Denise Shields knows from 12 years of teaching preschoolers that when she holds up a circle and asks, “What is this shape?” some of them will answer, “It’s a ball!”
That’s why in her recorded video lesson on shapes—one of a series of 40 half-hour lessons Shields offers to parents for free—she pauses for a beat before saying, “That’s right, it does look like a ball! But what shape is a ball?”
“You have to talk to the camera as if the camera is a child,” said Shields, who operates Creative Kids Preschool—and now also Creative Kids Virtual Preschool—out of her Stafford County home. “Children will know if you fake it.”
In the videos, if “Ms. Denise” messes up, she doesn’t stop and re-record. Instead, she’ll say, “Oh, my brain just isn’t working today! Does that ever happen to you?”
From the feedback she’s gotten from parents who use her virtual curriculum, it seems kids know Shields is not faking it.
Shields developed her virtual preschool curriculum in the fall as a response to the pandemic, and it’s already being used by thousands of families around the country and the world, including some in Poland, China, Spain and Greece.
Shields opened Creative Kids Preschool in 2008. She had homeschooled three of her four children and discovered her passion for working with little kids when she had a job as a paraprofessional at the kindergarten her youngest child attended.
“They are just awesome,” Shields said of the 3–5 age group. “They are becoming independent, yet they still love to be with you and they love to learn.”
Shields had five students in her first class, which she held in the afternoons after working at Conway S.C. Elementary School in the mornings.
“After the first year, it’s been all word-of-mouth,” Shields said.
Then in March 2020, her kids left for spring break and never returned.
“It was shocking,” Shields said. “I never got to say goodbye. I thought, what am I going to do?”
Like many, she turned to Zoom to finish off the school year, offering half-hour classes to her students, with assistance from Ollie the Crow, her puppet sidekick.
“I wanted to offer something to parents,” she said.
So she and Ollie the Crow launched Creative Kids Virtual Preschool, a series of 40 half-hour, theme-based lessons. Each one has an associated game or activity, hands-on project and story-time segment, plus downloadable worksheets and 20 mini lessons—all for free.
Themes include animals, colors, shapes, farm life, insects, dinosaurs, seasons, nutrition, pets and community helpers.
Shields developed a virtual curriculum for fall, winter and spring—60 lessons each for $59—in addition to the free program. She also put together a summer camp program for $20.
She said about 500 families registered for each of the winter and spring programs.
Shields said she’ll continue to teach her in-person classes for “as long as I can get down on the ground and get back up again.”
“I think I get more enjoyment out of [teaching] than the kids do,” she said.
Check out Creative Kids Virtual Preschool at creativekidsvirtualpreschool.com