June 3, 2020 2:25pm
As we close out an uncharted program year, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the upcoming year will bring. This month, we will be exploring best practices for hosting virtual events for the families in your program. As families continue to navigate through the different challenges brought on by this pandemic, we want to continue to offer opportunities to connect socially, receive information and resources, and build their capacity to support their children’s growth and development. With a number of new guidelines to follow that continue to limit the ways in which we interact with families and gather in groups, it is important to begin developing our capacities to engage with families in diverse way that support connection and respect the rules of social distancing.
Types of Virtual Events
How tos or tutorials to teach a specific skill and provide strategies for families
Trainings & Webinars to provide content to groups
Behind-the-Scenes tours provide virtual tours to new families that are interested in your program
Interviews tap into the internal knowledge of your staff, or connect with a community partner to share their knowledge with families
Conferences have one-on-one conversations with families
Group Socializations for families to come together with their children and engage in interactive experiences together
What is a Virtual Event?
Virtual events are any on-line activities (via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Class Dojo, or other on-line platform) that provide early learning programs with the opportunity to have conversations, share images and information, and share information with families in an interactive way. These events can be live or e pre-recorded and distributed digitally for viewing at a family’s convenience. There are many types of virtual events, all of which have different end goals. These events are held when being in the same physical space is not an option and provide families with alternative method engaging during program events when their schedule does not allow them to attend personally.
Why Virtual Events
In addition to their immediate importance due to current social distancing guidelines, virtual events can be used to support family engagement efforts year round. Engagement events offered virtually serve to:
- Promote equity
- Live conferences, meetings, and other events held virtually allow families the flexibility to join from their own home and at a time that best fits into their varying schedules and supports those who may have limited access to transportation
- Events that are recorded and later distributed to families (either via e-mail, social media, or posted on the program’s website) allow families to view the event at a time that is most convenient for them, providing them with the same opportunity to obtain the information provided to those who were able to attend in-person or live on-line.
- Stretch a limited budget
- Hosting virtual events can support programs with limited budgets, as many of the considerations that are a part of in-person trainings are not factors to consider for virtual events, such as printing handouts, paying staff overtime to provide care for kids, and snacks.
- Combining virtual events with in-person offerings, post COVID-19, can support ECE programs in stretching the available budget for family engagement opportunities.
- Continue the work of family engagement when distance is a factor
- This current situation has demonstrated the value of keeping in contact when distance is necessary. Even when life returns to normal, there will be situations that arise that will cause extended absences for families (such as illness, death in the family, etc.). Through virtual meetings and/or events, ECE providers can continue to serve as a source of support and resources for children and families even when far apart.
How are QSLA Programs going virtual?
As you begin to think about planning your own virtual events, here are some ways that early learning programs are currently hosting virtual events for the families in their programs.
Sandra Flores, Director of Alma Family Services
Checking in With Families and Using Parent Cafes to Stay Focused
“In April, I spoke to all 48 families [in my program]. We discussed income and food insecurity, stimulus checks, emotions and feelings. After [their] feedback, I decided to conduct a parent cafe. I conducted my first Zoom virtual parent cafe [at the beginning of May]. It wasn’t mandatory. [Out of] 48 families, I had 28 families join in [during] different times. I broke it down to into 2 sessions for Spanish-speaking parents (AM/PM) and then two sessions for English-speaking parents (AM/PM) on the same day.
[Before the parent café], I used the Remind app with the families. I posted the flyer in Remind and in our monthly calendar. [During] the parent café, we spoke about anything they wanted to as it had been a while since we met as adults. I have learned that it is important to be open to hearing from [the families] while acknowledging, validating, motivating and turn-taking. Those are a must for these events to be successful. I also used humor and reflection with [the families]. Reflection was integrated by the use of asking them, ‘How much have you learned since we started the school year?’ The parents were able to see the positivity of the year versus focusing on Covid-19.”
Elements of a Virtual Event
How will we communicate about this event to families?
Will families have to register? How will they do that?
How will you ensure that the audio of the meeting is clear? Will attendees be asked to turn on their cameras? Will you have your camera on? What background will you use?
- Recording the content: Are we going to record the content? Does our platform allow for recording? Do we need to notify those on the virtual event that we’ll be recording? Where will we store the recording? (on program website, etc.)
- Practice: When are we going to practice the content before the event? Who will be presenting?
- Interactive opportunities: How will we get people to participate? (Examples include: Question & Answer sessions, Live Polling, and using the chat box)
Feedback and evaluation surveys
How will you evaluate your virtual event (i.e. online survey, mailed survey etc.)
Mirabelle Guevarra, Owner of Tita Mira Family Day Care
Hosting Daily Zoom Meetings and Supporting Families
“We have Zoom meetings daily Monday to Friday for 45 minutes each meet up. I also have the afternoon open from 1pm to 5:30pm. We created this time because some parents are not available during the morning and sometimes some of the children want to say hi or see what I am doing. It’s like a little chat, like a family member or a friend calling. These chats happen via personal cellphone, Viber, or Google Duo.
You may ask why [do I provide] a lot of ways to reach me. We are trying to meet each parent’s request. Before starting the virtual meet ups, we asked the approval of each parent because we are entering their personal space and time. We have to consider their availability and the internet access of each family.
We have an app, ClassDojo, where all parents are logged on since Day 1 in our daycare community. On this app, parents receive updates and pictures of the child’s day to day activities and nutrition. Each parent is used to checking the app on a daily basis. Having this app, we are able to prepare families daily as to what to expect during the Zoom meeting. We post daily what will be discussed so the parent and the child can prepare, especially during show and tell. They love showing what they have or what they have found.
