Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dancing with the Future

Working with kids is a lot like contact improv dance, or any kind of theatrical improv games. You never know what's going to happen. Excellence comes from having a good general plan and fitness, yet being flexible enough to say 'Yes!' to a better opportunity.

Working with children is like improvisational modern dance, except instead of a troupe of peers with similar skills and training, you are dancing with the future.

I just got done with two really fun training programs, one as a trainee, one as a trainer. Luckily they came in the right order. '-)

TrackersEARTH has doubled in size yet again this year, which means bringing a lot of perrenial staff like me back on full-time for the summer, AND hiring almost the same number of people from outside. And buying a gorgeous chunk of land up in the Marmot area (between Sandy and Mt. Hood). So we all went there together to get to know each other, and practice the skills for handling large numbers of children in multiple sites at once. One new and interesting plan for this summer is Silent Wednesdays. That's right: from the moment the kids walk in with their parents, until they walk out the door again after pick-up, nobody talks. We prep them for this on Monday and Tuesday, and of course emergencies may arise, but we role-played this a little bit (I've done it with adults for cob building, too, and it seems very cool.)

Then I went to teach a training for the Multnomah County Childcare Resource and Referral Center. On paper crafts. Which would be a piece of cake for me, even after a long week... except that I had put IN THE COURSE DESCRIPTION that we would 'Use ordinary paper to create a marvelous world: moving birds and fish, jumping frogs, glittering snowflakes, seasonal
mobiles, memory mosaics. Refresh your creative spirit, get the kids crafting, and recycle your own paper scraps into cards,
placemats, party favors, and gorgeous handmade paper art."

Now I can do each of the things above, and I've taught many of them with good results.
Yet the above list represents a LOT of hands-on skills to learn in 2 hours, especially if I need to coach adults through their creative anxiety or directions that are not written for their learning style. And many of the ways I would make these projects are not suitable for children under age 3.

Fortunately, I had Kiko's mother's excellent book, Making Things, by Anne Sayre Wiseman. Photocopies from this became DIY instruction pages. I got permission from an origami enthusiast from the UK, David Petty, to reproduce some origami diagrams from his website.

I was prepping for this class between training for Trackers summer camps, and taking the CDL trainings and exam. I had to get a new printer, which had a defective part, so I had to go to the 24-hour copy center anyway, but I also needed sleep...

I headed up the hill for the 3-day overnight Trackers training camp, feeling very much exhausted and overburdened. Ernie came along for the first day to advise on their primitive outdoor kitchen. We drove back down that night, I gave a ride to another trainee in the morning, and then settled in for training.

My colleagues are awesome.

We had trainings on handling mandatory reporting, safety with fire, knives, bows and arrows, and how to make fiery magic tricks. We had trainings on traditional handicrafts like spinning, knitting, and finger-knitting easy enough to teach 4-year-olds. We had meetings of groups who will be coordinating the camps with themes like Middle Earth, Four Elements, Ninja Stealth, Jamey's Magic School Bus Time Machine, Wilderness Survival, and School of Magic. We hung around by the campfire and made music, had a Dr Horrible Sing-Along Blog viewing with 40 people singing along, celebrated a birthday, and slept in tipis or under the stars. Staff from the Bay Area came up and shared little fragments of their lives with us, and returned with a skin-on-frame canoe to use in programming.

The capper was a 2-hour silent hike / stealth game / foam-arrow 'tag' / bear-, elk-, and cougar-tracking adventure. We never did learn the entire shape of the game, just went out in groups with some of the competent team coordinators and practiced silent communication and quiet awareness. Got muddy, hid in ferns, met the traces of large and small creatures, and got yelled at a lot by birds and squirrels. There's something humbling about being among the first people to crush a patch of oxalis and pathfinder, and knowing you will have the chance to share this delicate understorey with hundreds of children over the summer.

I came back to town relaxed and centered, and much more aware of the grittiness of concrete and traffic that surrounds my daily life.

So when the time came to take my prepared printouts, and make the childcare-providers class, I was cheerful and confident.
I invited them to role-play teaching each activity to each other, whether as adults or as children of the ages they supervise. We had a marvelous session, with everyone contributing ideas for fathers-day projects as well as learning plenty of new paper crafts. We even invented a Jumping Tadpole, which is easier to make and jumps farther than the best Jumping Frog that I was able to find online.

It's a pleasure to work with each other cooperatively, instead of trying to guard some kind of superior place! I like being a facilitator much better than a lecturer.