ISANS’ Early Childhood Education Online: Building a Better World for Children, One Paper School Bus at a Time

Every November 20th since 1954, World Children’s Day is celebrated worldwide to promote international togetherness and awareness among children, and to improve children’s welfare. “World Children’s Day,” the UN explains, “offers each of us an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build a better world for children.”

At ISANS, building a better world for children – especially immigrant children and children with refugee experience – is extremely important to us. The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected so many, but especially the youngest among us. “The costs of the pandemic for children are immediate and, if unaddressed, may last a lifetime” (UN). For immigrant children and children with refugee experience, the impacts of the pandemic are even more pronounced. Ongoing research illustrates that immigrant families have been disproportionately affected in areas of health, financial security, and employment stability (Santiago, et al.).

Children are innately resilient, but they’re also deeply affected by the circumstances and world around them. Connection, engagement, and stability are critical for a child’s development and well-being. Knowing this, the ISANS Early Childhood Education (ECE) team has developed an online version of their programming for children. In addition to connecting ECE staff and families during times when schools, daycares, and most other services have been or are closed, it also encourages them to do activities, have fun, and continue learning English.

We have been thrilled by the program’s success. Children are consistently engaged through online activities, craft materials, songs, and rhymes. And to enhance stories and songs in a virtual learning environment, our teachers created special puppets that align with their themes. A favourite example is the “Wheels on the Bus” school bus, which makes the song visually exciting and more relatable to the children. Accompanying the bus are the windshield wipers, wheels, moms, dads, and babies for each part of the song. One participant loved it so much, his sister made him a bus of his own to use the following day.

As families began arriving to Canada from Afghanistan this fall, we realized the benefit this virtual program could have for them. Waiting to complete the immigration process and begin their journey to their new home province is an incredibly stressful time for immigrant families, especially those fleeing conflict. ISANS’ online ECE sessions are trauma-informed and focus on one family at a time, offering a private, safe, and comfortable space for parents and children to interact with teachers. Through this program, we have been able to give these new arrivals personal attention and care, keeping their children engaged during quarantine while also helping them adapt and settle in a new life in Canada.

Overall, children and families have responded with great enthusiasm. Among much positive feedback, participants have told us they have become more inquisitive and want to continue learning on their own, are excited to learn from teachers who are so creative, attentive, and sometimes speak their native languages – and, most importantly, that the program has given them hope for the future.