World Book Day season is over once more – and yes, it’s become a season, at least for us authors. For me it’s the busiest time of year with school vists most days and normal life on hold as I navigate early morning motorway routes, school car park security systems and the staff room tea making facilities. A big change from working at home in my pyjamas!
This year I had full day visits to Maulden Lower School, Bedford, Upton Cross Primary School, East London, Larwood Primary School, Stevenage, Greenfield School, Bedfordshire, Hartsfield JMI School, Baldock and Bradwell Village School, Milton Keynes, and half day visits to Pulloxhill School, Bedfordshire and Watford St John’s C of E Primary School, Watford. I also did a 1 hour story telling and poem making session at Hertford Heath Primary School and a writing workshop for years 1 and 3 in local primary schools hosted by Holmer Green Senior School, Milton Keynes. Thank you to all these schools for having me and making me feel so welcome!
Here are my top 10 tips for school visits:
Prepare for no tech to work. It takes away so much stress! This year I decided not to use Powerpoint presentations unless I was in a big hall and really needed to.
Identify where the staff room and toilet are at the start of the day. They’ll be your homes from home!
Take a travel cup preloaded with a tea bag. Saves precious minutes finding the tea caddy and working out which mugs are for visitors.
Make sure you have DBS and photo ID at the ready!
Research the route before leaving and identify where the car park is. Also, get tips on parking in advance, eg if the car park is full you have a plan.
Stare in awe at teachers as they silence the pupils with a single word. (But, more often, a nifty action rhyme.)
Don’t say, ‘Shall we have another story?’ unless you’re sure everyone will say yes! There’ll always be someone who isn’t feeling it on that occasion.
Do follow up admin straight away when you get home, even if you feel like collapsing at the end of the day.
Stare in awe at teachers because they don’t collapse at the end of the day (at least, not while anyone’s watching).
It was World Book Day this month, a time which is usually really busy for me, with two or three weeks of visits to schools, lots of preparation and driving about the country. Fun but exhausting! This year was a bit different. Visits were virtual, and I found schools were more interested in one or two short sessions than a day or half day so it was a lot quieter. But it was wonderful to still see the children and share my love of books and reading with them, and I still got to dress up in silly costumes, even if it was only from the waist up! Virtual visits can be challenging, so read on for some tips gleaned from what I’ve learned so far.
Preparation is vital so make sure you know which platform you are using (eg Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom etc), start and finish times and who will be there. Test out your internet connection in the space you will be in. Have a backup, eg a phone, just in case the worst happens!
A teacher should always be present for safety reasons, and if you ask them to send you the link it means they are in control of the session, with you as a visitor, and can ensure that everything is done to keep students safe.
Check your camera before you go into the meeting so you can see if you are adequately lit and what’s behind you. A simple swivel of your laptop can give you a more professional looking background by bypassing that teetering pile of toys that appears to be balanced on your left shoulder. Propping your laptop or device up with books to make it higher can help reduce the amount of chins. Remember you may be on a giant screen in the school hall so check for spinach etc between the teeth as well!
Have everything you need to hand and write a brief list of what you are going to do. It’s easy to go blank in the heat of the moment.
Keep it short and sweet. I find a quick chat, a reading, an interactive song or rhyme and some questions fill around half an hour and by then the children have probably had enough, although older children can cope with more.
Use props. Things like toys or puppets look great on the screen as you can play with perspective and the element of surprise. A hat is also appreciated!
The most challenging part for me is reading from a picture book while sharing the pictures and including myself in the frame. I don’t have any tips on this and usually end up craning around the book like Chad. However I think as long as you get some of the pictures in and deliver the reading with gusto your listeners will enjoy it!
If reading a picture book or illustrated book, credit the artist and talk about them and their work. Children are just as interested in that as they are in the words.
Leave plenty of time for questions. Everyone likes to have a turn. If you run out of time, offer to answer any outstanding ones by email.
Make sure you know where the exit button is so you’re not floundering at the end!
Enjoy yourself and your enthusiasm will shine through.