Thanks to the COVID 19 virus, it looks like many groups will not be able to meet in person for the foreseeable future. As a result, I have been trying out different methods for holding virtual meetings, field trips, sleep overs, etc. to keep the kids connected. My favorite format is definitely Zoom.
Zoom’s free version allows a 40 minute meeting for up to 100 participants. This amount of time is usually sufficient for a virtual meeting as getting kids to sit still for longer than 40 minutes can be a challenge. At the very least when your free 40 minutes is up, you can have a snack break and have everyone come back in 15 minutes while you set up another 40 minute free session.
Zoom is a virtual meeting platform that does not require an app to actually be downloaded for your members to participate as they can access the meeting from a simple link that is emailed to them. If you wish to purchase the paid version for $14.99/mo your meetings have no time limit and if someone has no access to the internet, they can still call in via a phone line and at least hear the audio portion of the meeting which is helpful if you have low income or rural families as part of your group.
While downloading an app to your mobile device or computer is not necessary to participate, it is definitely helpful as the platform can have some delays in audio or video when too many people are accessing it via the website. If you plan to use Zoom often, I would recommend having your members register a profile and download the app.
If you are not familiar with virtual meeting platforms, they provide a way for groups to get together online and see and hear each other all at the same time. Zoom provides two different views. The Gallery View presents participants in a grid, much like the beginning of the old Brady Bunch TV show (for those of you old enough to remember this.) Everyone has an equal size square and whoever is speaking has a colored outline around their box. The Speaker View puts everyone in tiny boxes at either the top or bottom of your screen depending on the device you are using and whoever is speaking is shown in a large square in the center.
The Gallery View is useful for group conversations while the Speaker View is better when only person will be talking for awhile such as when the leader is giving instructions or information. Unfortunately, leaders do not have control over the view settings of the participants so while you can recommend a specific setting for your members, you will have no way of knowing exactly what they are seeing.
Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings
If you need specific supplies for the badges you will be working on, put together small bags for each member and drop them off prior to the meeting with an instruction sheet if necessary on how and where to set up the supplies so they can be used during the meeting. For example if you will be using a bunch of confetti and glue, instructions might include that members should set up in the kitchen if possible and not on the living room couch.
Try to schedule your meetings for the same day/time as your in person meetings. This will help members remember when they are supposed to show up. The free version of Zoom allows for up to 40 minute meetings which is about all younger members can sit still for. If you have an older group, you can do two back to back 40 minute meetings with a small break in between for snacks and such. Depending on the age of your members, you may also wish to require a caregiver stay in the virtual room to ensure safety and proper behavior.
Your very first Zoom meeting should be an introduction to the virtual platform. You can use it to earn our new Virtual Meeting badge. Go over etiquette and rules for your virtual meetings, how to use the controls, safety protocols, etc. Make sure they know how to switch between views for the most effective viewing experience. The more comfortable your members are with the platform, the more successful your future meetings will be. Make sure everyone remembers that they are on camera at all times and to never take mobile devices into bathrooms and such. Screen shots taken of the group, especially when those involved are not aware that it is happening, are strongly discouraged. People love to take pictures and share them on social media however parents, guardians and caregivers have their own feelings and personal rules in their homes about photographs and social media, particularly with younger children, so it’s very important to be respectful of that.
Whenever possible try to maintain your normal meeting structure as it will help maintain continuity and give your members something familiar to grasp onto. If your group usually wears their uniforms or t-shirts to meetings, make sure they wear them to your virtual meeting as well. If you normally start with a flag ceremony and the Pledge of Allegiance then do so online as well. Make adaptations as necessary. For example an online flag ceremony would not need color guards, but would still have the pledge of allegiance. If you have a closing tradition, try to find a way to still do it virtually.
A basic meeting outline may look like this:
- 5 minutes: Opening activity while everyone is logging on.
- 5 minutes: Pledge of Allegiance and explanation of the meeting’s purpose and activity.
- 25 minutes: Badge activity
- 5 minutes: Ending announcements and closing tradition.
