A couple of months ago, I was contacted by a WordCamp Phoenix organizer about teaching a WordPress for Kids class. It was to be the first time that any WordCamp had created a class targeted specifically toward children, so I was in unmapped territory as I considered the different approaches I could take in presenting this information to a group of kids of varying ages and experience. I ran through different scenarios in my head and decided on the very simplified approach of baby-stepping them through setting up an account on WordPress.com and then proceeding to walk tab-by-tab down the dashboard.
There ended up being just over 20 kids in my class. They ranged in age from 7 to 15 and their experience with blogging and WordPress varied greatly. Most had never set up a site, but a handful showed up with sites already set up and underway. I saw a LEGO blog, a science blog and a cooking blog already full of content upon arrival and the kids were eager to show me what they already knew. That was really exciting and helped ease the others into the class. Most of the attendees’ parents dropped them off, but several of the parents did stick around to observe, learn and participate. At the end of the class, I was able to visit with some of them and learn more about what they intended to do with their blogs. It seems most of them left class wanting to pursue personal blogs and in the days since then, I’ve seen tweets coming from the children and from the parents showing the progress the kids have made on their blog’s appearance, as well as some wonderful posts that they’ve made.
My thoughts on the first WordPress for Kids? Let me break it down two different ways for you based on my experience.
Things I would leave the same:
- As the kids arrived, I was nervous. I could tell they were nervous. I wanted to break the ice, but I really didn’t want to do the classic round of take-turns-standing-up-and-telling-us-a-little-about-yourselves. I have childhood memories of becoming a blushing, shaking, nervous wreck as I awaited my turn and I really didn’t want to put that pressure on them. Instead, as each child arrived, I did my best to approach them as they took their seats and introduce myself personally. Get down on their level and be friendly. You can use giving them the Wi-Fi password an excuse for small talk. Then introduce them to the kids around them. It puts them quickly at ease.
- Keep it casual. Even dress casually so that you’re not intimidating to them. Be conversational even during your presentation. This isn’t a crowd that will do well with saving Q&A for the end. The more they feel like you value their input, opinion and questions, they more closely they’ll listen and absorb what you’re saying. Engage them rather than lecture to them. Don’t get me wrong, kids are a tough crowd, but hey…stick with it. They’ll open up to you.
- Have a sense of humor. Be silly. Relate to your inner 10 year old.
- Try to find a room that’s going to be comfortable for them. If you’re in a college lecture hall, they’ll be less likely to give feedback throughout the presentation. Try to keep them on the same level as the speaker and have the speaker ready to go out into the crowd and help them out occasionally. Think 3rd grade.
- Be prepared to take your time. Little fingers can’t type quickly and the kids will take their time coming up with a domain name and such. Wait patiently on the slower typists and make light conversation, show funny photos, etc to the ones who are ready and waiting.
- Walk step-by-step through the dashboard. Even if they arrive with a pre-existing WordPress blog, chances are there are some details in there that they’ve missed or just don’t understand. My session was 2 hours and we went over just a bit. I didn’t anticipate that kind of attention span, but those kids barely even wanted a break when it was offered. These are hungry little minds, so allow plenty of time to feed them.
- Have drinks and snacks on hand. Make sure bathrooms are handy and that the kids know that they’re welcome to come and go to the bathroom as needed.
- Encourage parents to stick around. I had a handful of awesome parents that not only stuck around, but helped their child and others. It was spectacular.
- Recommend that they come equipped with a laptop, iPad, or even just pencil and paper for notes.
- Have the parents sign a release. Just in case.
Things I would change about my approach:
- The biggie: I was expecting a wide range of ages, but the experience range blew my mind. Of course, I thought I was facing beginners who had never so much as visited WordPress.com, but I was shocked when some of the first children to arrive immediately started telling me about their existing blogs, knowledge of code and plans for their double major in college. Be more prepared for this range than I was. If I were to relive that day, I would approach this one of two ways. A) Have two teachers/speakers and break the class up into 2 groups. Base these groups on experience/knowledge rather than age. B) Depending on class size, of course, have a handful of round tables set up. Pair up your more advanced/confident kiddos with the beginners and then build small groups that way. As you present, make your rounds through the table to make sure everyone is up to speed before you move on to your next topic. Have them raise hands when they’re ready to move on, because most likely they’ll be to shy to shout it out at you.
- Encourage parents to prepare the students ahead of time. Ask them to have domain name in mind–if not already set up and ready to go. It will speed your session along and allow you more time to focus on other things.
- It wouldn’t hurt for the kiddos to have some photos and such handy on their machine, so that when you’re teaching them how to upload media….they have media.
Now, for attendees (or in this case, parents of attendees):
- If at all possible, supply your child(ren) with a laptop, iPad, etc. A pencil and paper at the very least will be great for jotting down info if they just want to follow along on the projector.
- Arrive a bit early so that your child can meet her/his classmates and speaker. If they feel more at ease, they’ll get a lot more information out of the session. Trust me. I was a nervous kid. Make it easy on ‘em.
- Stick around. If you’re able, sit near your child to be available to help her/him as well as others nearby. It will be greatly appreciated and will help the session move along smoothly. WordPress is a beautiful community. Join in and enjoy. You won’t regret it.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and participate. Kids can be a tough crowd and I’m sure the speaker will appreciate you chiming in (and the children probably will, too).
- If you’re new to WordPress, take notes. It’s the good stuff. Everybody is a beginner at some point and at any age. I really enjoyed seeing parents getting something out of my class, too.
- Encourage your child to have a domain name in mind when she/he arrives. It will speed the process along and keep them from getting bogged down before class even really gets started. You can even encourage them to brainstorm on what their blog focus will be. A personal blog? A school fundraiser blog? Science project? Homeschool journal? Get them thinking about it ahead of time so they feel prepared when they walk in.
- If they don’t already have some favorite blogs, help them find some online that relate to their interests. Being familiar with blogging before they come in will spark more ideas as they form their own blog.
So all in all, my WordPress for Kids experience was awesome. I truly hope that more and more WordCamps will integrate these sessions into their schedules. Feed these young minds. Watch them grow and enjoy every second.