Individualized Early Childhood Education

On Monday, I continued a physics project with my kids aged 9-11 in science class to build floatable, cardboard boats displaying an understanding of buoyancy and Archimedes’ Principle. The kids were in the middle of making their boats when some of the groups began running out of duct tape, so I temporarily halted construction and decided to play musical chairs in the empty room next door. Ten minutes later, we returned to our science class to find that three of the boats had been destroyed, punctured with holes.

Mohammad stood next to them with a pair of scissors in his hand. He stormed out of the classroom, yelling that I should have let him steal tape from the other groups.

On Tuesday, the kids took their finished boats to the park and floated them. Afterwards, they played on the swings and slides of the playground. I left for a few moments to help my volunteer clean up the area where the kids ate ice cream.

I came back to find that Mohammad had tried to attack another child, screaming that it was his turn to go on the swings. I found out from intern Adam that Mohammad had just been on the swings, not allowing other children to share. Mohammad stormed off.

On Wednesday, the girls in my class joined Doris’ class on a trip to the pool, leaving me with just my five boys and three volunteers. It gave me the opportunity that I had been waiting for all summer. The opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and patiently address his quick jumps to anger, encourage him to analyze the situation instead of make assumptions and to simply hear about him and how he was feeling all the while trying to help him understand that it was not acceptable to steal from other children, to physically or verbally abuse anyone, or to shirk personal responsibility.

And he listened. He spoke to me, explaining how he felt when he was angry, how he didn’t know how else to respond. We talked through it, slowly looking at other options. Sure, he didn’t transform into a calm, slow-to-anger person in two hours, but he began to see that there were alternatives.

I grew up in the public education system of California and it is still shocks me how my teachers were able to teach me anything with twenty to thirty children wriggling around impatiently. Cut that class in half, and the teacher’s ability to do his or her job increases. Cut that class in half, and the child has a chance to be heard. Cut that class in half, and you have education reform.

Cut that class in half, and you have the opportunity to sit down with Mohammad and show him the alternatives to anger. That’s what I learned from Mohammad, and it’s something I believe is absolutely necessary to improve early childhood education. Personalized education, personal development. A voice in the midst of chaos.
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Intern Journal: Small Steps, Positive Change

After reading Chelsey’s blog entry yesterday, I wondered about my own effectiveness but was given an early morning example of the effectiveness of TYO’s unique approach to education.

As usual, I had a few early arrivals for my 10:30 a.m. sports class and I realized that my classroom equipment was not in proper order. Knowing the boys would be coming soon, I asked one of the early boys, ten-year-old Mo’min, and his eleven-year-old big brother to help organize the tangled jump ropes, hula hoops, balls and cones. I started the task with them and then I realized that I had forgotten to go over some logistical details with an administrator downstairs. Leaving them alone for only five minutes, I came back to find that they had continued with the work and had put all of the items in their respective places, tucking everything neatly into the corner.

It might be considered a small behavioral change, but it is something I never would have imagined two months ago when my rambunctious boys ran in to a neat room and grabbed any and every toy they could while screaming on the first day of classes. But, after developing a set of classroom rules with the students’ input and critiquing their behavior during supervised play, they have begun to realize the value of structure. They spend less time quarreling over minute details and more time enjoying their activities.

Even more important than that is the increased group cohesiveness. At the beginning of the summer, the boys often limited their interactions to their brothers and cousins, never really bothering to play with the other boys. Splitting up these small social units proved difficult and would often lead to complaints, but it is now a simpler process to divide the boys into groups and teams, an indication that they are less reliant on comfortable relationships, and more willing to accept others.

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the problems these boys face when they leave TYO and head to their homes. However, we have to accept that there are no miracles and that we have to hope that the changes we impress upon them will pervade their everyday lives in a positive manner. And this is something that I have seen, something that has proven effective.

-Adam

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Intern Journal: Impossible to prepare

Now that the first two weeks of the summer session have ended, it’s time to breathe. We had two weeks of intensive preparation for what we would face as summer teachers here at TYO, but nothing could prepare me for what I faced. Nothing could prepare Kelsey when a young boy brought a knife to her class. Nothing could prepare me for having to defer kids from my class because they were too old and there was only so much chaos I could handle in a classroom with two volunteers. Nothing could have prepared us.

But more surprising than the chaos piercing your ears while kids play with the parachute on the bottom floor or while I watch Maggie surrounded by screaming children running and playing games around during every session of her Summer Camp class was the love that has pierced us interns.

