The closure of early years settings during lockdown has cut off children from carers they know and love. To maintain relationships, some practitioners are making videos of themselves for children to watch at home. If you want to have a go, but feel camera shy or are technologically challenged, let our guide help you reach out.
Decide what to do
Chose something you would normally do in practice, such as reading a story, singing a song, demonstrating a game, or simply saying hello. Keep it below four minutes in length.
Before filming, director of training organisation Linden Early Years, Tamsin Grimmer, suggests practising the piece a few times. Add a greeting to the beginning, saying hello rather than good morning, as you don't know when children will be watching. Smile throughout. At the end say goodbye and something like: ‘I hope to see you again soon.’
Choose a location
Find a simple background and position yourself away from it. ‘Have plenty of light on your face,’ says The Telegraph senior video producer Jack Leather. ‘The worst place to film a video is with a window behind you as it will make you look really dark.’
If your setting remains open, you could do it from a book corner, Ms Grimmer suggests, as children may enjoy the familiarity. But avoid showing empty spaces. ‘Perhaps choose a teddy or soft toy to be placed in shot of the camera,’ she says. ‘A toy that the children are familiar with would be great, but if you are at home, introducing your own favourite teddy to the children would be a nice touch.’
How to film
Position your phone or computer camera higher than your head for the most flattering angle. This might involve building a platform by stacking books or boxes. Alternatively, Mr Leather recommends a small gorilla tripod with bendy legs that can be attached to furniture.
‘It will also mean no shaky hand filming,’ he says. ‘Film yourself landscape, look into the camera, speak loudly and clearly, and if someone else is filming you, tell them not to zoom in and out as this is distracting for the viewer.’
Reading a story
Performing to a camera feels very different to reading in front if a group of children. CBeebies Bedtime Stories producer Nick Bowden says even trained actors benefit from imagining they are reading to their own child or someone they know.
‘Create a feeling of the story being personal and special,’ he advises. ‘Imagine the camera as a familiar face, or faces, smiling back at you.’
Don’t feel you need to perform more than usual - it's best to be yourself. ‘If you’re a person who likes doing silly voices, then go for it,’ suggests Mr Bowden. ‘But likewise, if you have a more traditional style, then the kids will expect to see that in the video too.’
Mr Bowden says props might be useful to tell a story, but only if they don't become distracting.
Also make sure you hold your book close to the camera, so children can see the pictures. ‘Keep the book as still as possible for a few seconds,’ advises Ms Grimmer.
Choose a quiet place where you won't be interrupted, away from other people, pets or the doorbell. Switch off your mobile phone. Filming outside is not recommended, as wind can be noisy.
'People are much more forgiving about bad-quality picture than they are about bad audio,’ says Mr Leather. ‘You can also get a cheap microphone that plugs straight into your phone or laptop and will make a big difference.’
Things to avoid
It can be tempting to start asking children questions, as you would in real life. But interaction on video is, of course, impossible. ‘Avoid pausing and pretending to hear an answer,’ Ms Grimmer says. It is fine to talk about how you feel about the story, or ask rhetorical questions.
If you are nervous and want a script, attach it as near the camera as possible to avoid looking like you are reading. Your aim is to be as natural as possible and children won't mind if you make a mistake.
Although it's likely parents will be watching the video with their children, don't be tempted to try to address them, for example, by explaining how a certain activity links with the Early Years Foundation Stage. Include any home learning tips in blurb accompanying the video.
The NSPCC recommends practitioners give written consent before creating videos and understand how they will be shared and stored, being mindful of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Nurseries may prefer to share videos via email or a secure childcare app rather than posting on public platforms such as YouTube. Here, they might appear in internet searches, be copied, downloaded, screenshot or shared by anyone online. Be careful there is nothing personal or inappropriate in the video background. It is also a good idea to obtain written consent from parents to receive the videos, and to ask them not to share them further.
Go for it
‘Don't let any worries about technology or how you look on camera stop you,’ says Ms Grimmer. ‘The children are missing being in the setting and spending time with you, so this small act of kindness will really boost their well-being.’