Fostering a Virtual Early Childhood Community in Unprecedented Times

By Emma Vallarino, Manager, Kordestani Family Program for Parents and Educators 

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting everyday life, how were teachers to offer warm, inviting, social and interesting play environments while supporting children’s healthy development through play? Many schools and centers faced enormous changes to their programs and policies. Answering this for early childhood educators around the world was an important aspect of the work of the Kordestani Family Program for Parents and Educators at Bing Nursery School during the 2020–2021 academic year. 

The Kordestani program is dedicated to working with parents, early childhood educators and Bing staff to create a professional dialogue around children’s development and learning, with a focus on the importance of play in the lives of young children. Through informal coffee talks, in-depth seminars and study groups on child development, our teachers share their expertise and insights and collaborate with Bing families in our shared goals for children. And in offerings designed for early childhood educators, Bing teachers host seminars and workshops and share strategies for best practices in the field. This continuous dialogue among staff, parents and educators worldwide fosters inspiration, strengthens shared experiences, and reinforces Bing’s commitment to serving young children.

In 2020–2021, the program offered 13 virtual coffee talks for parents on topics such as “Choosing Quality Literature in Early Childhood,” “Setting and Keeping Appropriate Limits for Young Children” and “Nature Connection: Valuing Young Children’s Authentic Experiences with the Natural World.” We also implemented a virtual parent discussion group that began as a book club in the autumn quarter, reading and discussing The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. During the winter quarter, the discussion group turned into a TED Talk Series, where each of five sessions focused on a different TED Talk relating to parenting. Through these sessions, we had discussions around the pressures of modern-day parenting, humor in parenting, and how to raise children who are inclusive and value and honor diversity. 

In terms of reaching early childhood educators, the program’s team, Adrienne Lomangino, Sadie Parrinello and I considered ways to reach and engage educators virtually instead of relying on the mostly in-person educational programming from years past. Moving the educator programs to a virtual format enabled a community of passionate early childhood educators to come together in a new way. During the 2020–2021 academic year, our program offered three one-and-a-half-hour educator seminars geared toward early childhood educators. The autumn seminar, which I co-presented with Bing teacher Parrinello, focused on reflective practice, engaging teachers to consider the important work children create every day. The winter seminar, presented by head teacher Nandini Bhattacharjya and introduced by head teacher Lomangino, focused on storytelling in the early childhood classroom. Lomangino talked about the importance of storytelling in young children’s lives while Bhattacharjya focused on sharing many wonderful examples of weaving storytelling into children’s everyday play experiences from the Bing classroom. The spring seminar, hosted by enrollment administrator Katherine Jordan and head teacher and research coordinator Chia-wa Yeh, shed light on the brain science behind play, sharing with participants how play supports essential aspects of brain development. 

In previous years, the educator seminars proved to be popular, typically selling out quickly. Yet, our team did not realize the full range of interest until moving these sessions to a virtual format. We realized that not only were we registering more than 100 participants for the virtual sessions, but that almost every participant attended these sessions live. This created a lively space where participants could engage with the Bing presenters and each other. Many participants used the chat feature on Zoom to connect with each other, sharing experiences from their own program, particularly around navigating COVID-19 policies and practices. 

During the summer of 2021, the program hosted a virtual Educator Summer Series, Stepping Outside: Seeing the Potential of the Outdoor Environment. Through this series, Bing educators offered a variety of perspectives to reinvigorate participants in their approach to the outdoors and highlight its potential to promote engagement, growth and well-being. On Wednesday evenings, over the course of five weeks, Bing teachers and the program team members shared a variety of perspectives on the outdoor environment. The time together allowed for fruitful conversations and connections in our early childhood educator community.

The shift to providing online content to Bing’s early childhood educator community is a true silver lining of this pandemic. Inspired by the commitment and engagement of the educators, our team plans to offer mixed-format content to reach early childhood educators far and wide, strengthening the work of early childhood education teachers to provide quality, play-based, child-centered programs that benefit children from our own Bay Area community to children around the world.