During the first week of Zoom meetings, parents were frustrated asking the child to go on the screen. We discussed (privately) that it is okay for them to run around because we know that they are listening. Why and how? When they hear something that interests them, they will approach the screen and tell you what they feel like and show you what they are doing. This is also a time for the parents to convene and share daily experiences not only with me but with other parents. We also try to accommodate all of them by simply mentioning their names and asking them from time to time what they are doing or what they think we will do on our next meet up.
The success of the Zoom meets vary from household to household. Expect less and it will be successful. Do not assume 100% participation on a daily basis because it happens at the least expected time. Most importantly, we have to be ready with all our tools as a teacher and a friend.”
Stacey Smith-Clark, Director of LBCC Child Development Center
Using Virtual Meet Ups and Learning Some Lessons Along the Way
“Our site has 5 classrooms and each classroom has 1-2 live virtual meet ups per week, which include circle time, class meetings, read aloud, sing-a-longs, flannel board stories, cooking demos, science experiments, etc. These are held via Facebook Live and via Zoom. These are recorded and posted in private Facebook Groups that we created for children to rewatch and/or watch later, according to when it best fits their schedule. There are also 3-4 evening group times held each week, as we quickly realized that some families cannot connect during the days, as parents/caregivers may be essential workers, working remotely and/or homeschooling older children. The evening meet ups are very well attended.
“All of us are figuring this out for the first time and there is no book on teaching preschool during a pandemic (but we can maybe write one once this is over!) Do your best.”
Approximately every other week we host an “all center” special event with a guest reader, a family picnic or a dance party. The Center Manager hosts an evening parent meet up weekly from 8-9 PM, which is after bedtime so that parents/caregivers can ask questions and connect w/ other adults. We also started a YouTube channel, posting video content that we created so families can view them when it best suits their schedule. (Search LBCC PCC if you want to check it out).
There are some weeks when it feels like it’s too much, but we keep in mind that there is no one size fits all. Our goal is connection and we know that what works for one family may not work for another. We have at least 1 live meet up happening daily and all are listed on a calendar for children and families to follow along and choose what works best for their schedule.
Initially, we dove in head first and quickly learned how to set up private Facebook groups, do live videos via social media, master Zoom, develop a Google Classroom, etc. In hindsight, we wish we had surveyed families before jumping in to see what they wanted, but there was no time and we were all in a bit of a panic. (We closed on 3/16 and had remote content up and running by 3/18. The team of educators I work with is phenomenal!) We already had the apps for Learning Genie and ReadyRosie up and running and accessible to all families, but have relied on and promoted them more as an additional resource for families and connection.
The Center Manager sends out a weekly email with information and resources, along with a Center calendar that lists virtual events that are happening and how to access. We keep a log of who has participated and if we have not seen a child/family for a week, we call them on the phone to connect and gather information on how we can best support them. We have some families with no WiFi at home and/or limited data plans and have sent letters, cards and some materials shipped directly to their home.
The biggest best practice is to meet families where they are. It is unrealistic to assume that 10 AM on a Tuesday works for them, because it works best for you. Be flexible, be available and continue to reassess the situation and ASK what works for them and adjust accordingly. We have modified times, days, etc. based on feedback from children and families.
We have also had to STRESS to families what remote participation actually looks like and assure them that their child sitting with a blanket over their face, laying under the table, with their back to the camera are all normal and typical behaviors. It is unrealistic to expect children to sit quietly facing the screen and we have assured them that at no time EVER are all children in a classroom sitting and facing the teacher during a group time. We have also stressed that all of this is optional and if they want to take a day off, a week off, etc., that’s fine. They should follow their child’s lead and support them the best they can. Holding the evening parent/family meet up has been helpful to connect them to one another and they can hear that many children are doing this, not just theirs.”
Strategies for Success
Based on these experiences, here are three key strategies to keep in mind as you begin brainstorming and planning a virtual event for your families:
- Do your research
- A key element to success is taking the time to ask your families what they would like to see/learn from the virtual events that you will be hosting and in what format.
- You can send out a survey, call your families and ask them personally, or reach out to some of the parent leaders that serve on your Parent Advisory Council. Ask the families in your program what content most interests them, when they would be available to attend, and what platform they would most prefer to use.
- While you might not be able to meet every family’s needs through one event, you will be able to create a plan that you know aligns with the needs, interests, and specific desires of the families you serve.
- Leverage your existing resources
- As we have mentioned previously, virtual events should be an extension of what you already do. Consider the resources that you already have available to you as you begin planning any virtual events.
- Think about the curriculum you use, the books you already have, the content that you have already taught the kids in your program, and the supplemental materials that you might already have or have access to. Also, consider the different platforms (i.e. websites, Zoom, social media, etc.) that you already use in your program.
- Remember that it takes longer to create something from scratch then it does to create an extension to resources that already exist.
- Be Flexible
- Hosting virtual events is very new to many programs, children, and families. Remember to be flexible as you are starting off. Things might not go as planned the first couple of times around.
- The children might not be interested in being on camera. The families might get frustrated because their kids won’t sit still and “learn”. Your internet or device might not be cooperating that day. That is all okay. Those opportunities serve as learning experiences and lessons learned for future virtual events.
Wendolly A. Escobar, Ed.D.
Family Education Coordinator, Quality Start Los Angeles
Wendolly’s professional career began over 10 years ago as a lead teacher for a classroom of energetic preschoolers. In her current role, Wendolly is proud to support Quality Start Los Angeles by being an advocate for building authentic and supportive relationships with families of young children. She believes that by creating family-focused systems, early learning programs have the capacity to uplift and empower families and ensure the best outcomes for LA’s youngest learners.