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By Emma Worrollo and Ellie Green Zoomography: Talking to kids during lockdown

A huge part of our mission at The Pineapple Lounge is about ensuring kids’ voices and experiences are heard – and continue to be heard throughout lockdown. That often means talking to them via video call. You might presume that video chats would come more naturally, if anything, to the world’s youngest generation than they do to adults. After all, they are digital natives, whose ability to pick up all things digital we marvel at and are baffled by. Surely then, video calls with kids are something to head into without too much extra thought?! Well – we’re here to tell you that no, that is not quite so.
The thing is, video chats are so far removed from the way most kids naturally connect with others. Think about it: most children don’t tend to converse at length just for the sake of conversing very often. Their conversation typically takes place around doing something or playing; it’s a by-product of whatever is going on as opposed to the central activity. Talking on a video call, on the other hand, typically places conversation right in the centre, and involves far more than you might realise: reading body language when you can’t quite see everything, making up for missed cues during pauses and delay, having confidence to talk on camera, and being able to ‘present oneself’ remotely.
That said, some kids have adopted the video call with enthusiasm and ease and are thriving in this new landscape of communication. But not all: there are plenty of kids out there for whom the Pavlovian response to the Skype dial is to clam up and go quiet. These kids have voices, experiences and opinions to be shared too, and it’s our job to find ways to make that possible, comfortable and enjoyable.
Video calls with kids aren’t new to us: we’ve been chatting to kids via video for years, both within projects when budgets and/or time haven’t allowed us to visit them in person, and to check in with our global Hack Squad to stay up to date with their lives. Since lockdown though, our kids video chat calendar has ramped up a notch, and it’s giving us more opportunity to experiment and learn about what works – and what doesn’t – to create a comfortable environment when connecting with kids through the screen.

We were always big advocates of ‘side by side’ conversation when it comes to connecting with kids. This means being with them and doing something in tandem with them whilst talking – whether it be walking, building with bricks, drawing – as opposed to the more traditional ‘interview-style’ set-up, sat face to face with the interaction revolving around the conversation. It mirrors more closely the way they like to converse with peers, and as a result opens up a more free-flowing, relaxed discussion. And if we can do it in person, there’s no reason for not experimenting with setting this up via video call. Chatting about a child’s favourite character and why they like it might be facilitated by us and them drawing our favourites together – or it can be as simple as just having a colouring-in or jigsaw on the go during the conversation. Crucially, lulls and quiet moments here are okay: they might feel weird to us as the silence-allergic adults that we are, but they’re just part and parcel of how kids naturally interact.

Props can be a pretty wonderful tool for fuelling conversations. Again, they’ve always been a part of the Pineapple Lounge package; we typically warm up workshops with kids taking turns to present a special item they have brought in either to a partner or a group. They work so well because they serve the joint purpose of breaking up the intensity of face-to-face (we’re both looking at the prop rather than each other) as well as providing fuel for conversation. As we’ve learned, and discussed, this is more important than ever in the video chat setting. So we’ve been evolving how we prepare our discussion flows to build in props – from ‘show and tells’ of certain items, to scavenger hunts to find things or places in the house to show us or take us to.

Whilst video calls can be a brilliant method for speaking to kids when done right, they aren’t the only means of connecting with them remotely. Alongside our rather busier video call calendar, our use of digital hubs and communities has ramped up too. With that, we’re on a sped-up journey of discovery, learning all the time how best to connect with kids through the screen in a way that they enjoy and find comfortable. We’re continually experimenting with creating tasks for kids to respond to via voice notes, vlogs, letters or postcards, mood-boards, treasure maps, comic strips or survival packs. Autonomy is key here as well; giving them the option to choose how they want to respond to activities, so that it’s on their terms and in a style that matches who they are and what they enjoy.

We don’t know when we’ll next be able to hang out with a family in their home or at the park, or when we’ll next find ourselves excitedly setting up a workshop space for a kids’ group session. What we do know is that there is a world of digital tools at our fingertips through which we can connect with kids in the meantime – and a lot of creativity and empathy that we’ll continue to unleash in order to make them the very best they can be.