Where are the spaces for kids to ponder and express thoughts and ideas?
I was at a summer day camp in sixth grade. They took us on a field trip to a local amusement park. I had wandered away from the group and settled on a park bench to watch a group of kids with developmental disabilities on the merry-go-round. The looks of pure delight and squeals of joy resonated deeply within me. I had never seen such pure and innocent joy. The richness of the experiences I was witnessing brought tears to my eyes. Growing up I had been given a message that folks like the ones I was seeing had disabilities but wondered who really had the disability. Most of my friends and the adults I knew did not seem to have the capability to be that fully present in a moment. So where was and who had the real disability? This was a peak experience in my life. I so desperately wanted to discuss my thoughts with someone but knew that my friends wouldn’t understand nor were there any adults in my life with whom I could share my thoughts.
I later become a counselor focusing on at-risk youth. My preference was to use group counseling. The things shared by youth in that setting were profound, insightful, and sometimes earth-shattering. Not only did they share their often very difficult life experiences, they talked about religion, sexuality, and prejudice. Since many were the “outcasts”, they had ideas often not shared by a mainstream public. I often left those sessions and went to have a deep cry about the life experiences and thoughts shared by the kids.
Now as an educator and teacher educator, I wonder, given the extremely structured settings of education, where kids can share their personal ideas and thoughts. Kids spend much of their time in school and this may be the only social setting in their lives. So I believe school and after-school programs need to provide kids with a place and space to express themselves. I believe this place needs to have the following characteristics.
- There is no agenda, topic for discussion, nor curriculum.
- It should be non-judgmental – all ideas and thoughts are accepted, even those that would make adults shutter.
- There should be opportunities for all kids to have a voice.
- There should be materials for kids to share their voice in different ways through the spoken word, written word, photography, videography, and other art and music venues.
- It should be multi-age so the perspectives from different age groups can be shared.
- The role of the adults and educators in such a setting would be that of active listener and a witness not a teacher nor advice giver.
- I believe it can be done virtually with a moderator who censures comments and artifacts that do not meet the above criteria.