As a school year reliant on parents and guardians absorbing a bigger role in their children’s at-home education comes to a close, the looming summer raises many questions. With camps moving online and questions about future academic calendars unanswered, it’s daunting to think of how education will look in a post-pandemic world. Due in part to the connectivity of the internet and the innovation of educators everywhere, digital resources abound. From hands-on play to arts education, we spoke to local educators, organizations and businesses about their virtual work and how you and the children in your life can access and benefit from it.
Arts on the Horizon
Arts on the Horizon presents theater to their audience of children ages 6 and under using professional adult actors. They are the first theater company in the country to provide performances exclusively to this age range, and their non-verbal performances feature little to no major divide between the audience and performer.
“It’s a very tactile, intimate experience for the audience,” says Michelle Kozlak, founder and producing artistic director. “As you can imagine it’s really challenging right now.”
Despite challenges, Kozlak, her team and performers began a YouTube channel on March 16, immediately after they closed. Now boasting 30 videos, they’ve expanded from actors reading books to more interactive experiences, all accessible via the theater’s website and their YouTube platform.
“We also have at-home activities we started to send out,” Kozlak says. “All of these are free. Anyone who’s on our mailing list has been getting these lists of activities in addition to the videos. And we are preparing a coloring book and paper doll book based on our shows that’ll be coming out in June. It’s a way to do some screen-free activities but something that still connects everyone back to our shows.”
The coloring book, available this month, serves as a fundraiser for the organization. To further help the organization employ artists and keep afloat while they are closed, donations are also being accepted through their Hope on the Horizon campaign.
“Liking and sharing things, just getting the word out about things that we are doing, even our free activities, is amazing,” Kozlak says of other ways to help. “We’re still a young organization, so the more that people know what we’re doing, that’s great.”
Arts on the Horizon also offers virtual classes and their virtual summer camp launches this month. These camps come with supply kits to encourage learning after camp instruction and offer something to do without increasing screen time.
“We just really want to make sure we’re keeping everyone safe,” she says. “We’re finding new ways that we can engage with parents and kids during the camp, so we’re doing an hour a day [everyday] instead of the normal three hours.”
To sign up for Arts on the Horizon’s summer camp, subscribe to their mailing list, check out videos, free resources and more, visit www.artsonthehorizon.org.
Play to Learn Preschool
Play to Learn Preschool, a school for children ages 3 to 5 in Leesburg, also serves as an online resource for teachers and now to parents and guardians. On the school’s Facebook page, you’ll find videos, resources and images galore, all aimed at learning through play. They expanded their digital content even further in the wake of the pandemic-related school closures.
“When schools were closed unexpectedly on March 12, we decided to offer a virtual circle time experience for our own students and any other preschoolers who wanted to participate on our Facebook page,” says Jamie White, founder and teacher. “We did not expect to have hundreds of thousands of students join each week.”
White and Play to Learn also hosted a Virtual Preschool semester, with eight weeks of videos and printable enrichment packs. That content is still available for free on the preschool’s website. While Play to Learn’s summer Virtual Preschool ended on June 1, White is gearing up to offer a fall semester as well.
“The Virtual Preschool experience is designed to give preschoolers a little bit of normal-ish school structure to their day,” White explains. “The videos are designed so that the kids can sing along, recite poems together and interact with the games.”
White reads a related picture book to the class each day and teaches reading comprehension strategies.
“We believe that children learn best when they are engaged in hands-on, messy, interactive, play. But since that is not possible for many children at this time, we hope the Virtual Preschool videos and related play ideas help to fill in some of the gaps.”
Teachers, parents and students have all made huge adjustments during this time, and Play to Learn is no exception. As White mentioned, the digital nature of new teaching methods makes it harder for interactive learning, but she and her preschool strive to strike a balance through things like the play ideas offered in daily play packs that are provided each day.
“It is a challenge to reconcile the knowledge that children should have limited screen time each day. They need a lot of movement, creativity and activity in order to learn. I hope the Virtual Preschool program offers families ideas for extending the learning at home through play.”
White also has words of encouragement to parents as they do their best to keep educating and entertaining their young ones right now.
“My best advice to parents is: Do not try to recreate the classroom experience at home,” she explains. “Young children need to know they are safe and loved. They need lots of free time to play and create. Do not stress about the academics or worry that your child is not going to be ready for school in the fall.”
White insists that your student will be ready when school starts up again, and the teachers will be ready to meet them and help them succeed.
“‘Deep breaths, no stress,’ that’s my summer mantra for preschool parents!”
UpCycle Creative Reuse Center
UpCycle Creative Reuse Center in Alexandria is a nonprofit that, according to their website, “Rethink[s] the traditional notion of waste by collecting cast-offs from our community to serve as creative materials.”
“We have been very busy during the pandemic,” says Lexi Keogh, UpCycle’s Executive Director. “We’ve been gathering supplies to donate to mask-making efforts both locally and nationally, putting together art kits for kids and adults for curbside pickup, as well as sharing ideas of how people can be engaged creatively while they are at home.”
Pre-pandemic, their space in the Oswald Durant Center hosted classes for kids and adults, continuing education courses and individuals could shop through their diverse offerings of materials to use for all kinds of creative projects. While in-person classes, events and shopping have come to a halt for the time being, kids and adults can still engage with UpCycle through kits they offer for curbside pickup.
“UpCycle really focuses on making art accessible to all ability levels, so the kits are really approachable for all ages, regardless of your skill level,” Keogh says of their 13 kits and two supply packs currently available for purchase.
“Some kits are geared toward making particular projects, such as the Wine Cork Pin Board, while others are more open ended, such as our Create Your Own Watercolor Kit where you make watercolors out of dried up markers. Your imagination is the only limit to what you can make with those. Each kit is unique.”
With such diverse offerings available, UpCycle provides great activities for kids and adults to do together, and to start a conversation about creativity, conservation and how the two go hand-in-hand.
“UpCycle’s mission is to inspire all people to explore and create by engaging our community in art-making experiences with reused materials,” she says. “Our kits set the stage for people to see how they can use everyday objects for their own creative purposes – hopefully the kit is just the first step.”
As far as adapting to current closures and providing kits for pickup, UpCycle also produces instructional videos that correspond to the kits. There’s a myriad of resources to click through on their website for ideas and inspiration to get hands and minds making crafts and creating art.
“Our teachers are really shining in the instructional videos they have been putting together for some of the art kits – none of them had done those kinds of videos before. We have also converted one of our afterschool programs to an online format with kits and the kids seem to really enjoy it.”
Normally, UpCycle takes material donations with requests from a wish list including items like beer bottle caps, craft paint and seashells. While Covid-19 placed that on hold, they hope to reopen donations on a limited basis as soon as possible. You can still donate to continue their efforts online and are encouraged to share what you make at home via social media in the meantime.
To order a kit for curbside pickup, check out resources or make a donation, visit upcyclecrc.org.
Learn more about these organizations below.
Arts on the Horizon: www.artsonthehorizon.org
Play to Learn Preschool: www.playtolearnpreschool.us
UpCycle Creative Reuse Center: www.upcyclecrc.org
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