Technology at Home: free apps and advice for early years.

If school closures have taught us anything it’s that every teacher matters! We know that the motivation to learn not only comes from good quality resources but from the positive relationships children form with their teachers. This is the greatest challenge with distant learning. There are heaps of free learning materials out there and even more companies are opening up their subscription software as extended free trials. This is most effective when they are resources you are already using in school, so free home access keeps learning consistent

Let’s not get carried away and bombard our families with all of this amazing content in one go though.

What I’ve learned listening to my Apple Distinguished Educator peers who have already transitioned to distance learning, is that simplicity, consistency and relationship is important.

Free Apps for Home

Software is effective as it gives all children access to the same quality resource. It is a great equaliser. We can use software to create a level playing field of access to quality information and resources. But the motivation to learn over the longer time will come from the guided learning with an adult. Remember that relationships are key to learning! Find software which requires conversation with an adult and not only moving through levels in games.

This is magnetic letters app which gives everyone the access to the alphabet for spelling. You can plan for this to be used for phoneme/grapheme recognition and CVC spelling. There will be some conflicts with your school handwriting policy though, such as the letter A.

Number Frames is a free app for working with base 5, 10, 20 and 100. There are coloured counters that can be used to count with 1:1 correspondence or adults can teach number bond facts practically. This is great for counting as families might not have 20 objects to count or make repeated colour patterns with.

Pattern Shapes is a free app to create shape pictures. There are templates to follow or free choice. Shapes can be configured as large or small and rotated. Parents can also make repeated shape patterns.There are no circles though! It’s useful for families who might not have plastic shapes around the house.

Draw and Tell is a free art set for children. They can colour and record their voice talking about their drawing. This is great if access to paper is limited or when art sets aren’t fully stocked at home.

Kaligo is a handwriting and spelling app. You can customise the font to match your school handwriting policy. You can add high frequency words to spell too. Kaligo are offering 30 days free for parents to try at home.

Keezy is a voice recording and music making app. It’s free and you can use to record sections of a story or record sound bytes from around the home to remix in to a song. It’s also great for musical pattern making.

Pic Collage is a free app and children can use it to go on photo walks around the home. They can collect photos of words, letters, shapes, signs of spring, patterns, changes in a bean or seed they have planted… the possibility of photo is endless for learning!

Geoboard is a free app that replicates a peg board and elastic bands. Different colour bands and peg board shapes and sizes can be used for fine motor development, it’s harder than you think to create shapes so challenges dexterity. It’s fun to make shapes and repeating patterns

Use the free Numberline app to help solve practical maths problems or count in 2s, 5s and 10s. It’s a great app to use alongside any kind of counting play if children don’t have a wall freeze to refer to at home.

Keeping The Conversation Going

My school uses Tapestry to collect anecdotes during the week. It’s never been a platform we use extensively but during the school closure we have opened it up to parents so that the conversation about learning with parents can continue. Using Tapestry means I can type a brief comment back to the family and ask questions or make suggestions of next steps.

Tapestry is a subscription service though. There are plenty of free services that could recreate this type of conversation:

  1. Email. This could become unmanageable, particularly during your new role providing childcare to key workers. Parents could use the free Pic Collage app to make a photo collage of their home learning each week and email it to you so that you don’t get daily updates.
  2. Class Blog. Set up a free WordPress blog and set challenges there, let parents reply with comments (no photos and first names only) and don’t include your school name.
  3. YouTube. Create a YouTube channel and post a selfie video each week and let parents reply with comments (no photos and first names only). Make your videos ‘not listed’ so they don’t appear in searches. Share the links by e-mail.
  4. Padlet. Set up a private class Padlet and each week ask parents to post to it saying what they have learned at home. Remember everyone can see what has been posted.

Having some kind of conversation platform between home, school and learning activities will keep the motivation to ‘please the teacher’ going. Their work is for you and being seen by you, their favourite teacher. That’s why school works well and we have to remember this part of early learning whilst setting home activities.

Screen Time

If the pandemic has taught us anything about the role of technology in our enabling environment its that all screen time isn’t equal. Technology is enabling us to perform office based tasks at home and stay connected but it has increased the time we spend on screen and how much we depend on screens. This helpful infographic from Internet Matters will help parents to understand the differences between screen time and what a balance looks like.

Final Thoughts: make it manageable for you.

Every 2 weeks we will be sending home 9 activities worth different amounts of stars. Children will aim to collect 20 stars all together. This is in line with our homework policy so it is familiar to families.

Home learning will look different for every school and teacher. Follow what your head teacher is suggesting and use advice like mine only as an idea and not what you should or could be doing. Take the bits that work for you, your school and your community. Balancing workload in this time is crucial.

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