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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.
By the time you become an adult, introducing yourself is so commonplace that you most likely have the script memorized. You say your name, tell where you’re from, and show interest in what other people say. For many school-aged youth, however, taking that first step can be more problematic than we often realize. Depending on a number of factors including background, language, geography and level of exposure to people with diverse upbringings, we react differently upon hearing names like John, Jamal, Janeesha, Julio, Jin and Mohammed. Furthermore, we view our own names differently: if you’re a Junior, your name is part of a lineage; if you’re a Jelissa, your name speaks to your individuality. From the moment we introduce ourselves, we are testing the cultural competency of those around us.
“Cultural competency takes into account lived experiences,” said Wykesha C. Hayes, founder of educational and enrichment firm Keey Group, LLC (formerly Keey 2 Kids), at a recent workshop held at Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids.
Hayes’ emphasis on cultural competency aligns perfectly with Safe and Inclusive Environments, the first element of the CASE for Kids Program Quality Framework. This framework provides a road map to ensuring high-quality out-of-school time programming.
Hayes began the workshop by giving the professionals in the room, many of whom lead afterschool programs, a chance to reflect on their names. The group of about ten, which seemed to mirror the growing diversity of the Houston area, displayed drawings and told stories that elucidated how cultural differences are evident in names – both generally, in preferences and practices, and specifically, in family traditions and pronunciations. “You can’t say more about lived experiences than by talking about names,” Hayes said.
In an open, friendly and plainspoken manner, Hayes modeled the way that an afterschool program can become a place where a dialogue about serious subjects like race, ethnicity, gender and generational differences can happen comfortably and engagingly. A first-day activity as simple as asking “What’s your name?” does not have to be an opportunity for ridicule and snickering. It’s a chance to lay the groundwork for a program that values contributions from each individual.
Hayes firmly stated that bringing cultural competency to the afterschool program does not have to amount to an “anything goes” approach. “Don’t sacrifice expectations,” she said. Instead, work to give everyone an opportunity to rise to challenges and push beyond their presumed capabilities.
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