I’m an early childhood special educator, and when the pandemic forced us to adapt to distance learning I needed to come up with ways to engage children with special needs who were ages 3 to 5. I needed to connect with their families as well, and to use online platforms to create viable learning communities. Green screen activities turned out to be very popular and engaging, and now we can easily use these same resources as transformative staples in any preschool classroom.
One of the first things I did when our district adopted the Zoom platform to connect with families and students was to learn how to manipulate the virtual background feature. I hung a large piece of green felt on the wall behind me so that I could display a variety of backgrounds as photographs or animations.
I would scroll through a series of uploaded, sequenced photos, and students were able to “enter” the story that the pictures told. These picture backgrounds are flexible and interactive, and with this feature, the children feel connected to the action.
Covering the Standards, and More
Employing these backgrounds, we covered many early learning standards, including ones on language, literacy, math, and social and emotional development. Some of the concepts we addressed were counting, colors, shapes, sorting, and spatial awareness. We expanded early language and literacy through phonological awareness games and used sentences to describe, comment, retell, predict, and answer questions. We worked on social and emotional learning by exploring feelings, waiting, taking turns, and problem-solving.
We were also able to virtually bake, explore, play in the snow, hunt for dinosaurs, have fun at the park, and go to parties. We took part in many festive holiday activities, as well, and we flew to outer space and dove under the sea. We went on a “treasure hunt” and visit a deserted island beach, a haunted house, and other places, getting clues along the way.
Green screen games are flexible and interactive, and I was able to target individualized student learning goals. For instance, a little girl with Down syndrome needed lots of practice with expressive language. She loves animals and counting, and I found a green screen game called Penguin Playtime ($7) with penguins in a variety of costumes going up and down a slide. The girl loves this game. In order to get the penguin to get to the top of the slide, she needs to say, “Go up, penguin!” and then she can tell the penguin, “Go down!” She can say “Go fast!” or “Go slow!” We always counted the penguins at the end. This activity was very motivating and provided lots of language stimulation.
Accessing the Virtual While in Class
Teachers can use these activities in the classroom via an interactive whiteboard or tablet. A tablet is great to use one-on-one or with a small group, while the interactive whiteboard can be used with large groups or the whole class.
In March, when we returned to school in person, I was able to incorporate much of this rich, adaptable technology into the classrooms where I serve as part of our Itinerant Community Inclusion Team; we travel to various preschool and child-care settings, including Head Start programs and private home daycares. In the past, I traveled with bags of games and toys to share with the children. Now, I also always carry my tablet. It’s easy to tote around, doesn’t have any pieces to keep track of, and is more hygienic than the other equipment. With my tablet, I can present slide shows of the interactive green screen photo games we played virtually.
All of the apps and games we use online for language practice and skill development are readily available on the tablet. The children work on how to use language to comment, request, problem-solve, and answer questions. Just as when we played virtually, interfacing with games on the tablet alongside a group of children in person provides wonderful social and emotional development opportunities while we work on early learning concepts and skills.
Many teachers, therapists, and artists have created green screen resources tailored to children’s virtual learning, and they’re available online for free or at a low cost. Two of my favorite sites are Play Spark and GoGo Speech.
Teachers can use many virtual learning tools in the classroom by displaying apps, games, and slideshow activities. These green screens help to bring subjects to life for learners, especially for our very young students.