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Video Calls With Caribu Help Educators Reach Students Near And Far

By Beth S. Pollak | Photo above by Joseph Wilkinson

For Teresa Shartar, a pediatric Occupational Therapist in Atlanta, Caribu has become a go-to when working with children.  

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “If you’re working with a child on focus, eye gaze, visual tracking, following directions, and turning pages, Caribu is excellent because you can do many OT activities virtually.”

Shartar works with Atlanta Children’s Therapy Associates, and she typically sees about 10 clients per week. She says that using Caribu to read, write, and do virtual activities with kids has been a game changer, particularly for distance learning

“I start with a book or activity of my choosing per their interests and OT objectives, and then let the student make the next choice,” Shartar said. “I try to incorporate physical activities and yoga so the children are getting enough movement in their session.”

Building Magical Connections

Miles draws using Caribu in a online OT telehealth session

One of Shartar’s clients is a six-year-old boy named Miles. Miles uses a communication device to enhance his communication skills, and OT sessions last from 30 minutes to one hour.

“Miles is non-verbal, but he is able to vocalize emotions and demonstrate excellent focus,” she said. “When I read to him using Caribu, he’s with one of his parents. Miles turns the pages with minimal parental support and is getting better and better at it.” 

Miles practices writing his name while using Caribu

Shartar prepares for each session by exploring the Caribu library in advance. “I’ll get on Caribu before him to preview books and activities. I know that he loves dinosaurs and nature, so I often look at the collections which have fabulous books about nature and science.” 

Shartar first works with clients on reading, scanning, and visual focus. Next, they switch to drawing and writing.

“We usually start the session with two books. Sometimes Miles’s twin brother Heath joins in, so they can learn together and involve the whole family. Afterwards, we’ll practice handwriting. I’ll draw dots for him to trace, or pick coloring pages for drawing. We practice spelling his name, family names, and new words.”  

Miles reads using Caribu during a virtual OT session

Sharter says she also plays ‘Hangman’ with her clients on Caribu using the Blank Drawing Page.

“It facilitates letter and word formation, and drawing a person. It enhances visual motor skills.”

Shartar says Caribu provides the right amount of challenge to meet her clients’ academic needs. 

“I don’t want to dumb anything down. I can see Miles’s face in the Caribu picture, and I can see him participating and tracking the pages. I observe how excited and interested he is. He loves the Thomas and FriendsTM books, especially Thomas And The Dinosaur. He also likes books about space.”

Even though Miles is non-verbal, he discusses books with Shartar using his communication device.

“Miles’s parents facilitate the session by asking him to identify colors, numbers and items in an illustration,” Shartar said. “For example, they’ll ask, ‘Where is the boat?’ and ‘How many dinosaurs are there?’ This supports the development of visual motor skills, as well as fine motor control, for pointing to the screen or activating his communication device.” 

A Library For All To Enjoy

Shartar says she loves Caribu’s wide selection of books, since it offers choice and variety for kids. 

“I have a little girl that I work with, and I want her to love books,” she said. “I’ll pick out a book with her and let her turn the pages, and she loves it. This is a child with significant reading challenges who will try to get out of doing anything related to reading. I pick books about topics she likes, with cats or unicorns, so I don’t lose her.” 

Shartar says engaging students with resources that make reading fun is essential for nurturing a life-long love of learning. 

“What happens to these kids who struggle with reading is that they start getting turned off by books,” she said. “What’s most important is that they begin to love books.”

Caribu’s selection of books also can support kids through social and emotional challenges

“In Caribu’s Social-Emotional Learning Category, you can find Usborne’s Going To School book,” Shartar said. “For a student who is apprehensive about school, it is a great choice to read.”

Plus, Caribu’s library is divided into different grade levels and subject categories, making it easy to navigate. 

“It’s wonderful that you have different reading levels,” Shartar said. “I like the Anti-Racism and Pride categories. We love the Highlights collection, and the Barbie books have great lessons. I also like that there are books in Spanish and Chinese, especially for bilingual families.” 

Teaming Up To Support Kids 

With educators, specialists, and families trying to coordinate learning this fall given COVID-19 safety measures, Shartar’s job has been challenging.    

“It’s a lot of people working together,” she said. “I pull everyone into my team. We coordinate all of the families, therapists, and technology.” 

Shartar also has worked closely with an organization called Lekotek of Georgia, Inc. to share ideas and tools to support Miles. Lekotek provides children with opportunities for play using adapted games, toys, technology, and resources.  

As the school year continues, Shartar encourages more families to use Caribu to build learning skills and foster positive relationships with loved ones and teachers.  

“People are in survival mode right now. I want kids to read and love reading.”

Caribu is an excellent way for educators, friends, and family members to connect with kids through reading, writing, drawing, and playing in an interactive video-call. Sign up to get started, and enjoy Caribu’s library of 1000s of books and activities. For classroom teachers, create a Caribu educator account and learn about ways that you can share Caribu with students through virtual read alouds, literature circles, reading partnerships, and small group discussions. 

Beth S. Pollak is a writer and educator based in California. In addition to working with Caribu, she consults with educational organizations and EdTech companies. Beth has worked as a teacher and journalist in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. She holds degrees in journalism, bilingual education, and educational leadership. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, picnics, and dance.