Re: Mixed bag for henna class at library- advice please?

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Posted by Maureen on August 16, 2002 at 23:39:31:

In reply to: Mixed bag for henna class at library- advice please? posted by Lauren on August 16, 2002 at 13:35:22:

Hi Lauren,

Providing arts projects in community settings on a one-time basis can
be either the hardest type of programming to do or the easiest. It
can be the easiest because you can get your presentation down pat and
then you are just presenting the same material over and over agian to
different populations. It can be the hardest because you are trying
to present information to people with which you have no history and
no relationship and no future with.

You either win or loose the control game with children within the
first two sentences out of your mouth. If you loose the control
then, you will be fighting to get it for the rest of the session. If
you establish it then, you have only to regain it if things get a bit
wacky later on. My first two sentences are to first say what we will
do in the first sentence and in the second sentence I say that in
order for us to do those fun things we have to establish some rules
and guidelines so that we can learn what we have to learn and have
the fun we came to have. I then tell them what I need from them in
order for us to get to and complete the fun. Children like to talk
in terms of it being fun and you can teach them anything within that
context. What I need are things like there attention for the first 5
minutes as I explain to them something about what we are going to do
and demonstrate how it is done; for them to hold their questions
until I have completed the explanation and then I will answer all of
their questions; that we be respectful of each other (me of them,
them of me, them of each other); that we be respectful of the space
we work in (that we take care not to destroy, cut, stain etc the
chairs, tables, carpet etc.); that I learned a long time ago not to
talk while someone else is I will not talk when they are
talking and would appreciate it if they would not talk while I am
talking...that if someone does talk while I am talking, that I will
stop talking and allow that person to talk because I won't act
disrespectfully towards them...AND, then I add, of course that could
take up all of our time and we might never get to the fun.

If I have someone sniper shooting (what you refer to as heckling), I
follow my rule and just stop talking. I lean back on a desk, move
from the podium or do something to make it clear that I have
stopped. Then I say as an aside to part of the group that is quiet,
that I will continue as soon as the gentlemen or young women talking
are through talking. I am, therefore, modeling my own rule of
behavior that I expect of them. Usually, the kids will then turn on
the snipers in the group.

After establishing what I need from them, I then ask them to think of
what they will need from me and each other to make this a fun and
safe and respectful experience. I always have my rules and
guidelines written on large boards or on a blackboard so they know
that I didn't just make them up on the spot, but that instead, this
is the way I work. Then I write down the rules the kids come up
with. You will be surprised the brilliance of some of the rules they
will come up with. Afterall, the know each other and you do not.

A group of children 10 to 17 is too much of a mixed group. The
larger kids can always intimidate the smaller ones. A better mix is
10 to 13 and then 14 through 17. These two age groups need something
very different from you and it is hard to do them at the same time.

The boys who were big are most interesting to me in your
description. That they are big makes sense since boys 15 to 17 get
their legs and develop like young men. But you have to remember that
they are still children...adolescents. They still see themselves as
children and you as the adult. They therefore still see themselves
as relatively powerless and you with the power. But, what was of
most interest to me was the fact that they were there. They were in
the library. Hoodlums and gangbangers don't hang out in the library
and wouldn't be caught dead in an arts program. So my thinking is
that they were there to be captured. They were there because they
were interested. They were there to be gotten under control so that
they could stay. Part of that challenge they present verbally is so
that you can put them under control. Then they have not lost their
positioning with their peers and the younger children. They can
relinquish control to an adult and still maintain their position
within the group if the adult takes the control from them and at the
same time allows them to stay. That is the trick with those larger
boys. Their challenge to you is for you to find a way that will
allow them to stay and get what they came for in the first place.

I use a lot of techniques to capture those older boys. One is to
always refer to them as gentlemen or young men. I never work and
allow children to have anonimity in the group. Everyone put on a
name tag as they enter so I can refer to them by name. Calling them
by their name immediately links you with them. I where a name tag
and they can call me either Ms Maureen or Ms Jones. That is their
choice. I also make the older children part of the group right
away. I point out to the other children how glad I am that the older
children are there and I will say to the older ones that I might ask
one or more of them to help me out with a few things if they don't
mind. I ask them if that is alright with them. I always get a yes.
What has occurred when you have established the rules and get the yes
from the older participants is what I call the contract to do the
work. Once the contract is made, you then hold them to the
contract. Sometimes I have to say to one of the older ones with a
totally confused and silly look on my face, "I thought you said that
you were going to help me out...Now how is your taking all of those
alcohol pads helping me out? Unless you think helping into the poor
house is helping me out." At that older age they have a sense of
humor and know right from wrong and can be reasoned with in a
rational way. I have them pass out the supplies...ONE TO EACH
PERSON...including themselves. I have them help with the clean up
and putting away my supplies. I ask them to not let anyone leave
without cleaning up their workplace and passing back in any of my
supplies that are out there. These same young men and women will
walk me to my car and carry my supplies to my car when I am leaving.
So the trick is to establish connections and linkages and contract
early in the game. To know and keep in mind always that they are
still children no matter how large they are. A child has no idea how
big they are unless you tell them. If they think for one minute that
you either don't like them or are afraid of them then you become a
scary person for them and their worse behavior comes into the room.
Those big boys came to the library for a henna workshop. Those were
not roughnecks...just big children who like to be called young men or
gentlemen or by name. If you know the last name and call them Mr.
Taylor or Mr. Beckman or Mr. Whatever, they hear your respect and
regard for them.