Slide shows are simple way to way to share information as you can set up them up ahead of your meeting and have everything in an organized format that will keep things moving. Slides can be shown via the share screen mode. Google Slides (https://www.google.com/slides/about/) is available for free online or you can use Adobe Spark or PowerPoint. Sharing online screens may cause audio and video lag though as it uses broadband, so download the slides as PDFs or JPGs and then screenshare directly from your computer screen instead.
Videos you find online via Youtube and other platforms can be shared using the screen share mode so that everyone can watch at the same time. Online videos might be used for virtual field trips, how to videos, performances, and more.
Using the screen share mode, a host can bring up a blank document and members can brainstorm ideas and information with the host writing or typing on their computer while everyone else can see the list that they build.
10 Ideas for Virtual Meetings
Meeting together online can be used for more than just traditional meetings. Think outside the box to come up with special events your members might enjoy attending. Some examples are listed below.
1. Cooking Together
Organize a cooking night where you all follow the same recipe and enjoy a meal together.
2. Dance Party
Host a virtual dance party. Learn line dances you can all do together or even hold dance off competitions.
Create things from stuff you find around the house. You could make pencil holders from toilet paper tubes or tin cans, turn glass jars and bottles into beautiful vases, or turn old vinyl tablecloths into sit-upons.
4. Story Time
Host a story time and read to your members. You could also take time to tell stories to each other. Or write a group story.
5. Show and Tell
Host a virtual Show and Tell where members show off something important to them. This is a great opportunity to work on the Genealogy badge and show off family heirlooms.
6. Virtual Fundraiser or Charity Drive
Challenge your members to get sponsors for a virtual fundraiser for either your group or a local charity. Maybe it is 10 cents for each jumping jack you do during your 40 minute meeting or $1 per roll of toilet paper you can stack without it falling over. Maybe it is simply a dollar goal for donations that once reached means each member has a bucket of ice water poured over them. Use your imagination
7. Thank You Campaign
Spend a meeting making thank you cards or tokens for essential workers in your community. You could make them for first responders, health care workers, your local grocery store clerks, your power company, etc. Thank those people who keep your community running.
8. Scavenger Hunt
Hold a scavenger hunt and see what your members can find. You can use a list of household items or get everyone outdoors for a nature scavenger hunt to see what they can find in their backyards.
9. Virtual Campout
Have each member decide on a place to campout. It might be the living floor or a fort built under the dining room table. At designated times, have them log into virtual meetings to cook dinner together, tell ghost stories, play games such as Never Have I Ever, learn to tie knots, etc. Get creative. You can even star gaze together.
10. Paper Crafting
When supplies are tough to come by, you can’t go wrong with paper crafts and just about everyone has paper at home they can use. Learn to make paper airplanes, paper quilling, or origami. The possibilities are endless.
Getting Started With Zoom
- To get started you will need to set up a profile on Zoom by visiting https://zoom.us/
- Once your profile is set up, go back to the main Zoom page and click My Account in the upper right hand corner
- On the left side menu under Personal, click Settings and make sure all the settings are how you want them (See recommended settings below)
- Schedule your first meeting. Make sure to enable your Waiting Room
- Once scheduled you will a Join URL listed with “copy the invitation” to the right. Click this and paste into emails to invite your members to your meeting.
- Once you start your meeting, click on Manage Participants and let your members into the meeting one by one.
These are just recommendations, you may find different settings are more beneficial to your group.
- Host Video – Start with host video on
- Participants video – Start with participant video on
- Audio type – telephone and computer audio
- Join before host – turn off. Kids should not be allowed to meet without adult supervision and should be required to stay in the “waiting room” until admitted by the host.
- Use Personal Meeting ID – turn off. Personal Meeting ID’s are less secure than meeting links.
- Only authenticated users can join meetings – turn off. If a member joins a meeting from a phone and authenticates, but the next meeting joins from a computer, they will not be able to get in. While keeping authentication off carries a slight security concern, as long as you keep everyone in the waiting room and only admit those you recognize, it should not be an issue. If your members always log in from the same device, you can turn this on.
