“Once Upon A Time..”: How One Preschool Educator Engaged Over A Dozen Kids via Zoom Classes During the Circuit Breaker.

Singapore never actually went into a full lockdown mode like with many other nations. Still, the ‘stay home’ life was an inevitable order for anyone not involved in an essential operation. Like many others, I worked from home. You could say that being a self-employed person would have made this experience easier for me, seeing how my home is my office. Yet, not having any external appointments and being home 24/7 can drive one borderline insane.
Amidst the humdrum and sheer torture of feeling zoomed out, losing track of time, and experiencing the nagging ache of stiff hips caused by sitting at the desk all day… I found my entertainment from a rather unconventional source.

Meet Titus, the owner of Tiny Mountains, a multi-sports preschool programme!

I first got to know of Titus when I spotted him busking at Holland Village, a trendy little neighbourhood near my home. Right at the first impression, it was pretty evident that he not only loved music but exuded a massive ball of energy and childlikeness. It came as no surprise to me when I learned that he was an early childhood educator.

Circa 2016: I took a photo of this to promote him on my personal social media account.

The pandemic obviously forced many professionals and brands to ‘pivot’ and innovate new strategies to keep their operations online, and Titus was no exception.

“I had been regularly running programmes at four preschools since the beginning of the year, and we decided to continue the clases by taking them online. I usually run a class of 45 minutes for the older kids, and 30 for the younger. To run it online, I had to shorten each session by 10 to 15 minutes because that is really the best you can do with the kids’ attention span. My schools were kind enough to keep paying me at the same rates.”

These classes were run on Zoom. Titus then decided to start live-streaming the sessions on Instagram and Facebook as a marketing effort. Other parents (and, I suppose, adults who needed some morning entertainment – *cough* me *cough*) could then tune in and let their kids participate through these avenues. Of course, Titus remained focused on engaging with the kids on his Zoom classes and would still call out to and affirm each of them by name.

Storytelling: The Secret Sauce to Keeping Kids Engaged Online.

Trying to sustain a child’s attention in person is already no small feat. How does one accomplish this online? Well, his personality clearly won them over successfully.

“Boing!” he would sing out while demonstrating how to execute a squat.

On other occasions, he would tease the students on the screen. “Why are you upside down? Oh no!!” He cried in mock horror as they did side stretches.

Clearly, the secret to engaging children online is to be shamelessly childlike and silly. :p On a more serious note, Titus revealed that storytelling and dramatisation also play a significant role.

“That’s what I feel makes Tiny Mountains special – the dramatisation and storytelling aspects. You almost feel like you’re attending a drama class instead of a sports class.” He also shared how he had once sat in another trainer’s sports class and observed that it lacked any element of fun. The focus was just on getting the kids to learn a movement.

As such, he creates stories and partners relevant movements to them. “The first story I created was ‘Into the Jungle’. I wanted the kids to go through the jungle in search of a treasure, but discover something in the cave and run away. But what can we do in the jungle? This was where I incorporated my movements: big grass-cutting motions, swinging, jumping (over the mud), climbing (up the tree), balancing (on a tightrope), tiptoes (into a cave) and running away from a monster.”

“There was also another story about a travelling musician that one day forgot how to sing – don’t ask me how I think up stuff like that. It all began when I started paying attention to the movements that various athletes make – such as a boxer, soccer player, dancer… I eventually came up with the travelling musician tale. In the story, he goes to all his friends (of the different professions) to ask them for help, but they only show him what they know. This is where the kids participate by executing the movements.”

When I commented that these are actions that even adults need to practice, he said, “Oh, I’ve seen parents in the background of my online classes, moving along!”

I don’t think that physical movement is the only thing that us adults are craving for – it’s the love for a good story, and the opportunity to use our imagination, that gets us sucked into the action.

Making the Most out of Screen Time.

Now, the kids have returned to school, and physical classes have resumed for Titus. As such, there are no more live-streamed sessions, although Titus has uploaded a few sample online classes on the Tiny Mountains YouTube channel.

Though he does not always favour online classes, he sees the value of giving children something to engage in when it comes to technology.

“The problem with children spending too much time online these days is that they consume content passively. This is something I learned in my Early Childhood diploma course, which I am currently taking. Most screen activity is just one way, and the child is not doing anything. It’s not helpful.

“So if I can offer active screen time, why not? I realised that the stuff I build is engaging for children, and they do want to get up and move along. So this encourages me to keep this outlet open.”

Aside from that, Titus sees this as an opportunity to bring a light of hope and joy into the lives of the little ones.

“I like that the kids are laughing and smiling. While this is a personal motivator for me, what also matters is that they grow to have a more positive outlook of life. The world is a hard place, and things are tough. It hurts me to watch some of the content online these days, just to see humanity’s ugliness rearing its head from people hiding behind the screens. I don’t want children to grow up thinking this is all there is.

“So here I am, continuing to make a fool out of myself online for their sakes! *laughs* I do whatever I can, to be a light in their lives and make the experience of life better for them.”

The affection is real.

Titus currently runs a privately-engaged Zoom fitness class for a group of kids every Sunday. He is open to running similar sessions to the public. The next intake for students will be for January 2021. (Keen to find out more? Enquire on the enrollment details here.)

Content for Grown-Up Children.

Besides the intent to amplify Tiny Mountain’s presence via social media, Titus creates content because he believes that what he shares will add value to people’s lives.

Tiny Mountains’ Instagram posts ooze with childlikeness and invite you to feel young again. Of course, kids’ presence in the photos (some blurred to protect their identities) are the no-brainer indicators for the brand account’s kiddy vibes. Still, it is also the written content that inspires me.

I love how every post is an opportunity for adults to revisit life through the eyes of a child: where purity, innocence, hope, and permission for playfulness are what rule your perspective.

And this is what makes Tiny Mountains – and Titus – such a gem to have in the social media sphere.

Learn a thing or two about what it means to feel like a child again. Tiny Mountains releases new content on Instagram and Facebook almost every day, so get your daily dose of good social media content by giving these pages a follow!

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