A Guide to Working with Children

They say ‘Never work with children or animals,’ so when I was tasked with recording and syncing new kids voices to the Nickelodeon show Shimmer and Shine I wondered what I was letting myself in for! I had never worked with kids so it was definitely a challenge – one that turned out to be incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.

Shimmer and Shine had previously only aired in the USA. It had been a huge hit, so now they wanted it recast for the UK market with English accents and any ‘Americanisms’ removed and replaced with ‘Englishisms’ (is that a word?!).

When casting a show like Shimmer and Shine it’s important to look for kids who are not only competent, but who also bring their own element to each character. This might be as simple as a different accent or particular warmth to their voice – something that adds depth to the character they are playing. We worked with Sylvia Young Theatre School to cast the show. To be a fly on the wall during auditions is something I wish everyone could experience. The breadth of abilities and personalities is just great to see. Imagine having to walk into a room of five adults you don’t know, take instructions on what you need to do, act on them and then respond to direction – it was impressive, especially for a child.

The children selected all had the confidence of established adult actors and the energy of a labrador on Lucozade, hence I hid the sweet bowls!

The recordings were quite intensive. Because we were re-recording existing American kids, the work flow remained the same across the whole series for each child. I played them the original line and they gave me back their version matched as much as possible for tone and tempo. If it was close enough I then immediately edited it to fit the sync. If it wasn’t, we went again.

The legalities of working with children meant they were accompanied by chaperones and we had to fix our sessions to a maximum of four hours – including several snack and juice breaks. So we needed to make the most of our time with them.

Due to the sheer bulk of material that needed recording, it was easy for the children to lose energy, get bored or tired, especially when I was editing. Without a great studio environment I feel it is hard to get the high quality product needed so I tried to make the work fun, enjoyable and relaxing for the kids. To do this I incorporate games into my sessions. These acted as a distraction if the child lost concentration or got fidgety. The most popular game, created by my colleague Alex, was ‘Robot Boy’. For every line we recorded that was mimicked perfectly, a point was awarded to the child. But for every line that took two or more takes the point was awarded to the engineer. Making sure the children took full responsibility for keeping the scores kept them focused on the job at hand and we got more done! It also distracted them from hiding under the desk, sneaking a look at their phones or singing Justin Bieber (I draw the line at this point).

As a result of my experience working with the kids on Shimmer and Shine I have been tasked with voice directing and recording the new Nickelodeon show Nella The Princess Knight, currently on Nick Jnr. I have also been offered other work recording kids and it’s been a really enjoyable learning experience for me.

Children will be children, and you can only ask them to do so much – if they don’t want to do it, you can’t make them. But it’s a two way street. So if you aim to give them a fun and rewarding recording session that they actually look forward to you’ll reap the rewards of a great performance in return. Plus, you’ll almost certainly have quite a nice time yourself!