Online Preschool? Surely you jest.

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I was once called an education technology pioneer, probably because there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t try at least once if it seemed like it might be a good fit for my students. Drawing on my experience in the private sector, and as an Instructional Technology Specialist in public schools, I embraced the idea that technology was a tool and there was a core of programming that should be in every student’s technology toolbox.

This article, An Online Preschool Closes a Gap But Exposes Another, published in the New York Times, however, indicates to me that educational technology has gone too far.

Briefly, the article tells of less-affluent communities who are embracing a Pre-School curriculum developed by Waterford. You can learn more about the mission of this non-profit here and read more about their partnerships.

While “preschool for all” should be must be a priority for US education, replacing a face-to-face preschool with screen time and 15 minutes of technology programming bothers me. I agree, every child should have access to preschool. As an early grade educator, I recognize that the fact that many communities that cannot and do not offer a quality preschool program puts some young children at a disadvantage which is difficult to overcome.

For some communities, offering universal preschool education through public schools is a matter of economics. There just isn’t adequate public funding for the public schools to offer preschool programs to every family wanting to send a child to preschool. Community budgets are strapped, and there are as many reasons for short funds as there are preschoolers, so community leaders do as the mayor in Fowler, California has done: offer a freebie program for online preschool access.

While I understand that this may seem like a good idea on the surface, it is not. In an effort to ensure every child can read by Grade 3, academics are being foisted onto 4 year olds. That is wrong.

The question is: Just what should a preschool program look like? Should a preschool be 15 minutes of drill and kill on a computer? Who is deciding which computer-aided skills are taught? I ask this because I was stunned to discover the Waterford program teaching silent letters as a phonics skills appropriate for preschoolers. When I actively taught Grade 2, “i+gh” for example was a second grade skill, not a preschool/pre-reading skill.

Preschool, in my opinion, should be heavily weighted toward teaching children to get along with each other, to share and take turns, and to learn appropriate group social behaviors. Preschoolers should also be allowed to learn by experiences; those experiences are important to everything that comes later in learning. Preschool children need to form a strong, compassionate, relationship with the adults teaching them. A positive preschool experience sets the stage for lifelong learning attitudes. These are the things a 15-minute daily online preschool program can never provide.

Our education leaders, in fact all of us, need to step up efforts to make an affordable universal preschool experience available to all who would like one, and stop relying on questionable “free” software to fill in the gap.

If life hands you apples, make…. applesauce!

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been investigating the colonial period through our guided reading groups. With my Safety Net 1 group (yes, I have two safety net groups), the texts’ readability levels are far beyond instructional level so mainly it looks like a shared reading session.  The book we’re reading, the most basic text I could locate, is “Colonial Life”, courtesy of my Reading A-Z subscription (BTW, one of the best purchases I’ve ever made).

Yesterday we were reading about breakfast in colonial times. The text has a nice graphic of a table set for breakfast – which included a bowl of apples.

Me hopefully leading the students to a comparison: “Do we ever eat fruit at breakfast time?”

Student: “No. Never.”

This exchange happened as the students were consuming their mid-morning snack – items “leftover” from the breakfast bags which included applesauce. The look of incredulity was priceless when I pointed out that applesauce came from, well…. apples! And, according to the food services managers, that is a fruit.

As one student observed, “Oh that’s why there’s a picture of an apple on the lid!” — the peel back foil covering.

Still not believing me, the kids were full of questions as to how apples turn in to applesauce.  And, had I had supplies with me, I would have done just that with them.

Somehow, I’ve got to work more experiential learning into this classroom!