Monday, 24 July 2017

A Spontaneous Invitation

 by Sophie Bufton

It was by spontaneous invitation that I witnessed and participated in Necessary Art’s outreach event at the Grand Riviere Anglican School, in Trinidad on July 22nd. The day before, Naima directed me to focus on the “learning”. I was tasked to capture film-clips of the children in a state of learning. It was a great brief to unapologetically position myself to find the delighted facial expressions, widened-eyed listening and joyous movement.

Necessary Art’s engages children in embodied learning. The company seeks to engage children from underprivileged backgrounds, in hard-to-reach areas of the world like Toco, on the eastern-most edge of Trinidad. The engagement and education is all generated through dance and drama, which brings the whole child to bare actively in these moments of education. The various activities were characterized by clarity of direction from teachers to the children. The teachers directed in a way that invited the children to be active participants. The children were invited to be team-players, be an actively participating member of their peer group. Children were disciplined firmly for not abiding by the rules of the activity, which allowed each activity to be focused and organized, but children were never not humiliated or excluded. Positive behavior and moral character were reinforced throughout the day. In the dance section for example children were directed to explode and say a positive trait like “kindness!”, “strength!”. Most importantly their obedience stemmed from a genuine enthusiasm and desire to engage in the activities. All activities were well-directed “play”. If they followed the rules, they found freedom to move, freedom to express verbally and physically, and positive feedback from the teacher as well as simply the progression of the activity.

Some tools that were observable:
Repeat what I said: having the children verbally repeat specific information to ensure they are embodying the information
Repetition was used intelligently, aspects of an activity like choreography was repeated a few times so the children embodied the information, but never to the point where the activity grew stagnant or tedious. This maintained the interest and energy of the children which enabled the activity to progress into higher-level learning. The teachers were aware enough of what each other had been teaching the children, they were able to reference previously-learnt material, like Mary had a Little Lamb, stimulate the children to remember and reinforce what they had learnt.
Well-directed “play” was respected as both the most natural and most effective means of educating young children.
Activities progressed to either complex teamwork, as in the giant elastic-band activity, to solo performance, as in the poem.

One particular observation: Downstairs the younger children were organized into two groups: Team A and Team B, and the teacher was directing both teams to write a poem. The leader of each group was tasked to do the literal writing of the poem onto huge sheets of paper lay on the floor, which the children also lay on, as she said at times “swimming on the paper”. The leaders of both groups were young girls, around age ten they were likely the two oldest of all the children. The girls, given these roles, took to their roles with an enthusiastic dedication to the task at hand, and appeared to emanate a matriarchal potential even at such a young age.

As the day progressed, I was able to observe these two girls in other roles upstairs, where they were asked to go first in reciting and performing memorized poems to a room full of people, performing dance choreographies to their peers. All of which they executed excellently. The creation of a space for young children to express and practice leadership skills and public performance seems so valuable in early development and yet so rare. It was clear to see the self-confidence of these girls grow over the course of the day. Their accomplishments in all the tasks were quite frankly impressive, and I’m sure they were able to feel great pride in their accomplishments at the end of the day – and take away a sense of their capabilities.

As we left the school, a little late, we passed some of the children in their front yards or with their parents. They seemed to exude the feeling of achievement, positive reinforcement and social support generated by their day with Necessary Arts.

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