How to provide a virtual ‘group time’ to young children
Keeping connected and engaged with your families and their children is so very important during this time of disconnect, isolation and uncertainty. One of the ways of doing this is by providing regular contact via a virtual group time. This can strengthen your relationship with the families and can also support children in reconnecting with their educators and their peers. Families are really appreciating the respite and support that virtually connecting can provide.
There are many platforms you can use to run a virtual group time with your families and centre community.
No matter which platform you use, here are some tips to help you provide a good experience.
- Post the link to the virtual group time with the date and time in your community post area of Storypark. Families can then click on the link to be part of the group time (no uploading of videos required)
- Depending on the platform you choose you may be able to record the group time. This allows you to add the recording link to a community post so families can revisit the group time or if the time didn’t work for them they can view it at a more convenient time.
- If you would like parents to be there supporting their child you may want to mention this in the invite. You might also like to ask for any requests for future group times.
- Check your lighting:
- Place your computer/webcam/tablet so it isn’t facing a window, otherwise, you will be a silhouette and hard to see.
- Natural lighting may not be enough so you may need to turn on your room lights/lamps.
- Check your sound, if you have a microphone try using this instead of the inbuilt one in your computer, especially if you are moving away from it as you dance or sing etc
- Check your environment:
- What is in your background, is it appropriate? Is it too busy or distracting?
- Is it quiet from the rest of the household? Animals, humans, TV, radio, noise etc.
- Alert your household members so they know not to disturb you or create noise during your session
- Do you have enough room to move?
- Place your computer/webcam/tablet so you can move back and forward from the screen easily – if you are reading a book you need to be close, and if you are doing an action song you need to move back so your attendees can see your whole body. You may need to tilt your laptop at times to change the angle of the camera
- Ensure that you are not needing to look up or down at the camera/webcam, have it sitting level
- Clean/wipe your web camera/lens if it is blurry
- Remember to mute the microphones of all participants once you start the mat time or before they enter. If you don’t, the screen may change to whoever is making the most noise, and others won’t be able to see you or hear you.
- Supporting a better Internet connection:
- Turn any devices you are not using for the mat time (ie iPad and phone) onto flight mode, turn all other devices that could be using your internet off, i.e tv/Netflix, other people’s portable devices
- Get as close to your internet router as possible, ideally if using a computer connect to it using an ethernet cable and turn off your computer’s wifi if your connection is very poor
- The recommended browsers to use are Google Chrome or Safari, NOT Explorer
- Close down anything on your computer or device that may be using the internet in the background i.e Skype, mail, messages, Facebook etc.
- Mid-afternoon into the evening seems to be the most active time for internet users. Therefore, it is best to avoid these times if you require a stronger connection
Advice to families
- Supporting a better Internet connection:
- Turn your iPad and phone onto flight mode, turn all other devices that could be using your internet off, i.e tv/Netflix, other people’s portable devices
- Get as close to your internet router as possible, ideally connect to it using an ethernet cable and turn off your computer’s wifi if your connection is very poor
- The recommended browsers to use are Google, Chrome or Safari.
- If using your computer to connect please close down anything on your computer that may be using the internet i.e Skype, mail, messages, Facebook etc.
- You will be on mute when you join so everyone can hear. You will be unmuted so you can talk at the end of the mat time
- You will be able to have your video on, however, you can turn it off if you wish. Children reconnecting with their friends via video is very powerful in supporting and continuing their relationships and connections
- If your video is on please be aware of what others can see, only share what you are comfortable to share
- Group times are best viewed on a large screen, i.e Computer screen, Smart TV via Apple TV or Chrome cast from a small internet-capable device tablet, phone or iPad. A phone is not ideal but still usable
- Just remember that for many this is a new way of communicating, and the children may be a bit hesitant to join in at first. As they get more familiar with this new way of engaging and providing mat time they are more likely to participate
Plan your mat time
- Plan your mat time, write down a potential list of songs etc and have your props ready beside you
- Make a playlist of the songs you plan to use so you don’t spend time looking for music or changing CDs in the middle of the mat time
- You may wish to try a practice run with a colleague or family first before inviting a big group
- If you are able, record your group time so people that couldn’t attend still have a chance to join in, or those that did attend can revisit it. Depending on the platform you use you may be able to get a link to the recording, that way you won’t have to upload the recording, you just share the link in a Community post
- If you want to have two teachers present to share the load of taking the mat time, unmute both teachers and work out beforehand who is doing which part of the mat time. As there can be a lag between each speaker it is not recommended to sing together as you will be out of time!
- Remember that for many this is a new way of communicating, and the children may be a bit hesitant to join in at first. As they get more familiar with this new way of engaging and providing mat time they are more likely to participate
- At the end of your mat time, you could allow each family to speak or say hi (if they wish) by unclicking one person’s mute, one at a time
Final note: selecting a virtual platform
Firstly we suggest you define your purpose:
- What do you need it to do/provide?
- Do you want or need to pay for more features?
- Will the free version meet your requirements? i.e. ease of use and access, recording feature, number of attendees, does it have advertising
- Do all users and attendees need an account or to download software or an app?
- Does it address your safety concerns? i.e. privacy, sharing
Secondly, investigate what is available, As a centre or organisation, we suggest that you do due diligence to make an informed decision that suits your requirements and policy. We don’t recommend any particular virtual platform but we suggest using the following guidelines to make sure you choose one that is right for your organisation.