It is the look of calm love as Maggie smiles when children scream around her. It is the way Kelsey walks her six to eight-year-olds in a single line, holding their hands, to the buses after a three-hour class, slowing down to match their slower pace. It is the way Adam tries to childproof everything in the building to protect the children, from putting foam around sharp corners and sandpaper on the marble stairs to slow the children down as they run up and down the stairs. It is the way Doris seems to notice every time one of her 15 or more students seems remotely bored, tired or sad and how she always addresses it immediately with concern.

We have fallen in love with the smiles of these children, and it’s entirely thanks to the people that have helped keep this beautiful organization running whether it is by coming to work or volunteer at TYO, mentioning it to a friend, donating to the website, or even sending a link to family members of the blog. So, thank you.

Intern Journal: A space to play

This past Thursday I made a visit with my Palestinian TYO counterpart, Iman, to the sports club in al-Askar refugee camp. Because 12 to 14-year-old boys need significant room to play, and because the afternoon sun in July and August here in Nablus is oppressive, TYO decided to seek out a covered sports area for my soccer class. The indoor field at the al-Askar club resembles a warehouse – dim yellow light seeping through the tin roof panels, an eerie echo, and a tarmac surface. But given the suffocation of the neighborhoods in which most of the children reside, I imagined the space would overwhelm them with a sense of liberation.

The manager of the club, Hussein, insisted we drink tea with mint. Following patient greetings and some talk of weather, we toured the remainder of the facility. Like most everything in the camps, the structure has grown awkwardly and opportunistically over a 50-year period. It burrows down and juts out. It hugs the small stores that make their home in its bottom floor.

We descended into a cramped space in which paperback Arabic children’s books were stacked and stuffed haphazardly on cardboard boxes for lack of shelves. Through a metal door was a room so central to the building’s interior that natural light fought to penetrate its few slender breaches. A troop of young women, dressed in resplendent colors, danced in unison to traditional Palestinian dabka music. Each swing of a saber, each dip to the ground, each spin and each twirl, said the manager, has a special significance and corresponds to a lyric. I promised Hussein I would bring the rest of the TYO interns to see the girls perform.

On Monday afternoon, I returned to the center with 18 boys from our target areas. Hussein brought five boys from al-Askar camp, including his son. The boys were thrilled at the idea of soccer in mid-afternoon without being subject to the sun.Unsurprisingly, that time of day is generally reserved for napping and waiting in the shade. The soccer they know occurs for a few minutes at school or in the evenings when they climb over a wall to access a small paved court. Often these evening games are interrupted by aggressive and apathetic teenagers.

We formed four teams for a rotation. While half of the boys played on the field, the other half cheered from the elevated bleachers, eagerly hopping along the guard rail. The sound resonated above and filled the expanse with a thick roar. The dabka girls peeked bashfully through interior windows and then scurried away.

Space is a thing of privilege. For children who often see walls, but rarely see past them, a few hours of sustained release is a gift that TYO is delighted to provide.

-Adam Gardner

SOW Journal: What I’ll remember from Nablus

Yesterday, while visiting Adam’s soccer class in al-Askar camp, a little boy threw a rock at me. It hit me hard in the shoulder. I turned around expecting to see a mischievous young boy laughing at his own aggressive, little joke. But the boy was not smiling. With a haunting intensity, he snarled a string of vicious words at me. I do not speak Arabic, but I did understand one word:

“Israel.”

I have spent almost a month here in Nablus, and this was the first time anything even remotely hateful has happened to any of us from Students of the World. Yes, every day at TYO we see saddening evidence of conflict in all its forms: in problematic home life, dismal living situations in the camps, and the regional conflict. But the children, the staff, the people here in Nablus have been so warm, so welcoming, so inspiring. Smiles and kind words have filled every moment of my stay here. The unwavering dedication to the preservation of childhood in TYO’s offices, the respectful exchanges in the streets, and the children wanting to play in the expanses of TYO’s halls—these will be my cherished memories of Nablus.
Jack

The rock hit me yesterday. Today, little Farida hugged me and called me her friend. Today, Suhad, TYO’s psychosocial specialist, held a focus group with five kids who, once shy and silent, talked energetically about their dreams. Today, the rowdy boys in Kelsey’s art class held up their artwork while smiling broadly, proud that they had created something.

And yet my shoulder still hurts as I type this. So does my ankle from the moment that I turned to skulk away from that boy. It reminds me that the fabric of Nablus is still tenuous despite the strength I see every day in the children at TYO and the staff that welcomes them into the classrooms. And it reminds me how important TYO is to Nabulsi youth, and what is at stake in this small city.

-Jack Moore