teachers to be creative
By Eleanore Catolico 

Whenever kindergarten teacher Kathie Kunec wants to create joy and play in her virtual classroom, she’ll take on the role of puppeteer. Kunec will spring Chilly, a penguin, into life. He’ll teach the children how to get along with brothers and sisters or relax around their parents if they’re upset. “He helps us when we lose our cool. We give ourselves a Chilly hug, count to five and take a deep breath,” she said. Before the pandemic, those lessons focused more on learning how to interact with peers inside a physical classroom. But  Kunec, a teacher in the South Redford School District, had to pivot to activities that might happen at home. So much of how kindergartners learn is rooted in play between teachers and their classmates. But halfway through a school year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, Kunec and other kindergarten teachers find they have to get creative to engage students and teach them the crucial social and emotional skills they need. While some kindergartners may find learning online challenging because of their still-maturing attention skills, other kindergartners who may be overwhelmed by large groups might find virtual learning easier, said Erika Bocknek, an associate professor in educational psychology at Wayne State University. “These children may benefit from being comfortable in their physical home environment, undistracted by peers, and with live instruction broken up into chunks,” she said. Despite efforts to keep school fun and exciting, some teachers worry how this unusual school year will affect students as they transition into the next grade. For Kunec, there are just some things puppets can’t duplicate, like a kindergartners’ exposure to older students inside the building or learning to share toys with classmates. “It’s not the same,” she said. “This whole group is not getting a kindergarten experience.”

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