By Josie Whitehead

Children today are born into a world where the screen, whether it be the cinema screen, the television screen, the white board in the classroom or their computer screen is important to them - and normal, of course.


I am at the other end of the age spectrum, and in the days of my childhood there was no screen, unless you went to the cinema that is.  


My work is going out to you via a screen and my voice often travels too.  It is not a television screen, but it could well be.  When you watch the news, you see the news presenter turn and speak to people on his screen in many parts of the world and we are taken there also from our television screens.


This is exactly how it is with skype visits to children's classrooms and I know all about it because I make skype visits often to visit the children who have been reading, learning, reciting and performing the poems which I have written for them.  There is always a lot of excitement amongst the children and I was told on one visit that they were just about to start trooping into their hall for this particular skype visit and I kept well away from my camera when this happened, so that they were well settled when I was introduced.


My last visit was to a school where English was not their first language.  To make their English lesson fun, the children had learnt by heart three of my poems and had practised them and were well ready to perform them for me, beautifully, throwing their voices clearly without shouting, putting expression into their performance etc.  They had also, before my visit, prepared some sensible questions and they came to the front, before the camera where I could see and hear them well, and asked these questions, in between the poems.  I answered them, in English, of course, and for them this was important to hear someone from the country of the language they were learning.  What fun!!


I also read slowly and clearly to them, and they enjoyed this.  They especially enjoyed it when I read them poems that they had studied and I stopped at the rhyming words, for the whole school would chorus the words.


I travel to local schools in the UK as well via skype.  Whereas, when I started writing my poems for children in my local primary school, I would go in person to the school and read them to the children, answer their questions, and often go away with a new subject provided by them, now I can go into schools where children don't have a local children's poet to visit them.  Instead of inviting an author into the classroom and making it worthwhile by paying them to work all day with the children, I can just pop into a classroom on a regular basis for half an hour, and this is much cheaper for schools.  I am getting to the age (for I am a grandmother aged 77 now) that to turn out in all weathers and, with map in hand, try to find my way across a city to a particular school, remembering that I must be there for a certain time, is hard work.  It is much easier to go to my computer screen and be welcomed into a school via their large screen, stay for a while and then not to have to make a long journey home through traffic.  Life is getting easier, for certain.  To me, as an older person (well old really, ha ha) school classrooms = cold germs.  I get terrible colds with bronchitis, so skype visits suit me much better, and I don't have to find my way in a car through streets that I don't know.  For you, the cost is considerably cheaper.  If you already have author visits, you will know that costs can vary from £250 to £500 for a day.  A skype visit is much much cheaper and as I do short half hour visits, I can often pop into your class to follow up a project with them.


If you are interested in doing a skype visit, (or video conferencing), you just need to book via paypal, and then contact me for a date.  I give the school my skype address and arrange a quick test-run before the visit to make sure that everything is working well.  I haven't yet had any problems.  The only thing I would suggest is that your camera is put in a position where I can see all of the class and where they can come to the camera with their questions.  I say this because  went to a school in America and the teacher held the camera in her hand and she was moving it around the class as children spoke.  I felt quite sea-sick with all of this movement and had to ask her to just put the camera where I could see everyone, ha ha.  I felt a bit like someone sitting in the back seat of a car - but probably worse!  


I've visited so many schools in the world and children love to know what Yorkshire is like.  It is an opportunity for them to see my part of Yorkshire because I just hold my camera to my window.  They are usually delighted and always say:  "How green it is."  I guess this is right.


Oh, skype visits are just great and so easy.  If you haven't done one with your own school, why not?  You need a large screen in your classroom, and a camera (do get a reasonably-priced one) on the wall which will show all the children.  I have visited schools millions of miles from my home, and there is no problem with seeing me on the screen I can assure you.  I am getting old for certain, but these children, who love my poems, will always remember in years when I'm not here, that I visited them, even though for some it was from across the world, read poems and sometimes wrote them for them, talked and laughed with them and gave them a lot of encouragement.  I am so glad.  Josie






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£23 for a 40 minute visit and also a 10 minute test-run and lesson plan with teacher beforehand.

(Slow link below)

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