I don't believe in that stare. They get it all of the time. I
prefer to just sit quietly and smile knowingly at them. Anything
they ask me I turn to be about my subject. If it is something
bazaar, I say I don't understand the comment or question and I will
want to get back to that with them once I am through giving out the
information and giving out the supplies, etc. I think I would have
told one of them right away that I wanted to use one of them as my
model and demonstrate how to apply the henna. Then ask him if he
will help me. Disarm them with gentleness and by genuine liking for

Another thing that caught my attention in your post is that you had
the baby with you. If there is anyway possible I would never carry
my baby to these programs. Children are completely selfish and when
they see you with the baby, they assume that you are not there
totally for and with them. You can and will lose part of your group
automatically. Also, NEVER carry, wear or have with you, your
vulnerability. If things get wacky in that room, those children need
to know that you can pull it back under control. They will not
believe it when the baby is with you. They will know that your first
concern will have to be the baby. Also, the baby is a distraction
for them and also a target. If I absolutely HAD to take my baby with
me, I would integrate the baby into the lesson. I would refer to him
as my assistant. I would dress him up as an artist. I would have to
do something to make him totally relavant to what I am doing. If
not, his presence does not make sense to them. And while that will
be unspoken, it will be in the room and something you will have to
deal with.

Prior to your first two sentences that set the tone for control of
the room, you have to establish control of the setting. Make sure it
is set up exactly as you need it to be to work comfortably and have
the supplies set out and visuals hanging, etc. The only setting I
have ever had to remove someone from was a series of workshop for
emotionally distrubed adolescents. I would have to send some
children down to a timeout room when they were overstimulated and
needed to calm. How someone is asked to leave needs to be set up
with the organizers. I sometimes do all of the control and they are
only their with a back up. Like sanctions that are far out of my
reach. Sometimes they put someone in the room who does all of the
control and that person has always reminded me of a drill sargeant
and gotten on my last nerve. Never allow the organizers to leave you
in the room alone with a group of children who have met you for the
first time. They don't know you and don't know whether or not you
will like them or hurt them. They don't know if the old rules apply
or if you have new ones. That is too scary for them. I insist on
one or two staff volunteers to be there to also help with handing out
things, getting me set up and helping collect my stuff at the end and
helping me to the car. Knowing what you need and asking for it
upfront during the planning stage is 50% of the workshop.

A lecture to children about something they know nothing about that
contains a lot of history and facts is pretty meaningless to the
younger kids. I would skip it and lecture more about the various
techniques used based upon locations. Visuals, visuals, visuals,
speak for themselves. They can be referred to briefly and let
children come to you and ask you the questions about them that they
have interest in. They want to get their hands on that good stuff
you brought. I love the fact that you gave them their own supplies
to play with. They love stuff. They love stuff of their own. That
is a marvelous move. You just need to organize how it is handed out
and establish rules concerning how many each person gets and then
hold to the rule. If you have lots of children coming for designs
from you. Do quick ones on each that you can. But don't allow that
to take your attention away from the group and what the group needs
from you. If you walk around the room, that is an easier way to give
the individual attention than having them come up to you to get
designs or attention. Walk around the room and help each one with
what they need. If a particularly talented child has completed their
design and other children want designs, give that talented child a
cone or bottle and let him or her go to work on the other children.

And the pic of the breast with designs. Noway with this age group.
No way with any group of children. Your instincts are correct about
the appropriateness of this. No matter if the are the best designs
in the entire world, I would drop them from the pics I took to
present to children. Though it is art and I am an artist and have no
problems with representations of the human body, when it comes to
what you expose children to, you want to remember that they are
children and exposed body parts aren't appropriate for them to
view...even in an art program. I even take care with the breast pics
or any provocative pic when working with adults. If you have
some "survivors" in your group, you can trigger them with some of
those pics and then you have something else going on in the room
other than or in addition to what you came there to do.

Yep, this is long...just wanted to touch on as many of your points as
I could.

Hope some of it is helpful.



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