Robert Tom Kalinowski: Back to School

For the fifth part of this series, we asked our experts to reflect upon the things we need to consider as we prepare to reopen schools this fall. “What human, organizational, and/or technological infrastructures do we need to put into place to support sustained periods of learning at home and/or more frequent handoffs between teachers and caregivers over the course of the school year? To what or whom do we need to pay closer attention as we plan for the reopening of schools? What might we be overlooking?”

Some families might not have a preschool to go back to

Robert Tom Kalinowski

Robert Tom Kalinowski is a doctoral student at the University of California, Irvine, where he is conducting a yearlong multi-case ethnography of 3–4-year-olds’ use of media technologies, including how they do so while participating in remote-instruction preschool.

In some cases, we don’t need to imagine what the back-to-school transition will look like: at tuition-funded preschools—well ahead of scheduled school reopenings—3-year-olds are already toddling about their childcare centers, masks on, six or more feet from one another, with frequent hand washing, shoe changing, and staff wiping everything, all the time. Why?

School closures have laid bare a stark difference in the needs that different families have for preschools, and just as much, the difference in needs that preschools have for their families.

Families with two working parents and no consistent option for kin care desperately need childcare, but they are not getting it now. Likewise, preschools funded by tuition need parents to keep sending their kids to school in order to stay in business beyond the pandemic. In my study sample, these kinds of preschools immediately went to remote online instruction via Zoom, anxious to provide value to their paying parents. Remote instruction proved to be a poor substitute for what parents really needed—daycare—so these same preschools are reopening now in a bid to survive.

The back-to-school question is one of whether, in addition to how. Publicly funded preschools will reopen once safe, with all the teachers still employed and ready to serve their communities. But privately funded preschools? Even within my small sample size, some might go out of business. My research can inform the design and distribution of educational content in an era where preschools have to flexibly serve their communities, whether on-site, at a distance, or some combination. Unfortunately, without immediate support, many preschools won’t reopen at all.


See more posts in this series:

Voices on the Future of Childhood

Akimi Gibson | Elisha Smith Arrillaga | Esther Wojcicki | Gregg Behr
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin | Molly McMahon | Robert Tom Kalinowski | Tom Liam Lynch