With schools, daycares, and, well, just about everything else closed during the COVID-19 crisis, parents are finding super inventive ways for kids to connect in a time when they’re not able to meet up in person. In some cases, these initiatives have even helped kids and families get to know each other better than they ever did before the pandemic—and one of those ways to create connections and fun is through talent shows.
One Washington, D.C. mom, Margot Hoerrner, has been organizing regular talent shows for her daughter’s entire fourth grade since their school closed seven weeks ago, and the kids are really into it. The virtual event takes place on Zoom every Tuesday afternoon, and has become a great way for families to stay connected to a larger community while in quarantine.
Margot summed up the simple success of the weekly event: “It’s super fun, it’s a routine, the kids expect it, and they like it. There are always between 40 to 50 families who tune in [each week].” The kids are always very positive and encouraging to all performers, she reported.
The student performers have shared talents like singing, playing musical instruments, stand-up comedy, dancing, magic tricks, demos of gymnastics, soccer, parkour skills—and even a short film. So beyond keeping kids entertained on the day of the show, the weekly rotating performance structure encourages them to work on their talents over a longer period of time as they prepare.
The online talent show idea doesn’t have to be limited to just classmates. You can also set it up with your extended family or neighborhood friend groups—or anyone, really—as either a one-time event or a recurring one.
Here are Margot’s top tips for organizing a virtual talent show, and she should know: She’s made it work with up to 50 rowdy 10-year-olds on Zoom every week.
Preparing for the show:
- Ask performers to sign up to perform in advance—Google Forms works well for that.
- Talk through what each performer will do and how to set up the video, and set some time limits with the parent (ideally under 4 minutes per child).
- Recruit a different kid co-host for each show, and come up with a script for the co-hosts to follow. “I think they’re even more interested in co-hosting than performing,” Margot shared.
- Keep the show short—30 minutes at most, with 5 to 6 performers each time.
During the show:
- Having a parent MC is a huge help—it keeps things flowing and keeps the energy up.
- Use the “mute all” feature, and then unmute the child who is performing.
- After each performance, unmute all and give kids a chance to show their appreciation for 10 seconds or so.
- Turn off the chat feature to avoid distractions.
Going above and beyond:
- Consider making the talent show grade-wide or even inviting other grades for more variety and participation.
- Ask teachers to promote it with you, and post regularly on the school’s Facebook groups as well.
- Keep a file of communications so you can save time by cutting and pasting recurring reminder emails.
- Invite special guests, like teachers or parents with unique talents.
To up the engagement factor, Margot has brought in surprise guest performers, including the school’s head chef who wowed everyone with her family’s rock band. A guest performance from the 4th grade teacher singing Stand By Me was a poignant, emotional moment of bonding for kids and parents alike. Margot also threw a surprise 10th birthday party for a participant during one show.
The fourth grade talent show has really lifted spirits during the pandemic. One parent emailed Margot to tell her that her daughter had been having an especially hard time during lockdown, and wasn’t feeling confident about performing—but after her performance in the talent show, her mood had improved dramatically.
“It’s one of these things where you drop a pebble and you have no idea what the ripples are going to be,” Margot told us. “It’s fantastic to hear that by singing a kid ‘Happy Birthday’ or getting somebody to perform when they’re feeling blue and it makes them feel better — it’s great!”