This incredible update comes from Nikhil, a certified trainer, and facilitator with Play for Peace. Working with kids comes with its own unique challenges but, honestly? Nikhil's update shows just how much meeting kid's where they are at truly has the most beautiful and profound impact. Here's Nikhil's update...
"I have been recently spending (earning) some time with the kids in a government-run school here in Dharamshala (Dharamkot). It's a quaint little space surrounded by the Himalayan mountains and trees. The school has only around 8-10 kids in total. The rest of the kids from this region go to private schools nearby, since their parents can afford the private school expenses.
Yesterday, I facilitated a Play for Peace (PFP) session with these kids. It was a mixed age group (5 to 10 years). Many out of the eight of them seemed to be living with developmental / learning disabilities.
After the session, I reflected on my experience with them. Based on that, as well as on some of my prior experience in similar situations, I came up with a few observations and learning points:
1) Building rapo, creating the 'safety net': A day before we did the PFP session, I had entered the school space when the kids were having lunch that the school provides. I just sat on the ground in front of them (at their level, physically) silently for some time, letting them get a little familiar with (and curious about) my presence. I then took out a harmonica (mouth organ) from my bag and started playing it, having small conversations with them intermittently. I could "see" that the ' socio-emotional safety net' was getting built. The rapo with them got built very quickly! I also interacted a little with a few of them on a one-on-one basis to try and understand more about the developmental / learning challenges that they might be living with.
2) Keeping it simple and clear: This is a useful thing to keep in mind while working (playing) with any group of participants. Particularly in this scenario that we were in, I had no choice, in a way, but to "really" simplify the games and offer it to them step by step. And yes, it worked!
3) Doing, observing, repeating: Repetition helped, be it an action-song or a rules-based cooperative game. Each game /song might have taken us more than double the time it takes in many other scenarios. But that was okay. It worked quite well (in fact, a necessity) in this particular situation.
4) Shorter sessions: I became aware that with the group I was working with, the total session duration cannot be very long due to relatively limited attention spans and other reasons - around 50-70% of the total session duration I would have planned for in many other scenarios.
5) Practicing the PFP facilitation basics: For example: Asking the kids to do a thumbs up if they understood my instructions, or thumbs sideways or thumbs down in case of partial / no understanding. Once again, remembering to do this is useful in almost any session we do. In this case, it was important to be patient, to wait and frequently do an understanding check with the kids, and then take things ahead gradually.
6) Not under-estimating the little things/tools: For example, call and action tools (Bumpti bump bump - bump bump, tak dina din - din din, etc.) added a lot of value. It helped in 'gathering' the attention of the kids and taking ahead of the session smoothly in a playful, light-hearted manner.
7) Cultivating patience, acceptance, and love as a person/facilitator: I noticed how this helped tremendously, along with awareness (or curiosity/openness) regarding what the kids might be going through internally.
8 ) Working "with" their current teacher / care-taker: Keeping the long-term benefit of the kids in mind, I found it important to try and "work with" the person (teacher) in charge there, even though their values, temperament, or approach might not be in line with mine. It was helpful for me to operate from a space of acceptance and compassion even for the teacher in charge and their years of conditioning.
In the midst of the session, we had a few visitors from other countries. I invited them into the circle. They happily did so for some time. During that time span, I kept repeating the game instructions in English, along with Hindi which was the primary language of delivery. I also noticed that many times the 'language of play' works beautifully by itself. Of course, that cannot be taken for granted. Awareness and care are important.
This session was also a reminder for me about how designing and facilitating sessions with people with disabilities can help refine our own skills (and overall approach and attitudes) as facilitators and trainers. This helps in our sessions being more effective, even while working with participants without any apparent physical or psychological disabilities. You might have noticed that most of the above points can also really help while working with any set of participants. In this regard, exploring and studying the idea and approach called accessible/universal/inclusive design can be quite useful!
I feel grateful to have got this opportunity to practice the Play for Peace core values of cooperation, inclusion, caring, and fun with the adorable kids in this quaint little school in the mountains!"
- Nikhil Mehta, Certified trainer, facilitator, Play for Peace
Nikhil, your work is so important and this update truly shows how valuable it is to take the time to nurture the relationship we have with kids. After all, they are our future.
Until our next post, play for peace everyone! - Heather, Play for Peace's Digital Storyteller