28 July 2014

Here we are at that special time of summer. Like a sunset we're suspended between day and night, where the start of camp feels far away and the end is not quite near enough. When we are in the thick of things, it is easy to forget the purpose, drive and ultimate reward in it all; the experience of seeing a child overcome an obstacle that previously gave them doubt about themselves in order to strengthen a sense of autonomy.

 During one of our weekly check-ins, our teaching artist Amanda shared a story that helped ground me from the logistical craziness of the summer.

"I noticed that one of my girls was afraid of puppets as she had seen the one that was in my theater kit and refused to come into the room. I knew that eventually we were going to encounter puppetry as a means of storytelling and character work and wasn't quite sure how to handle the situation. I thought; why not make puppets out of paper bags? I took her aside and brought an unmarked bag with me and asked her what she thought of the idea. She was hesitant, but I instead turned it into the idea of creating a character rather than making a puppet. I decided to not use the word "puppet" for that particular class as well, but instead used "character" with all students. She made a Nemo character and 'Nemo' was able to tell us where he came from and how old he was and more!"

 The barrier of a paper bag allowed this student to achieve two things, overcoming a fearful relationship with puppets and a creative exploration of character.

 Amanda then shared this story about a different student.

 "I noticed that the kids were holding back and feeling silly about the commitment to their characters. I decided to have them go through their lines with sunglasses on. The glasses provided a barrier of sorts and their inhibitions were nearly cut in half. I decided as my treat to them, I would have them design their own super hero and super villain masks to use for their performance. This would serve the same purpose as the glasses while giving them something to be proud of when it came to their characters. "

A child's first experience is not unlike navigating the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We put up a comfortable barrier, hands out; head back, as we tread softly until the destination is reached.

 Sometimes, kids need a psychological distancing in order to try something that is uncomfortable or potentially scary. Masks, puppets, glasses and clown noses are great examples of "barriers" to offer kids that are hesitant to explore creatively or even talk in front of peers. Things like a mask or puppet allow a clear separation between child and character. Not only do we all expect a puppet to have a silly voice, but any judgment or mistake is placed solely on the puppet or masked character.

 While things may get hectic this summer, take a moment to get stories like this form your peers, counselors, camp friends or drama club members. Keep them with you and the rest of the summer will be smiles and smooth sailing.