It’s no secret that pandemic isolation has hit hard—maybe even hardest—on young children and their caregivers. Young children are wired to be with people: parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends and teachers. The early years lay the lifetime foundation for language, literacy, social and emotional skills. If that foundation isn’t laid well, it’s very hard to fix it later.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has transformed how young children experience the world. For many children, pandemic lockdowns have meant little or no time for outdoor play. Playgrounds were closed for months, some for nearly a year, and some have yet to open. In-person time with friends, teachers and grandparents vanished, too, and is just starting to come back.
Instead, for months to more than a year, millions of preschoolers, kindergartners and early elementary students have been confined at home, spending even more time on screens than usual. Meanwhile, their maxed-out parents are toggling between remote work and the constant demands of child care. For many families, economic hardship, illness, and loss of loved ones have taken even bigger tolls.
Enter Noggin. During the pandemic, Nick Jr.’s popular preschool learning app has leveled up to help meet these challenges. Noggin created content related to health and safety for both kids and parents, curated shows to support learning and offered parents sample schedules for online time. “We wanted to encourage independent play. Parents are working hard and need a break to make a meal and take a shower,” said Michael Levine, Noggin’s senior vice president for learning and impact.
At the same time, Noggin has tried to create developmentally-appropriate opportunities for co-viewing and play among siblings. Levine pointed out there are special challenges due to where preschoolers are developmentally and to privacy restrictions. “Collaboration is more complicated in pre-K” than it is with older kids, he noted. “They are just getting used to sharing and virtual play dates. There’s a lot of parallel play,” when two children play independently but sitting near each other.
For families with multiple children, older siblings can help. “Siblings are a big part of the mix. We want older kids to dive right in,” Levine says. “The 4-year-old always wants to do what the 8-year-old is doing. We’re recruiting talent to produce things that might be a little over the head of the 4-year old” in a way that challenges and engages them.
At the same time, ideally, parents are still engaged when children are enjoying Noggin’s content, at least some of the time. “We want parents to be able to take a break, but if we are going to do the right thing for children, we need to do things that bring in parents, too. There’s a need for the ping-pong match between parent and child,” when children practice taking turns in conversation with adults. That builds vocabulary and social skills they will need in school.
To bring quality digital media to families who can’t afford the subscription, Noggin has launched partnerships with Head Start, the nonprofit parent app Sparkler, and the high-performing charter school network, Apple Tree. The partnership has connected more than 1,000 Washington D.C. families with supportive, educational learning experiences online to supplement their children’s remote learning. The families received free access to both apps as well as hands-on supplies like books, crayons, scissors and construction paper. (Learn more here.)
Noggin’s commitment to social good shows up in their new content, too.
New offerings like “Rhymes Through Times” help young children explore social justice issues.
Noggin and its parent, Nickelodeon, have made efforts to partner with Black creatives to develop the new content. Hamilton star and Moana composer Christopher Jackson wrote the songs and voices them in the Rhymes Through Times videos.
Meanwhile, Emmy-nominated artist, writer and producer Wil Fuller lent his talents to the first in a series of songs for Big Heart World, a new platform that helps children develop self-esteem, self-regulation, empathy and connection with others.
Over the coming year, Noggins Big Heart Initiative will release new songs and music videos, interactive games, family activity guides and parent/educator resources to support young children as they emerge back into the big world. For May, the focus is on feelings: how to understand, express and manage them appropriately. When feelings feel really big, there’s nothing like a deep breath to help them calm down again.
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Partner at Ed Post. She is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an associate editor at Catalyst Chicago, the go-to ...