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“Creative” is a scary word for some people. Too often, in today’s educational landscape, creativity gets squeezed into a remote corner of lesson planning – or tossed out completely. During out-of-school time, however, the opportunities for nurturing creativity are boundless. Ideas for how to provide diverse, inclusive and engaging activities for youth are never far away; in fact, they’re on the side of the brain many of us highly responsible and functioning adults forget we have.
Imaginative, non-verbal, “right-brained” thinking skills are mistakenly undervalued in our society and, sadly, in our educational systems, said Deborah Emmy Nowinski, founder of Dionysus Theatre, known locally as the inclusion theater (link to http://www.dionysustheatre.net/), at a recent workshop held at Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids. Students are hindered by the perception that learning only takes place on paper, when in reality creativity is an important and rewarding skill that must be valued, modeled and cultivated – in a word, taught.
“Developing a creative program takes practice,” Nowinski said, offering encouragement to those who’ve attempted to bring creativity to their afterschool programs but, instead of widespread enthusiasm, found resistance. She went on to describe some helpful hints for making the creative process thrive during afterschool.
1. “Hello, my name is creative.” Nowinski pointed to a name tag that can be used as an affirmation on the first day of class. In a world where labels stick and behaviors naturally align with them, she said, it’s important to affirm every student’s right and ability to think out of the box.
2. Break down barriers. Many students have experiences during the regular school day that discourage them from expressing their creativity. They feel shy or fear appearing silly. It’s the responsibility of the afterschool educator to rid the room of harsh judgment so that the space feels safe and inviting.
3. Play to their strengths. If a student has trouble sitting still, give him or her permission to work while standing. If they’re talkative, give them leadership roles. If they have a disability, find technology that will assist them in completing required tasks. Most importantly, never give up on a student just because they’re atypical.
4. When in doubt, use puppets. “Who doesn’t love puppets?” asked Nowinski, before suggesting that dull content can and should be brought to life with creative teaching. No student wants to be bored in their afterschool program, and puppets can be made from reusable materials. “It’s not a budget buster,” she said.
All kids need safe, supervised environments throughout the day with opportunities to help prepare them for the future. To learn more about CASE for Kids, call 713-696-1331 or visit www.afterschoolzone.org.