The Lessons I Learned from Children, Adults and a Successful Before and After School Program
For approximately 13 years, I have worked with children on and off. I am not an educator but my experience with youth is a mixture of after-school programs, before-school programs, tutoring and summer camps. The more involved I have become in assisting young people with writing and art, the more heroic teachers become to me. To me, teachers and superheroes are synonyms. They are like a blend of mythical gods who have the right balance of compassion and power to keep a classroom from becoming a tornado.
For several weeks, I worked with youth in a before and after-school program. It had been about two years since I had consistently worked with children so I was interested in seeing how children were different now. I had frequently said that kids seemed to change every three years. Either they knew more about one subject and less about another. Cursive must be on its way to the grave and I am positive home economics is in the mausoleum next to it. If one program was taken out of the school, you would be sure to find it again in some type of supplemental program. As a result, I would usually find myself in a chaotic environment with adults who loved the youth but could not take on all of the roles that the children needed. They would have the passion to educate their students but not the order. As a result of these experiences, I began to gain more clarity on what worked and did not work in a program.
This most recent before and after-school program was a beautiful review of the decade I spent with youth. Because they used a system of conscious discipline, the youth were more prepared with the mental, emotional and physical tools that they needed to ensure their success. Suddenly, I was no longer the teacher and the children taught me lessons though they did not realize this. I learned more about adults observing how the youth interacted with one another. Here are some of the lessons I learned from the youth.
Lesson 1 - Communicate Better
Two children were having an issue regarding a board game. The youngest child cheated and they began to debate. They were asked to solve this issue using some type of carpet which instructed them to follow specific steps to solve the issue. The carpet prepared them to face one another, to wish the other party well, to breathe in and out and then to say in concrete sentences what bothered them and they could resolve their conflict.
Though the carpet was basic in its design, it was one of the most brilliant creations I had encountered in any program that I have been in. How many adult arguments could be solved using this tactic? How many personal relationships could be preserved if we could get to the root of the issue and avoid the unnecessary screaming and manipulative actions? This scene caused me think about the way I communicate and how I could be a better communicator.
Lesson 2 - Emotional Reactions
Observing the way the youth handled their emotions was absolutely fascinating because it some of them handled it better than some adults. Some would walk away from the situation causing drama, others would throw words but never fists or one would just end the argument. I have seen adults act out animalistic brawls, take off earrings, called cops and make resolutions not to fight anymore just to avoid incarceration. How much unnecessary drama we could delete from our lives if we replicated the actions of these youth by walking away, ending cold words or choosing our words carefully.
Lesson 3 - Stop Ego Trippin'
Sometimes, we let our egos get in the way of our personal relationships. About four to five girls in the same grade were singing and ended up having a debate about who would be singing a certain song in a program. All of their egos got in way and it seemed that the words would never end. However, they all found some way to compromise and all of them sang in the program and saved their friendship. Now imagine that these are grown people instead of children and that the program is a title instead of an event. How many adults have kicked the ones closest to them in order to be at the top? Or refused to compromise? Or place more importance on positions instead of spiritual happiness? We can only laugh at ourselves when we realize our possessions are simply large toys, our titles are just costumes for the ego.
Lesson 4 - Collaborate
The one thing that I admired most about these children was the way they gathered together and helped one another. They were supportive during homework, they encouraged one another and laughed together. There was no barrier in their minds to prevent them from helping their peers. Nobody needed to ask them or force them, it came from their hearts. If we take on this mindset as adults and place our prejudices aside in our minds and hearts, maybe we too could collaborate from the pure mentality of these youth.
Lesson 5 - Somebody Cares
Children respond to adults who care. The adults do not have to be related to the child. It is only the interaction that matters. The adults in the before and after-school programs cared about the youth and the children felt this. These adults put true energy into their projects and lesson plans before and after their shifts. They wanted the youth to truly learn and to develop to the best of their ability. It was the small things that they did to show youth that the child mattered. They would use a powerful voice to bring order, a gentle voice to show that they were listening. They would make sure that projects and behavior were in order. The children responded positively to routine and were relaxed because they knew that they were safe and cared for.
Lesson 6 - The Power of the Male Presence
Though this may not be a topic that many speak about, there is something about the male presence that children are drawn to. Every time I have worked with male instructors, I have seen how the children gravitate toward him in admiration, whoever he is. The male presence, from my observation, brings balance, especially for young males. Perhaps because many youth may be surrounded by women all day and have become complacent with their presence. This program in particular had a male instructor and he was respected. He brought order and balance. His presence became an element among the many elements of why this program worked.
It was an inspirational few weeks and I will remember all of the lessons the youth gave to me.