Yawns. Fidgeting. Glassy eyes. The distractibility level speeding from zero to sixty the moment the webcams come on. The culprit? Zoom fatigue.
No matter their ages, your girls—and maybe even you—are feeling drained from constant video calls for school, work, group activities, and yes, even something fun like Girl Scouting. And whether you use Zoom or another video conference platform, you might find that “Zoom fatigue” is putting a damper on troop life as we manage our own socially distanced lives.
So what’s a troop leader to do when your girls want to connect, but find the extra screen time challenging? Take it from our volunteer experts, who have found ways to overcome screen overload and successfully engage their troops virtually.
With virtual troop meetings, there’s no need to stick to your usual in-person meeting schedule—and in truth, it might be more helpful to develop new routines with your girls. Depending on their needs, consider shortening your usual meeting time or changing the date or cadence.
"We asked the girls how the 10 a.m. start time of our Saturday morning meetings was working for them, because we noticed that energy could lag a bit at that hour,” says Denise Montgomery of Girl Scouts of San Diego. “Based on the girls’ feedback, a simple shift of a half an hour to a 10:30 a.m. start time has helped with energy levels and engagement.”
Mix things up.
Think of this time as an opportunity to do things your troop normally couldn’t do with an in-person meeting or on your old meeting schedule—this keeps it fun for your girls! “We occasionally have a Friday evening meeting, which is a change from our usual Saturday morning,” says Denise. “For the Night Owl badge, we had a Friday evening Night Owl party where the girls wore pajamas, played charades, told ghost stories, and had a great time.”
Inviting special guests can also help keep girls engaged in a virtual meeting. “One silver lining of online meetings is that guest speakers and parent volunteers are more available [than before],” shares Denise. “For example, the executive director of a local environmental organization is going to talk with our troop as part of the Breathe Journey.”
Build dedicated social time into the meeting.
If you’re looking to beat screen fatigue and maintain a tightly knit troop, be intentional about social time. It might sound counterproductive to some, but dedicated social time signals to girls that troop meetings are different from the remote classes they may be taking now and reinforces that Girl Scouts is their time.
“At the beginning and end of each meeting we have social time,” explains Becca Briggs of Girl Scouts of Citrus. “I open up the screen share and let the girls draw and play games together without too much structure.”
If your girls want or need a bit more structure, you might come up with some prompts to get them started. “Have a girl choose an opening question, then ask her to ‘popcorn’ (pass) the question to another girl, who responds and popcorns to another girl,” says Denise. “Questions have ranged from ‘What weather are you today?’ (girls typically provide context for their response) to ‘What is your favorite character in a book?’ and many others.”
You can also encourage girls to use the chat feature of your meeting platform to keep them engaged, especially for those who may be more introverted. “We might say, ‘Vivi has written a comment in the chat.’ Then Vivi might choose to expound on her comment aloud or choose to keep her participation to what she wrote in the chat, and other girls might build on that comment,” shares Denise.
Get up and move.
If you lead a troop of younger girls, you know just how much energy they can bring to a meeting! To keep your girls focused, build movement into your meeting. You might choose to dedicate time to regular movement breaks or take cues from your girls and break as needed.
“We take a break halfway through the meeting and do a dance party or stretch moment,” says Becca. “It gets everyone up and out of their chairs and helps them refocus.”
“I don't ask my girls to 'sit' and face the screen all the time," shares Mendy Thijssen of Girl Scouts of Northern California. “I tell them I'd like to keep their screens on, but they can stand, sit, even actively lay down if they want. And sometimes we’ll have a hands-on activity to do too.”
You might even select badges or tailor badge activities to keep your girls moving each time you meet!
Break out the breakout rooms.
Some girls—especially any introverted girls in the group—may find it difficult to follow the conversation or make themselves heard in large group meetings, but smaller breakout rooms can help them feel like they can fully participate and engage with their troop mates.
“We use breakout rooms in Zoom with a troop leader or registered adult volunteer present so the girls can have smaller group discussions and do planning together to lead badges,” says Denise.
Pro tip: Breakout rooms are especially helpful if you lead a multi-level troop!
As always, keep it girl led.
When girls are choosing and leading activities, they're more likely to stay engaged with them—it's what being girl-led is all about!
“Because our girls said they want to do more crafts and baking together, we asked them to look for possibilities for DIY holiday gifts and we let them know that they will have a chance to present project possibilities and vote on which DIY holiday gifts they’d like to make,” says Denise. “The girls are involved in researching, presenting, voting, and ultimately leading these crafts. That is super engaging, and the ‘being online’ aspect of the meeting is less important than the ‘I am leading this activity’ aspect.”
Zoom fatigue is a very normal experience for everyone right now—a recent Google search for Zoom fatigue netted 27 million results—so don’t be afraid to talk about it with your girls and make adjustments where needed. They’ll be relieved to hear they’re not alone!