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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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Thank you, Al-Arz Ice Cream Factory!

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As some of you may know, some items are just hard to come by in Nablus. We spent weeks looking for small, colorful pipe cleaners for crafts and, just as we were losing hope, our wonderful outreach specialist, Futoon, managed to find them!

For my science class, I was on the lookout for popsicle sticks. So many of my kids are interested in structural engineering and architecture that it made sense to start building bridges, houses, and anything else they wanted with popsicle sticks! You would not believe just how difficult it was to find popsicle sticks in Nablus. It may be my faulty Arabic, constant motioning to ice cream and saying the number “1000 please,” or my dissatisfaction with using tongue depressors as popsicle sticks from the local pharmacy, but I refused to give up on finding popsicle sticks.

Again, trusty and creative Futoon came to me with a bag of 1,000 popsicle sticks donated from the generous Al-Arz Ice Cream Factory. For that, my class and I thank you, Al-Arz Factory! The kids have been using the popsicle sticks with lots of enthusiasm to learn some basic physics and develop patience with falling towers.

Thanks for your kind donation! It is the simple gifts here at TYO that make big differences.
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Intern Journal: Making it through the door

This Sunday, on the first day of class, ten-year-old Ala from El-Ein camp walked into my classroom by herself, her hands tightly gripping a shiny green bag. In front of her were twenty children running and screaming with cups of acetic acid and vinegar in their hands. The hectic scene added a poignant aptness to the child-friendly title of my science course, “Mad Scientists.” She approached hesitantly. Terrified? Sure. But she made it in the door.

We began with games to break the ice in a room of strangers while learning each other’s name. She didn’t give in that easily; withdrawn, she wouldn’t say a word. During the games, the kids stopped throwing the inflatable soccer ball to her because she would never catch it. When they sat in groups of four, she was the oddball out – the fifth in a group of four. But she made it in the door.

I noticed her eyeing the crayons while the other kids were mixing cornstarch and water to make goo, so I gave her paper and crayons to draw with even though she didn’t touch them for another ten minutes. I asked her why she wasn’t drawing, and she spoke her first words to my translator.

“I don’t know how to,” she said. She was one of two kids that day ranging from nine to 11 that told me they didn’t know how to draw. So, we learned together. I held her hand in mine and had her grip the pencils with the same fervor with which she gripped her green bag. She drew lines on the paper and on the desks, slowly leaving her worries about what was right and wrong, what the other kids thought, and even what I thought behind her. She drew flowers, animals, and even clouds – all things she wanted to learn about in her science class. She drew the goo and even other examples of liquids, solids, and gases.

She blew me away. Prior to the arrival of the kids this week, I took part in an intense orientation program, but Ala was my true introduction to Nablus. Here was this incredibly observant child that drew at the same level as her peers even though she had no idea how to hold a crayon. This beautiful girl with a green bag and a black-and-white polka dot headband that she kept losing left her refugee camp for possibly the first time in her life and entered a classroom filled with strangers. She is far braver than I could ever be, and it is a beautiful to watch her from across the room and share a smile or wink with her. I wonder where she goes home to, what her family is like, and where her sister is that was enrolled in my class but never made it through the door. But there’s time for that, space for her to open up if she wants to, and I sincerely hope that she does. I hope her classmates and her family find the same inspiration in her that I found when she walked into my door.

As she was walking out of my door that day, she slipped a piece of paper in my hand.

“Ala,” she wrote.

And it was then that I knew her name. It was then that I was introduced to the future of Nablus. And it blew me away. Ala