Free virtual program for Syracuse’s ‘littlest learners’

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Some school-aged children are now forced to learn online, with the dangers of COVID causing their parents to keep them at home. But what about our littlest learners, those who are 6 weeks old-5 years old? Salvation Army Syracuse has a free online program for that age group, which not many parents know about.

It all started last year when Salvation Army Syracuse and its long-running child care centers realized many parents didn’t feel comfortable with sending their kids for in-person learning or daycare anymore. But they didn’t want those children to miss out on educational development at an important time in their lives. The preschool teachers at Cab Horse Commons Child Care Center then started brainstorming, eventually finding a way to bring their services online for their littlest learners.

“We were figuring that if we didn’t find some way to keep those little ones, the most vulnerable ones, engaged in learning and getting development and building their skill sets, there will be a huge learning gap,” said Chandra Smith, Director of Early Childhood Education at Salvation Army Syracuse.

The preschool teachers were the first to come up with a virtual curriculum, in partnership with the Syracuse City School District.

“They were the first ones that developed a way to communicate through ClassDojo, and then we were able to link our early education students, which is the six weeks to three-year-olds, into that same type of platform,” Smith said.

Now, the teachers have scheduled Zoom sessions in 30-minute intervals with different groups of students. Families can choose time slots that work best for them. If they miss a live lesson, the kids can access the materials later on. Families can choose to take part in this every day, once a week, or whenever is most convenient for them.

“It’s better than nothing. You know, and that’s what I really stress. Getting your kid on, if you can get them on twice a week, three times a week, what you can do, that will help them,” said Bailey Sherman, a Preschool Teacher at Cab Horse Commons Child Care Center.

Ms. Bailey doesn’t waste any time on each 30-minute Zoom lesson. She begins each class with a morning song, asks her students to say hello to their peers, checks in with their emotions, and then moves on to an activity for the day. When the little ones get restless, she asks them to move around their house and “get the wiggles out.” They’re learning basic reading and language skills, fine motor skills, and social-emotional skills.

“That’s kind of the foundation of building on the rest of their education, learning how to deal with your emotions, identify them, cope with them. And be able to see their peers and be able to help them as well,” Sherman said.

The virtual sessions also offer a sense of direction for parents who are teaching their kids at home for the first time. Some use the 30-minute sessions as a basis for their at-home curriculum.

“For me, as a parent, it’s the structure for myself. They’re giving me things to follow through with,” said Sheena Elmer, whose twins take part in the free online program. “With twins, it was so overwhelming because they also learn differently. When I started having the actual live zooms with their previous teacher, and phone calls, that helped. So yeah, I appreciate, I honestly think that my girls have learned so much.”

Ms. Bailey teaches Elmer’s twins. She knows about their different learning styles and will make time for separate lessons for the two of them. Ms. Bailey does a similar thing for her other students. She will cater each lesson to her audience.

“And that’s where you really just kind of have to reflect on what group you’re with. I have some groups that don’t want to do jumping jacks, where they want to maybe draw for a minute. So it’s really finding each group and what they’re specific with and what really connects with them and then doing that with them,” Sherman said.

If parents can’t make the virtual option for them, teachers will find a way to get the materials to them.

The Salvation Army is looking for more kids who may benefit from this free virtual program. If families are interested, visit this website and speak to the director of enrollment at (315) 479-1305.

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