While digital learning provides significant opportunities to learn and connect while physically apart, it comes with great challenges, especially when working with the youngest of children. This summer our school has been engaging our students through virtual means, and we have found some successful techniques that we’d like to share in the event it helps other educators. One such strategy is to create a character. This blog is authored by pre-k 4 educator Krystiana Kaminski, the creator of Penny Featherbottom.
The character of Penny Featherbottom came about after hearing that our stay-at-home order was being extended and I was feeling frustrated and upset by the news. I needed some cheering up and I thought my families might as well.
A few weeks before, we had finished our unit on Natural Phenomenon. Before moving on to a new unit, we did a week of Just for Fun which was light on academics and had more humorous stories and activities. The children seemed to like it, so we decided to continue it on Fridays. That week we were using one of our favorite Sesame Street songs, “Mahna Mahna”, and we thought that creating sock puppets could be a fun activity. After a few attempts, (my first one was very scary looking), Penny Featherbottom was created along with their glorious mustache. I began to make videos with Penny that explored our current topic. The funny thing was when I was filming, the mustache came off accidentally and I just went with it. It later became a huge part of the narrative as Penny tries to get it back through magic and then science.
The children seemed to really enjoy Penny Featherbottom and would sometimes ask for more videos. We didn’t use them much in our Simple Machine unit but when we did our unit Potions and Fantastical Notions unit Penny took on a more starring role. Penny decided to learn magic to grow back their glorious mustache. Once they accomplished that, Penny started messing with my dog (making her turn herself into a dragon) and us teachers (they turned us into vampires). We had a fun Zoom call where my co-teacher, Sara, and I showed up as vampires and the children had to turn us back to humans using that week’s lessons on potions and incantations. Penny was then asked to no longer use magic and they made an apology video for the children. We wanted to build on what we have been learning all year about making amends. People sometimes make mistakes and it is important to recognize and own that and then figure out how to best make amends. Penny’s final video/PowerPoint was about turning to science as their new interest which led to them wanting to further their education at Sock Puppet Academy.
I had a lot of fun making the videos but did encounter quite a few challenges as I’m not very technologically adept. I found most of the video editing sites wanted you to pay for monthly membership and the one on my computer was very slow. Sometimes I would use photographs of Penny instead of a video and added those to the PowerPoints I used during lessons. We’ve been adding audio to our PowerPoints and that has made some of our files very large which led to lots of other tech challenges. There were also times when I had promised the children a video but did not have it in me due to these stressful times. Our families were very understanding when that happened. I went into this wanting to create something that brought joy so I tried to make sure I was feeling joyful when making the videos.
My main advice to anyone wanting to create something similar is to have fun with it. It doesn’t need to be perfect, and I found that the more absurd I got with it, the more fun it was. Penny Featherbottom became part of our online class community, and even infiltrated some children’s home life. For example, one child started blaming everything that went wrong at home on Penny’s magic. Another created their own sock puppet characters, Pip and Pop, and made a delightful video with some impressive voice work!