CALGARY -- Carly Rowbotham teaches preschoolers at Pacekids Society for Children with Special Needs.  The abrupt end to classes due to the pandemic has left kids and their teachers a little lost.  But now Rowbotham and other teachers are looking for creative ways to bring content in the homes of their students in isolation - including a pair of special virtual assistants who break up the monotony of digital learning with a few well-timed barks.

She teaches kids from two-and-a-half years old up to five and like many she’s turned to recording and hosting live sessions on Zoom, a virtual portal that presents new challenges for Rowbotham and her students.

“One of the problems I’ve had is that a lot of the stuff we do is a lot of choices,” said Rowbotham.  “I need someone to choose things for me and I don’t have any children because we’re not in school, so (instead of children),  the dogs have been helping me with that.”

She has two mixed breed rescue dogs.  Luna is a trained therapy dog and loves her job as co-teacher.  Bernie is much bigger and not even a year old yet but will do anything for a treat. 

The dogs are a hit with the students in both the recorded and live virtual classes.

“They like seeing them and it’s fun," said Rowbotham. "It keeps their attention and keeps them a little more engaged - because it can be tricky for the parents at home to keep them engaged.”

Repetition helps

Five-year-old Olivia Martin likes to sing along and watch the dogs helping.  She’s able to watch the recorded classes over and over and that repetition helps her learn.

“It’s a little tough because I am working at home full time as well,” said Tara Blonde, Olivia’s mom.  “But the schedules that her teachers send make it a lot easier to be able to balance both and make her feel like she’s still living a normal life, even though she’s at home the whole time.”

Rowbotham says she’ll keep posting classes for her students.

“The kids are enjoying it you can tell,"said Rowbotham. "Some will come really close up to the camera to see us and they’re excited to see us. (There's) a lot of clapping, a lot of smiling and all those kinds of things.

"it’s really nice," she adds, "and also we get really excited to see them too, because we miss seeing them all the time."