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Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Storytellers

Cardboard Cut-outs, Story Time, & Makeshift Doc Cams: Creating Some Semblance of Normalcy

boy reading during story time

Emily and her family watching Major League BaseballLast night our family assembled on the couch to watch opening day baseball. We donned our orange and black, took a few selfies, and watched our beloved San Francisco Giants be trounced by our biggest rival. An otherwise empty Dodger Stadium had fan cut-outs positioned in the stands most visible for the TV-viewing audience. They piped in crowd noise. Major League Baseball was trying to give the players and the fans as normal an experience as possible on opening day in July.

Normalcy, or some semblance of it, that’s what we’re shooting for. I understand and appreciate these efforts because after school is facing a similar challenge right now. Expanded Learning programs are making plans for a year like no other. They, too, are thinking about how to retain what has been best about their work in previous years and transmitting it via Zoom or across six feet. They’ve learned a lot since March and many have the tools down. Now the challenge is to use that learning to connect with a new group of kids, a group with whom they may have never met face-to-face.

My husband Sacha and I have been thinking about normalcy for ourselves, but especially for our three-year old. Thomas Jesus loves books, his baby brother, swimming, and all things Toy Story. For a while he seemed unfazed by all of the abrupt changes to our lives, but at five months into sheltering in place I hear him talking about school and friends with nostalgia. He’s often grumpy, and I can’t blame him. A lot has changed for him in a very short time. And so, like my after school friends planning for August, Sacha and I try to bring Thomas comparable experiences to the ones he’s missing.

Books seem to be an especially calming influence for Thomas right now. It makes sense. He gets to see how characters address a variety of challenges and maybe think about whether comparable solutions would work for him. Fanciful books transport him. Silly ones supply much-needed endorphins. Familiar books build his confidence.

Books help, but he’s also really missing his friends. This is where “Necessity being the mother of invention” comes into play. Well, necessity and collaboration. A few months ago, I saw a Facebook post from a Math teacher who, while using Zoom, had created a makeshift document camera with a milk crate and carefully positioned phone to remotely teach area and perimeter. Brilliant! It immediately got me thinking about hosting story time with Thomas’ friends. Books and friends- that combination was sure to spark joy. So that’s what we do now. I invite a few friends to join us for a short Zoom meeting. Each child brings a title they think their friends will enjoy and parents take turns reading to the children.

When it’s our turn, the kids are able to see our selection very clearly courtesy of my doc cam. Here’s what we do in case this solution would work with your kids.

1. I join the meeting from my computer and my phone.
2. Then I rest my phone on the milk crate with my phone’s camera positioned over one of the holes.
3. We ask the other families to pin our phone’s video so it is the prominent view regardless of competing noise.

With the book inside the crate, the kids can really see the illustrations and text in detail. They can find the little mouse on each page or read emotions to see how a character felt at a particular point in the story. Each time they share, I turn back to that page for reference purposes.

Doc Cam set-up for story time Zoom view of Doc Cam for story time

If this little set-up engages squirrely toddlers, I can only imagine how well it would be received by kids during expanded learning time. Think of the possibilities- it allows you to readily share anything you would want to show kids in great detail.

When we get the chance to connect with our expanded learning kids, let’s remember the cardboard cut-out fans and the crowd noise. What can we do to capture some semblance of normalcy? We can start by reconnecting and rebuilding our communities. We can share stories from our time away and set norms for our new but different experience together. We might select some stories to get the kids talking and working together. And, when details matter, consider this contraption.

Wishing you health, happiness, and normalcy,

For breakfast, I had a johnny cake and smoked salmon. Most days, it’s a bagel and chai though.

Author: @ecremidis

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