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On telling the story and keeping the record

Someday, our children’s grandchildren will ask them, “What was it like during the Pandemic of 2020?”

As they live through history, our students are now, intentionally or unintentionally, creating pieces of our historical record. We might be able to encourage and guide those efforts. And we may consider adding to the record ourselves.

While these types of creative expressions may be published or shared with a class, or group, or the world, it may also function as a therapeutic activity–a strictly personal or family experience.

Here are several activities you might introduce.

For adults who want to share widely:

Adults interested in adding their stories to the public record might consider Corona Diaries. In the spirit of StoryCorps, the project is gathering personal stories shared during the time of COVID-19 and documenting them as the crisis evolves. It’s a place for stories big and small, joyful or sad, one-off contributions or daily audio blogs. Every story is welcome.

Nieman’s Corona Diaries

Launched by former fellows of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, the project, currently in beta, encourages contributions of brief audio recordings. Recordings are shared as an evolving global database of open-source, Creative Commons-licensed resources for folks to use in teaching, journalism, research, art and media projects, and more. Plans for the future include tagging and share buttons.

Users may choose to select from a few basic prompts or talk about any subject of their choice. There is no obligation to share names or personal information. This project could grow into a valuable resource to support our teaching. EdSurge recently shared a podcast/post, What a Global ‘Corona Diaries’ Project Reveals About Education During the Pandemic, highlighting audio responses relating to education.

For young people to share with adult supervision, both privately and broadly (but anonymously):

In the tradition of diarist Samuel Pepys, whose personal journals offered rare first-hand accounts of the Great Fire and the Great Plague of London, the Our Corona Diary hopes to document the pandemic through the eyes of children.

Launched by a group of award-winning children’s authors, the project encourages young people to record their quarantine experiences across a variety of media. The website functions as a cross-platform hub for writing prompts and inspirations created weekly by the site’s team authors and illustrators. In the hopes that they might foster a sense of community, weekly themes and prompts are posted on Instagram and Twitter.

Young people can share their reflections in any format using the hashtag #ourcoronadiary.

Any record kept, in any format, counts as a diary. Write it, draw it, stitch it, stick it, photograph it, bead it, craft it, sculpt it!

The ultimate goal is that the kids of the world will create a book together at the end of this dreadful time. Children are welcome to join the project at any time.

Project founder, YA author Kathryn Evans hopes that the project will offer children an opportunity to express themselves and share about all the ordinary things and extraordinary things that happen during this time.

Inspired by her recent reading The Diary of Anne Frank, Kathryn shared the potential power of the voices of young people, even when a 13-year-old simply reports on her daily life:

She was recording her family’s daily lives in hiding: how they managed things like celebrations, how they got irritated with each other. It was clear she felt completely disenfranchised. Everyone treated her like a child … but history has shown us that she had very important things to say.

In an email, Kathryn shared the project goals:

Our first and foremost reason for staring the Our Corona Diary project was to give children a place to express themselves completely freely – in fact one of my first videos was about how to make a secret diary

Some people need to talk, some people really don’t want to share with other people at all. Everyone’s response is valid but finding a way to express ourselves, in private or with someone else, is a really important way of managing our mental health.

The site is packed with resources. Diary ideas and inspirations are gathered into age-level portals:

Kathryn plans to collate and edit the final product, who promises that every child that sends me a diary or diary entry will, at the very least, have their name mentioned in the book.

Parents and teachers can get in touch via the site’s comments page.  Children who would like to participate are advised to have a teacher, librarian, or parent make contact with the project site on their behalf.

Our Corona Diary project’s founders recognize that many families would want to participate privately. Resources on the website are openly available when a responsible adult registers on behalf of their children.

Adults who post on social media on behalf of their children using the hashtag #OurCoronaDiary are advised not to offer any personal details. Copyright for any creative work will remain with the creator. The site features a page of resources on mental health, created by Dr, Alex Blackman is a forensic psychiatrist. FAQs are listed here.

Hosted by Ireland’s Museum of Childhood, Project 2020/TOGETHER provides a platform for children of all ages to express their hopes and fears, thoughts and observations, whilst providing a sense of community and togetherness as work and art received is highlighted through a virtual exhibition.

The site features weekly common themes around which children might create and share art, drawing, poems, short stories to be published as part of a virtual exhibition. The goal is to give inspiration and a sense of “togetherness” and “closeness” to other children who would like to participate, or simply, would like to observe the work done by others.

The plan is to extend a virtual exhibition into international exhibitions of children’s work when the Pandemic is over.

We are looking for story entries of between 100 and 500 words or illustrations that fit on A4 size paper. Children are welcome to write in their native language (we will need help with some translations though!)

Parents and caregivers are invited to email children’s entries in the age categories of 5 to 11 and 12 to 18 to  Stories should be between 100 and 500 words and are welcome in children’s own languages. Terms and conditions are listed here.

The six themes are:

My family during Covid-19

You may simply choose to follow Project2020 on Twitter #Project2020Together or on Facebook.

And there’s more . . .

The New York Times Learning Network offers excellent resources for encouraging students to share their experiences.

12 Ideas for Writing Through the Pandemic With The New York Times shares a dozen writing projects — including journals, poems, comics and more — for students to try at home. The posts features links to some very kid-relevant prompts:

The Times Learning Network offers these additional writing and image inspired prompts.

In a post for MiddleWeb, Students’ Journals Could Be ‘Primary Sources’ (Updated), history teacher Lauren S. Brown shares lists of questions that matter to kids right now.

Encouraging writing or filming in any format, the questions range from the daily concern-type questions like . . .

  • your family’s trip to the grocery store and “stocking up”
  • canceled family vacations, canceled field trips, canceled school
  • how weird it is to have to “e-learn”?
  • how are you occupying your time?
  • how do you feel about this? psyched that you don’t have to come to school? bored? worried? bummed that you won’t get to see your friends?
  • what is changing for you because of this?
  • what kinds of things are your families thinking/saying/doing?

. . . to questions that dig just a bit deeper, like these, with the understanding that students know that they don’t have to share anything they don’t wish to.

  • What is the #1 concern you have about what is going on right now?
  • What is a small way in which your life has changed right now?
  • What mattered to you a few days or a week ago that now seems irrelevant? Vice versa?

And if it helps, I’ve been gathering the growing number of books being written for children about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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