Acorn School teachers develop innovative ways to engage Vanderbilt’s youngest learners during social distancing

Teachers at The Acorn School continue to engage with Vanderbilt's youngest learners through Zoom, online singing activities, storytelling experiences and more (photo used with permission).
Teachers at The Acorn School continue to engage with Vanderbilt’s youngest learners through Zoom, online singing activities, storytelling experiences and more. (photo used with permission)

Many of Vanderbilt’s youngest learners at The Acorn School have experienced a significant change in their typical routines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While in-person classes have been put on pause, the teachers at The Acorn School, part of the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center, have remained steadfast in their commitment to nurturing, encouraging and caring for their learners’ educational development and well-being.

The Acorn School teachers have developed new and innovative ways to meaningfully engage with their classes virtually, creating online singing and storytelling experiences and providing a space for “circle time,” in which preschoolers can interact with their peers through Zoom. The teachers also have shared with families a broad range of experiential activities that they can implement at home, with the goal of supporting young learners in creating their own knowledge through hands-on experiences, including art activities, child-initiated play and interacting with nature.

“We all, teachers and parents working remotely, have had to adjust so quickly, but we must remember the children also have experienced profound changes in their daily routines,” said Kathleen Seabolt, executive director of the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center. “The early childhood educators at The Acorn School have accomplished so much outreach in such a short time, and the impact has been huge.”

In addition to engaging with the children, teachers at The Acorn School continue to go above and beyond in the ways that they support and maintain connections with the families and caregivers of the children with whom they work, including providing weekly email updates, sending personalized letters to families, and scheduling parent-teacher conferences via Zoom or phone.

“I email encouraging at-home practices, like “gratitude boards/walls” that we want to foster in our classroom for mindfulness of ourselves and others,” said Bethany Downs, a teacher at The Acorn School’s 18th Avenue center. “We are continuing to brainstorm other ideas for parents working from home, and our families have been very kind and supportive.”

The Acorn School embodies a whole child approach to early childhood care and education, centering on helping to develop the mind, body and spirit of the children they serve. This model is inspired by social constructivist systems theories, which state that conceptual understandings emerge through a child’s direct engagement with the world, including through primary relationships, shared language and concepts. These experiences then become the tools that children use to absorb social practices and construct their understanding of themselves and their community. Seabolt said that these practices have helped to sustain learning for The Acorn School students even during social distancing.

“It has been such heart-driven work for our teachers, who miss these children so much,” Seabolt said. “I know, from the many emails I’ve received from grateful parents, that their work and support has meant a lot to the children and families as well.”

To learn more about The Acorn School, visit the Vanderbilt Child and Family Center website.

Additionally, for ideas, tips and information on resources available to community members with young children, visit the website’s Family Life Resources webpage. The page includes links to interactive activities for families and caregivers, local virtual experiences for children to engage with, information on state and local resources, links to in-home care services and guides for how to talk with children about COVID-19.