Life in a Pandemic Through Children’s Eyes
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant and has created new obstacles in the way we live each day in our world. With a goal of amplifying children’s voices during this crisis, a team of Emmy and Canadian Screen award-winning producers Georgina and Rennata Lopez, CEOs of Lopii Productions and Emmy award-winning executive producer Kristen McGregor created a video platform for children to give insight into their own perspectives. My Stay at Home Diary! features children from all around the world who show their lives, express their concerns and their joy during a difficult time when they’re confined to their homes. My Stay at Home Diary! is a new program series broadcasting on public media stations of Southern Illinois University: WSIU Carbondale, WUSI Olney, WSEC Springfield, WMEC Macomb, and WQEC Quincy in Illinois. The series is also available in digital video format on the PBS portal at watch.wsiu.org free for viewers across the United States.
Friendship Sparks Creative Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
Sisters Georgina and Rennata Lopez, with friend and co-executive producer Kristen McGregor, have worked in the field of children’s media together for more than a decade. They decided to create this documentary-style television program during the early stages of the coronavirus quarantine in April, 2020.
“We were just bored at home. We were checking in on Zoom with each other each week to discuss how we were, what we were doing to stay at home, and how we were keeping ourselves entertained. And then we wondered what are children doing?” says Georgina. “One of the things that we really wanted to focus on with My Stay at Home Diary! was kids’ state of mind. Other producers had developed children’s media content about washing your hands and wearing a mask; but for the most part, there hadn’t been anything about how kids were feeling. There are feelings of loneliness and a sense that we’re the only ones going through this. We really wanted to create a show where we could talk to kids about their authentic, honest feelings.”
Different Cultures, One World
My Stay-At-Home Diary! is a series featuring children from countries all over the world sharing their experiences of the coronavirus pandemic. Cultures, languages, gastronomy, and most importantly, their situations regarding COVID-19 vary from child to child in the show; however, according to Kristen McGregor, there are more commonalities among these children than there are differences. “I think there are more similarities between children in different countries of the world,” she states. “Kids are missing their friends and missing their normal life. They just had this strong desire to share their story.”
In Aaron’s Stay-at-Home Diary, the Canadian 11-year-old mentions spending his days playing with his siblings, going to his classes online, and making arts and crafts, like building puppets and producing movies with them.
Although attending school in-person, 8-year-old Hanna from Japan also spends most of her time at home with family making arts and crafts, such as origami. Likewise, 11-year-old Kaelin from South Africa says he appreciates her family and has grown closer to her sister while staying at home. Almost every child in the show wants to see their friends and extended family as soon as stay-at-home mandates are lifted and it is safe. They are all thankful to have a loving family who supports them. Trinity, 14, from Arizona states, “My family makes me feel better when I’m really anxious, especially when telling me this is going to pass.” Throughout the series, it is clear that these children feel similar emotions and wish for the pandemic to end so they can go back to the life they knew before. Because the program helps children express their innermost emotions, it supports healthy development. Conversations such as those depicted in My Stay-At Home Diary! offer comfort, advice, and help to strengthen mental health, building resilience among children worldwide.
Children in countries beyond North America, like Hanna, Kaelin, and Adele, age 8, from Israel, are returning to school physically full time. Rennata Lopez thinks it’s important for children to see peer situations. “I think what was good for children was we could look into the future. When we were interviewing children from Israel and Germany, they were already starting to go back to school. You could kind of see things are going to get better, and that’s what we wanted children to see as well. We wanted Canadian and American children to see that Europeans were already getting through it. It was kind of inspiring and positive.”
Can You Produce A Show Virtually?
As with any video production, there are bound to be challenges, especially during a pandemic and trying to reach children beyond North America. Rennata Lopez states, “It was challenging to reach kids from diverse countries and diverse ages, who speak English well and who have the technology that we needed to produce the program. Our biggest challenge was the fact that it was a virtual production as well.” Georgina elaborates on the financial aspects with producing a show virtually and filming by children, for that matter. “We were trying to secure financing. In the beginning, it was us self-financing, putting in everything that we could to get it produced, because we knew that we were at the mercy of time. Later, we received generous funding support from TVO Kids, Shaw Rocket Fund, and Canada Media Fund.”
The Meaning of “By Kids, For Kids!”
Children’s media researchers report that worldwide, many kids are frightened and fed up by what they hear about coronavirus on the news. Rather than shying away from this serious situation happening in our world, this team of friends accepted the challenge and responsibility to inform and engage children directly in the evolving crisis. The impact of giving children a voice when it is often unheard can help children who may feel anxious to learn to cope.
“A lot of kids’ media gets made just because — and for the three of us, having a strong “why” is really important. The ‘why’ of being able to show kids that they’re not alone was really important for us.” Kristen goes on to say, “I live in the US and it’s hard to find somebody in the US who doesn’t know somebody affected by COVID-19. Kids are no exception. A few of the kids in the series have experienced death in their families due to COVID-19. As producers who interviewed these children, this fact made COVID-19 feel very, very real to us. What’s nice is that My Stay at Home Diary! is also a bit of a movement to help empower kids to share their own stories with their own voices, which makes it different from many other shows.” These complex situations need to be explored not only to raise awareness in children but to offer some sort of comfort. Children can learn how other children their age are spending their time and may find inspiration and happiness knowing there is someone like them that feels the same way. As Rennata corroborates, “The impact of a of a kid watching another child, going through a similar experience — we knew that that impact was valuable.”
Expanding the series
Children, especially those in the United States where COVID-19 has affected tens of millions of people, must know there are better days ahead, and that many countries are getting better. Continuing to broadcast and webcast a series like My Stay-at-Home Diary! can be extremely beneficial for children and adults alike. Georgina Lopez believes it would be worthwhile to continue the series and shine the spotlight on many more children to see how they are staying busy and positive. “It’s about how kids are thriving, and how families are together. You really start to just appreciate what you have and your experiences, and I think even the kids of all ages understand that.” Kristen concurs. “It would be interesting to see what local kids are feeling. We want to challenge kids who watch the show to document their own lives. The more we understand how kids are feeling, the more kids will feel less lonely.” The seemingly ever-changing government mandated restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can be discouraging to children and adults alike, who may feel as if these mitigations will never end. It is especially important for local children to see the better days that are ahead.
The executive producers Rennata, Georgina and Kristen express their gratitude for the SIU broadcasting stations. “We appreciate everything you’re doing for our program launch in the United States.” My Stay-at-Home Diary! is sponsored locally by Child Care Resource & Referral at John A. Logan College, First Southern Bank and Southern Illinois Healthcare. Be sure to watch My Stay-at-Home Diary! on WSIU/WUSI/WSEC/WQEC/WMEC on Saturdays at 8:30am and Sundays at 10am during winter, 2021. You can also watch online throughout 2021 at https://watch.wsiu.org/show/my-stay-home-diary/
For more information on Child Care Resource & Referral at John A. Logan College, click here: http://www.ccrrjalc.com/
For more information on First Southern Bank, click here: https://www.firstsouthernbank.net/
For more information on Southern Illinois Healthcare, click here: https://www.sih.net
For more information on Lopii Productions, click here: https://lopiiproductions.com/
For more information on Kristen McGregor, click here: https://lopiiproductions.com/
 Gotz, M., et al. (2020). Children, COVID-19 and the media, Televizion, 33, pp. 4-9. Available at https://www.br-online.de/jugend/izi/english/publication/televizion/33_2020_E/Goetz_Mendel_Lemish-Children_COVID-19_and_the_media.pdf.