University of Southern Queensland early childhood student Nicole Piltz felt right at home during her recent professional placement with the distance education program eKindy.
The Mount Isa mother-of-two spent three weeks educating some of Queensland's youngest and most isolated learners remotely, while gaining valuable practical experience without leaving her house.
eKindy is designed for children who cannot access a centre-based kindergarten program due to distance, medical condition or itinerant family lifestyle.
Launched in Queensland in 2012, the program uses video conferencing technology to engage children in play-based activities and connect them with other kindy children and families through online sessions run by an early childhood teacher.
The program has also provided rural and remote students at USQ like Mrs Piltz a chance to gain supervised professional experience as part of their Early Childhood degree.
The second-year student said teaching a child one-on-one over a computer screen was a big learning curve.
"You need to be more vocal and descriptive in your instructions and directions," Mrs Piltz said.
"One of the biggest challenges was how to regain the child's attention and helping them stay concentrated.
"What if they got up from their chair and walked away? It's not like I can pull them back, so it was important I created lots of fun activities that kept them interested and engaged."
Mrs Piltz said she was facing the possibility of travelling more than 900km to Townsville for her next placement before the opportunity with eKindy came knocking.
"Being out here in the outback, you're very limited to what options you have when it comes to placements," she said.
"I am beyond thankful and very grateful to USQ and the Brisbane School of Distance Education for this incredible opportunity."
USQ Early Childhood lecturer Dr Alice Brown said the eKindy placement offered students a unique opportunity to learn from experienced early childhood educators about ways of teaching and supporting children's learning by using an online learning platform.
"It's also a wonderful opportunity for our students to engage in a professional experience that allows them to collaboratively work with both the child, the parent and the educators as partners in supporting the learning of young children in rural and remote contexts," she said.
Dr Brown said eKindy provided many valuable benefits for young children, particularly in supporting key learning and developmental outcomes for children underpinned by a play-based curriculum.
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