Back to #Trending

Could Virtual Programs Prepare Kids for Kindergarten? A New Study Suggests

By: Inas Essa

Many studies following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak have revealed to us the silver lining of such a crisis. Indeed, the pandemic has urged people in positions of responsibility to shift their perspectives and viewpoint, to always be in search of different unusual solutions.

Last summer, amid lockdown regulations, the Ohio State University could not welcome preschoolers for the in-person Summer Success Program that has been conducted since 2016 to help 4-5 year-old children from low-income families through four weeks of sessions to prepare for kindergarten. This led staff and teachers to switch to a full-virtual program; yet, there were suspicions about whether it would work or not since these kids had no previous experience with preschool.


Kindergarten Readiness

Kindergarten readiness is a way of delivering the desired age-appropriate language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills to children to get them ready for kindergarten entry. It works on helping children be equipped with the abilities to effectively communicate with peers and teachers, and engage in structured tasks.

Previous research showed that children who enter kindergarten with higher levels of these fundamental readiness skills are well-positioned to continue to build their knowledge and skills at a steady rate. This results in further higher academic achievement relative to children with lower levels of these skills.



Summer School at Home

Although previous research on the Summer Success Program had shown positive outcomes for children who participated in them, with gains in the kindergarten readiness skills, researchers were not sure if the virtual program would work, but it worked despite the challenges. This new approach carried out by the team had met modest success in helping children learn literacy skills, early math skills, and emotion understanding. Also, researchers found that it was easily accepted by teachers and parents.

"The promising evidence is that a virtual problem like this can succeed, despite the challenges," said Rebecca Dore, lead author of the study and senior research associate at Ohio State's Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy. "We were not sure at the beginning how well it would work. We never met the families and children in person, and we made everything run remotely," she added.


The Virtual Program

Through this year’s virtual program, the enrolled families participated in a 4-week program involving one weekly teacher-caregiver meeting, two weekly "Watch Together" home learning activities, two weekly "Play Together" home learning activities, one or two weekly "Read Together" home learning activities, and one or two weekly teacher-child video chat lessons.

Parents were given instructions about how to watch the videos and read the books with their children, besides receiving questions to ask them before, during, and after reading the books or watching the videos.



High Engagement

The study showed that 77% of the families recruited in the program finished it successfully with high levels of satisfaction with the program. Results also indicated the children’s high engagement in the video lessons as teachers found in 90% of sessions children were engaged for more than half the lesson. Moreover, in half the sessions, the teachers rated the child as being engaged for the whole lesson.

The positive outcomes of the program also highlighted improved social-emotional skills, counting, alphabet knowledge, and emergent literacy. These gains were very encouraging for the researchers since they were achieved with much less direct instruction than children would receive during the in-person program. Additionally, the program got high marks from parents and caregivers, with average ratings of 4.7 on a 5-point scale, with one comment to extend the period of the program.

"Our results suggest virtual intervention may be successful in promoting kindergarten readiness skills even when children cannot be in preschool or in an in-person summer program," study co-author Laura Justice, professor of educational studies at Ohio State and executive director of The Crane Center said. “While this program was developed in response to the pandemic, the promising results suggest it may be useful for other circumstances,” Dore said.