- Require a password – turn them all on
- Embed password in meeting link for one click join – turn on
- Require password for participants joining by phone – turn on
- Mute participants upon entry – turn on. This reduces chaos when getting a meeting started. Once everyone has arrived you can unmute them.
- Receive desktop notification for upcoming meetings – on or off per personal choice.
In Meeting (Basic)
- Require Encryption for 3rd Party Endpoints – turn off
- Chat – On or Off depending on need. If you want members to be able to chat on the side that is up to you depending on the style of your meeting. For example you may want this off if the leader will be giving a lot of information, or you may want it on during a virtual field trip so members can comment without competing with video audio.
- Private Chat – turn off. You don’t want unsupervised conversations during meetings.
- Auto Saving Chats – turn off
- Play a sound when participates enters or leaves – turn off
- File Transfer – turn off. If you need to send files to your members, do so via email.
- Feedback to Zoom – turn off
- Display end of meeting feedback experience survey – turn off
- Always show meeting control Zoom bar – turn on
- Show Zoom windows during screen share – on or off. This will depend on what you are doing for your meeting. If you need members to focus solely on what is being presented and not each other, turn this off. If you want members to be able to interact and see each other keep it on.
- Who can share: Host only (unless you have something you specifically want members to be able to share from their screens)
- Disable screen share for users – turn off.
- Annotation – turn off. If left on, this allows members to draw or write on any screen share you post.
- Whiteboard – turn off. You may wish to turn this on for brainstorming sessions, but it allows all participants to write on it so it is a bit chaotic. Having the leader screenshare notes from their own computer works better.
- Remote Control – TURN OFF!!! If this is on, you give participants control over your computer when you screen share.
- Non Verbal Feedback – on or off. This allows participants to give thumbs up or clapping hand icons rather than speak. This may be appropriate for your needs depending on how they are used.
- Allow removed participants to rejoin – Turn off. If you are forced to remove a participant from your meeting, you do not want them to instantly come back.
- Allow participants to rename themselves – turn on unless abused. This is handy when members first join a meeting if they did so via a link and are not logged into the app. On the other hand, if participants misuse it, it can also cause problems, so use with discretion.
- Show participants profilie picture – turn on. This helps identify members when they are in the waiting room so you know they are safe to admit.
In Meeting (Advanced)
- Give hosts option to report participants to Zoom – turn on.
- Breakout room – turn on. This allows you to divide members into smaller groups if needed while the hosts can move between groups. This mode comes in handy if you have multiple ages you want to divide into or if you have smaller teams that need to meet to brainstorm.
- Remote support – turn off.
- Closed captioning – turn off (unless needed for hearing impaired)
- Save Captions – turn off
- Far end camera control – turn off
- Virtual Background – turn on unless abused. Virtual backgrounds are handy as they reduce the distraction of other things going on in the room behind the participant.
- Identify guest participants in the meeting/webinar – turn on
- Auto-answer group in chat – turn of
- Only show default email when sending email invites – turn off
- Use HTML format email for Outlook plugin – turn off
- Allow users to select stereo audio in their client settings – turn off
- Allow users to select original sound in their client settings – turn off
- Waiting Room – TURN ON!!! This allows you to only let in participants you know belong in your meeting and at the pace you decide.
- Show a “Join from your browser” link – Turn On. Allows participants to bypass the Zoom application download process, and join a meeting directly from their browser. This is a workaround for participants who are unable to download, install, or run applications. Note that the meeting experience from the browser is limited
- When attendees join meeting before host – turn of. Participants should not join a meeting before the host. Make sure Waiting Room is turned on instead.
- When a meeting is cancelled – turn on.
Tutorials & Training
Zoom has a large and easy to navigate support section at https://us04web.zoom.us/zendesk/sso?return_to=https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us
Zoom offers a wide assortment of video tutorials if you need help getting started. Visit their video support page at https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-Video-Tutorials?flash_digest=48bf3a2c821b60228e47c145158eeb26263b333a
You can also join in on the free live trainings that Zoom does on their website if you need to ask questions as you go. https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/360029527911
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