Last month, many U.S. schools were closed until the end of April to try to slow the spread of the corona virus. This week, our Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, announced state schools will likely not reopen until fall. All these closures have sent parents scrambling for study space, learning materials and content.
Luckily, Erica Rand Silverman, who works for the Stimola Literary Studio, had an idea how to fill that content need. Within days of the first closures, she contacted the authors and illustrators the agency works with, asking them to contribute programs – and StimolaLive.com was born.
Launched on March 23, the programs run on weekdays for kids of all ages. So far, they include picture book readings, a sing along, a bake along, and wonderful workshops on myriad aspects of writing and illustration. After each program is livestreamed, it is transferred to the Stimola Live YouTube channel for future reference.
On April Fool’s day, with help from my husband John, I jumped into the livestream. My event included reading Little Wolf’s First Howling and a workshop about creating a character based on a stuffed animal, as I did with Little Wolf and A.A. Milne did with the Winnie the Pooh crew. Clearly, it’s my first attempt at livestreaming, but I was pleased to get my toes wet. See here.
Erica juggles her new livestreaming project with literary agent tasks and family duties, but she found time to tell us more about Stimola Live. What follows is our Q and A.
How did you get this idea?
I was near other parents when we received the news that school was going to close. The look of fear on all their faces would have been funny if it wasn’t such truly devastating news. Most of them were worrying how they would be able to continue engaging their kids authentically on their own. They were worrying that one of the first things to slip would be their kids’ reading skills and interest in books. The idea for Stimola Live came flying in at the very moment – our authors and illustrators can help to create content that parents can feel good about using with their kids. It’s a win for the parents who are desperate to keep their growing readers engaged. A win for authors and illustrators who want to stay connected to their readers. And, a win for booksellers who desperately need patrons to remain invested in book buying (we link to booksellers – often indies- on each event page!). Honestly, it grew into something bigger and better than I could have ever imagined! I called author-illustrator, Shanda McCloskey, to ask her to participate and three sleepless days later she and her husband had created a website and logo for it! Then, my colleague, Allison Hellegers, had the idea to save the livestreams as videos to a Stimola Live YouTube channel.
What kinds of challenges did you have to overcome to create Stimola Live?
The biggest challenge has been figuring out the technology end of things. We learned a lot as we went through the process, like which platforms are easiest to save the video from, which platforms allow for interaction, which are difficult to use because of overcrowding. Some of the livestream platforms translate well to a saved video and some aren’t as good. We had over 50 participating authors and illustrators each with their own questions and challenges. It was a lot to manage but incredibly satisfying at the same time.
Can you offer recommendations per age level or guidance through the offerings?
One of the best things about Stimola Live is that the livestreams and saved video content range in age from preschool to teen. There is truly something for everyone. Each event page on StimolaLive.com lists appropriate ages directly in the event title, and on the Stimola Live YouTube channel we organize videos by age as well.
Unexpected benefits? Response?
I loved unexpectedly bumping into [Stimola Literary] Studio authors and illustrators at the different live stream events. Authors and illustrators who might not have known each other well before were able to tune into each other’s live streams and participate. I loved seeing them (and their own children in many instances) participate. It helped to create even more camaraderie and community at the Studio itself. There may be 15 people attending the livestream with you or 300. Either way, when you’re able to see each other tune in and read each other’s comments, you really feel like you’re all in the room together.
It has also been amazing to see that people from all over the world have come to the site! People have visited from Canada, Germany, Mexico, China and more.
Teachers write to us to ask if they can link to Stimola Live or specific events/videos in their Google Classrooms. Those are the best emails to get!
There were instances where some livestreams didn’t go as planned or teachers/students/kids weren’t able to access the event as expected. That was disappointing for all but as we say on the FAQ page, we’re book-makers, not professional livestreamers . . . at least not yet! We did over 60 events in two weeks! There were bound to be some mistakes and all the viewers were really kind about it.
Going forward we’ll continue to host events and will now be able to refine them based on everything we learned. We love feedback and suggestions. So, please let everyone know that they can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and if they want to know when we have more events going up they can subscribe to the newsletter – https://www.stimolalive.com/newsletter/
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Thank you, dear husband and quarantine mate, for helping me participate. And thank you, Erica, for inventing this wonderful river of connection and sharing the story of its beginnings with our BATT readers.