Summer has always brought new life experiences into my professional life, however, the one which has just ended will definitely be remembered as a special one. I experienced something that you could recreate in your own classroom, especially during these first days of school, when children are starting to get acquainted with each other again or for the very first time.
If you've been following my blog, you'll know that during the month of July I usually run a summer camp in an outdoor environment with students not older than 6, where the main activities are games, songs, and crafts to help them learn some basic grammar and vocabulary. After this summer I can definitely say that little kids are easy to understand and work with; believe me, if they like the activity you have planned,
they'll do it but if they don't, they'll get distracted by anything more interesting, and that's all. Simple and easy to grab.
Unexpectedly, this time I ended up working with slightly older children: a group of 6/8 girls, aged 6 to 9 , who had already started developing their own personalities, which made them completely different from one another, and especially sensitive to impolite leadership attempts. They made it clear from the very first day that this Summer Camp had to be totally different.
First of all I pointed out how essential it was to be polite to each other so that nobody would get offended: I introduced the frequent use of 'please' and 'thank you' and reminded them to use suggestions and express opinions instead of giving orders. This way, instead of saying 'do this and that' they would use should, might or would; in other words, they were being forced to use grammar like never before.
But not only that! The icing on the cake was the ban on the word 'NO' in any form: a more understanding 'YES, BUT…' had to be used instead.
The second step focused on creating cooperation instead of competition by using team building games. Just by luck, I found a copy of "Silly Sports and Goofy Games", by Dr Spencer Kagan, on my overflowing bookcase, which was exactly what I needed. Over the following weeks we played games such as "Movement Chain", "Instamatic", "Detective", "Smile if You Love Me", and "Maze Walker", where the girls worked together to build a maze with their own stuff and all the leaves, rocks, sticks and pine needles they could find in the garden.
Furthermore, in order to encourage relationship skills and equal participation, every time an activity required splitting them into different teams, I made the groups by drawing from a bunch of popsicle sticks with their names on them; this way they couldn't complain about the group they ended up in, because, as I would tell them, 'the sticks rule'.
The third step was to begin each Monday by offering a selection of 3 or 4 week group projects, to choose from: a play, a dance show, the opening ceremony of the Olympics, etc. Each time the main goal was to sit together and decide who was going to do what, how to do it, who was going to wear this or that costume, how to arrange the stage, etc. without screaming, arguing or crying. Once everybody was happy with the decisions, I would participate in the process and add my own suggestions and ideas. They would work together on the project for the following 3 days until, on Friday, they would present it to the other groups.
It was awesome to witness the development of their relationships and the way they ended up working together, communicating politely, making decisions which would suit everybody, showing enthusiasm, rehearsing in the afternoons to come well prepared the next morning. The atmosphere was so friendly and engaging that even the shy ones or those who weren't feeling so confident ended up improving their English speaking skills which you can read about on my parents' comments page.
Oh! And the shows themselves were amazing!