Virtual experiences bringing joy to children in lockdown
The University of Wollongong’s Early Start Discovery Space and Science Space were forced to close their doors as the latest outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic ripped through Sydney and Wollongong.
On the eve of the school holidays, the closure of both centres was devastating for children, families, staff and the community, as workshops, vacation care groups, and programs, as well as the usual daily visitor traffic, had to be cancelled or rescheduled.
Yet, Early Start and Science Space responded immediately to the challenge, pivoting to online offerings that enabled them to engage with their young audiences and still deliver their fun and informative programs.
Within days, they had launched a full suite of content on their virtual platforms, connecting with members and regular visitors from the comfort of their homes.
Early Start Discovery Space relaunched Discovery to You, which was originally devised during last year’s lockdown. Families can book a one-on-one virtual session with an Early Start educator, and can choose from a range of programs based on children’s interests.
The topics include Lego Rockets, Animal Mix and Match, and Dinosaurs. Participants use material that is easily accessible in their own home to join in on the interactive and fun 30-minute activities. Or kids can learn how to make their own insect hotels, to attract new creatures to their backya rds.
Almost all sessions were booked out straight away and the centre continues to open up more sessions to the public as the lockdown stretches on.
The feedback from parents and families has been overwhelmingly positive, with one saying of Discovery to You: “Our facilitator was lovely and so very patient. Being an early childhood teacher myself, I can honestly say it was a beautiful experience for my daughter. She was very happy with her art work! A big thank you from us!”
Anita Kumar, Chief Executive Officer of Early Start, said the Discovery Space team brought such passion and energy to their roles and that was resonating with the children and families at home.
“It is nice to see that Early Start is having a positive impact in these tough times. The Discovery Space staff are an amazing bunch of people. The sessions are designed to engage the children for 30 minutes, but also to provide them with the ideas to build upon the topic for the rest of the day.
“It is heart-warming to hear how much families and children appreciate and enjoy these sessions.”
Science Space offered a Facebook Live session each day of the first week of school holidays, with hands-on workshops such as making a snow globe and snowball catapults, with items that are available around the house or at the supermarket.
Hundreds of people tuned in to each live session, in which kids could interact with educators by asking questions and providing comments throughout the week.
In the second week of the school holidays, Science Space offered virtual workshops via Zoom, so that as well as the children being able to see what the educators were doing, the educators could see and interact with the kids in real time.
The workshops, which completely sold out, included Super Slime, Lego Masters, and Roller Coaster Designers.
Stuart Creal, Director of Science Space, said the workshops were designed to keep children engaged while they were confined within their own homes.
“With the sad news that we could not run our popular school holidays camps, and to ease the challenge for parents while keeping kids at home, the Science Space team were keen to bring the community and audiences some fun, engaging STEM activities to help children through these challenging times.
“While our team love to do live events, one silver lining to moving everything online has been the ability to bring STEM to our community, regardless of their location.”
With the school term having restarted, the team have activated the Virtual Science Space program, which brings school excursions online with planetarium and science shows, as well as STEM workshops, now available in students’ homes.
UOW Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patricia Davidson, praised the Early Start and Science Space teams for being able to quickly and efficiently adapt, once again, to the online world.
“Children are so hands on and love to be engaged in an interactive, live experience. The Early Start and Science Space teams have been able to bridge that divide by providing workshops that are engaging, unique, whimsical, and most importantly, fun.
“This is no easy feat, but these teams have been able to pivot seamlessly to online platforms, and help their young audiences to find joy and continue their learning even as the outside world feels challenging.”