Annie Slater grew up in Pasadena, California, where she volunteered at an LAUSD school and experienced the stark divide in education. She received her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Southern California and her Masters in Education from the University of San Diego, where her research focused on the benefits of integrating mindfulness into the classroom.
Annie taught middle school mathematics for six years at various independent schools in the Los Angeles area. Annie served as the math department chair and Director of Partnership for Success, a collaboration between independent and public schools providing a fully-funded summer enrichment program to help students realize their academic goals. Her goal is to make high quality education accessible for all.
1) Online learning is still foreign to many parents. What can parents expect from early virtual education?
The most important parts of early education are play, connection, and exposure. Children 0-6 years old need to explore their world and start a positive association with learning. During these unprecedented times, parents are more concerned than ever before about socialization, academic progress, and health and safety.
There is no one size fits all approach to early education, especially now. However, early virtual education is a great alternative to traditional schools. If your family chooses a high quality virtual education program, play, connection, and exposure should already be instilled within the curriculum. By choosing a thoughtful program, you’ll know that your child is learning each day, while also allowing flexibility for your family.
2) How can parents prepare for virtual school? Is it the same as preparing for a traditional school?
Preparing for virtual school is so much easier than preparing for traditional schools! Say goodbye to those massive school supply lists that your child never actually needs. The best way to prepare for a virtual school is to establish a routine from day one. I highly encourage families to establish a set “learning place” – whether that’s at the dining table or at a desk. Your child should have a place to learn that sets them up for success. Please avoid the sofa or some place too distracting!
Most importantly, your child will need a positive association with their learning device (computer, iPad, phone, etc) and the program itself. I highly encourage parents to “hype up” the beginning of their online program. The more excited you are about starting virtual school, the cooler your child will think it is! If you talk about their new virtual program like it’s the coolest new thing and it will be so much fun, your child will be SO excited to try it out.
3. How can parents be assured that virtual school isn’t as intimidating as they might expect?
All new things can seem intimidating at first, especially something new for a young child! My favorite thing about virtual education is the flexibility. Child having a meltdown? No problem – try after lunch! Grandparents show up unannounced? Great – you can watch that learning video later! Unlike traditional schools where your child can be penalized for missing class or assignments, virtual education puts the family first, recognizing that life doesn’t always operate on the typical 8-3 school schedule!
4. Do you foresee a crisis like this making online education more palatable or appealing to parents?
Before this crisis, I don’t think many parents thought virtual education was a true option. For early education, most families chose between: preschool, home school, or waiting until Kindergarten. Now, with virtual education being so prevalent, I think more and more families are recognizing that it’s the perfect combination of the original three choices! Virtual education allows families to spend more time with their children, while also ensuring that they’re learning with the support of a team of curriculum experts and teachers.
5. As a former administrator for traditional school — now virtual school — what do you see as the biggest challenges when it comes to virtual schooling vs traditional schooling? What are the benefits that are unique to both?
I may be a bit biased here since I left traditional education for virtual education, but here it goes! I think virtual education is incredible for early education. During their most formative years, little ones can spend more time with their families, while also learning, exploring, and growing. These are the years that children are absorbing information like sponges, and personally, I want to ensure that my child is absorbing things like kindness, empathy, happiness, and creativity. While learning from one’s peers and playground politics are important – I truly believe that they can wait until a child is older.
Traditional schools are great for older students (7+) because of their facilities – it is so important for an older child to have access to a gym, pool, theater, auditorium, etc. These facilities allow children to explore passions outside of academia, increasing their critical thinking skills, time management skills, and more. I cannot stress enough how important pursuing hobbies, passions, and interests outside of the core curriculum are for older children.
We’re all in a massive transition of the entire education system, especially with all of the new research on the downfalls of standardized testing, learning environments, and child brain development. The reality is that our current traditional system of education is much like an assembly line based on birth date. Parents feel pressured for their child to fall into the assembly line – they should keep up with the constantly advancing curriculum standards until they are in Calculus before college. I think now, parents are looking at their toddlers and wanting more.
Parents want their child to be happy, kind, and to have a sense of grit – and, of course, appropriately challenged by their schoolwork. Did you know that 98% of kindergarteners are considered geniuses of divergent thinking? Then, after a few years in our traditional education system, this ability level drastically decreases. This is a major problem – Our current system of education does not promote collaboration, divergent thinking, or critical thinking. Rather, it promotes rote memorization, standardized learning, and a “me first” mentality. I highly encourage all parents to watch Sir Ken Robinson’s lecture on Changing Education Paradigms – it’s inspiring!
6. How do you respond to parents feeling skeptical of early virtual education? There is a lot of fear that it encourages too much screen time.
Parents are right to be skeptical! There are so many virtual programs out there and some of them definitely are entirely screen time based. My advice for parents is to do their research. One virtual school can be vastly different from another – just like traditional schools are all so different. Each school has its own philosophy and “feeling.” It’s important to choose one that feels right for your family.
Early education, but especially early virtual education, should be personal and supportive. When you’re researching different options, I highly encourage families to send an email to ask a question – literally any question. Did you receive a response from a real person? Or, did you get a template response? This is a quick test to determine if your child will be another cog in the machine or if they’ll be cared about as an individual and student!