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Connecting virtually -looking at the why, what, how and when to engage online.

The 'why' for connecting virtually online right now is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I would never have imagined this situation and at times feel like I am somehow in a sci-fi movie. I have been interested to see teachers pivot and transform their teaching to provide online activities, ideas and book readings on Facebook and know there is a lot going on in assessment platforms too.

I think we will continue to be virtual for at least another month and wanted to explore the why, what, how and when to support teachers and in turn children and families. I am sharing some tips from engaging with teachers online through my Facebook page This is why I teach. ec and group Exploring why I teach. ec.

There is more to the 'why' than the current situation and before creating any online posts for my page or group I ask ‘why’ am I writing, videoing or photographing this.

Who is it for? Why do they need it? If you have been following my page and group you will be aware that I do not put myself in front of the camera, a hand or part of my body but not my face. Why? Because I did not want the it to be about me but about all teachers.

But this changed with COVID-19 and I had a ‘why’ to put myself in front of the camera and so I did in the group Exploring why I and created a mini-series based on making and sharing a story basket WITH children using resources from around home and the early childhood setting. In this time of change and uncertainty my ‘why’ became making a human connection with my group. I wanted to give back and support teachers.

The mini-series is still in the group Exploring why I teach . ec for you to join and participate in. Here are some of the story baskets made so far WITH children (or for them) by teachers in the group. Part of the success of the the mini-series was that I was brave enough to be in front of the camera and connect.

Cheri Whiting Julie DiMarco Jody Crowther

I imagine that if you are doing online or virtual activities that your ‘why’ will be similar to mine, you want to connect and give back. What I have seen online has been mostly reading books or literacy, there has been some baking and a few activity ideas.

As I think about the ‘why’ to engage with children and families I feel that there may need to be more especially of we are at home for a longer period of time. I would like to suggest using ZOOM or something similar where children can see each other and interact. I know one of the hardest things about videoing yourself is feeling like you are talking to yourself and it's not natural. This gets easier with practice but one way to change this is to have a ‘meeting’ with the children online live to join in and participate.

They could share what they have been doing. This of course could be done with photos and videos shared to but there is something more 'real' about doing it live and in a group. Turn-taking will also be a skill to be practiced.

I have mentioned the ‘what’ with books, activities and ideas but you may want to think about more interactive activities like:

· Puppets

· Math and numeracy rhymes and games

· Colour rhymes and games

· Stuff animal games

· Loose parts invitations

· Music

· Physical activities from fine to gross motor

· Construction and

· Dramatic play

It is important to think about your teaching team and let them teach to their strengths but at the same time grow and develop professionally.

Some of these ideas will mean you need to send out information to parents sharing what you will be doing and inviting them to provide items. If you are doing this then it is important to keep in mind your families and what they may have in their homes.

A simple and interactive idea would be a tea party or picnic online. This could be easily done in ZOOM or as a video. Asking for a tea cup, pausing and pouring pretend tea at the camera. Pausing and asking how it tasted.

Like anything in teaching there are key things to think about and do when online teaching (the 'how') :

· Plan (have a start, middle and end)

· Script (have a piece of paper taped in from of you with a plan)

· Sound, modern phones are great inside but beware of wind outside.

· Lighting, you can use a large or small ring light

(use natural light and window in front of you where possible or light rings). If videoing outside cloudy days, early morning our late afternoon are best for light).

· Background (think about engaging interest but not too distracting)

· Move or have resources that add movement

· Have a photo of someone or the children in front of you, this really helps me focus and be a little more natural.

When I plan, I use a HEAD, HEART and HANDs model.

HEAD- thinking and I use curiosity as the foundation in all 3 areas. Asking questions with who? why? which? when? what? where? and how?

HEART- feelings, emotional attachment, motivation, attitude and commitment. This can be the adults or the child/rens.

HANDS- action or play is what makes the story basket meaningful which links to the HEART and feelings.

I use this if I am planning a story basket, a challenge or a video. I would also be thinking about how to encourage playfulness, relationships and delight in a virtual space.

'When' to engage and 'how' often goes back to the ‘why’. When do the children need or want engagement? I would think about quality rather than quantity and that play is important for children in an early childhood setting and now at home.

If I am right in thinking we will be engaging virtually for a bit longer, then as teacher we may need to think about providing more support for the families of the children. What would this look like and how would it meet their needs?

Would they prefer:

· Phone calls

· Emails

· Text messages

· A virtual parent gathering

· A family activity guide

I am not sure but this is something I would be thinking about moving forward or perhaps you already have. It may be a case of asking families and trial and error.

Until next time.


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