Volunteer Experiences: Let’s have a dance party!

What happened to our bodies?

In collegiate level writers’ workshops, in-class activities involve the writer, the pen, and the paper. Hardly ever is there more engagement or stimulation. Of course, we are adults trying to master the written word, so no one thinks to design a lesson plan with something besides the written word.

While we may know how to get our creative juices pumped and gurgling out stories, I think we still might be losing something in this approach. As with most university classes, the course work is so heady (cerebral, if you will). What happened to our bodies?

Since writing is a verbal hodgepodge of our senses and our experiences blending with our imagination, I think it only makes sense to engage our senses and to experience before we sit down with our notebooks.This realization dawned upon me immediately after my third day with the little writers at Horace Mann.
I, along with the other volunteers, realized after our first two lessons that the kids were not willing to sit down for an hour (or half an hour) to write. Before handing them the writing materials, we needed to hook them—give them something that both let them get their energy out and to take more energy in (a nice little energy-circulation). Finally, for our third day, we struck a deal. We had a movement exercise, a drawing exercise, and two writing exercises. It worked magically.

What we did:

After our usual introduction, the kids paired off and started thinking of monsters they could be. We had a list of traits on the white board (fins, horns, wings, etc.) for the kids to choose from, and they were required to incorporate two of the attributes into whatever they wanted. Then, with their partner, they had to demonstrate for the rest of the group how this monster would move across the room. They loved it—and so did we! We saw great creatures such as “flish” or “terraclaw,” and we wriggled and stomped about the space.

Afterwards, we split the children into three groups and started a round-robin. The kids rotated from “Fairy-Tale Madlib” to “draw your own monster” to a “make-your-own-myth” station.

Although we did not allot enough time for the myth making station (instead of ten minutes, fifteen or twenty might work best), the kids were so enthusiastic throughout the hour, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Before I knew it, it was time to collect their wonderful tales and pictures and bid them adieu until the next week.
The success from this afternoon made me realize that we are not only encouraging community involvement between IYWP volunteers and the children we work with, but we are encouraging a community within an individual. What I mean by this is that we have the opportunity to approach our body, our knowledge, and our imagination with uniformity. Some people may be stronger in other areas, but I think it is vital to highlight that they do connect.

Most of us, or at least for me, have not developed this skill in transitioning and connecting these parts, but I think now is as good a time as any to start. For future lessons, I hope to be able to find activities that inspire the children on all fronts—so that their bodies become a part of their work and that their work becomes a part of their bodies. One of the children wanted to write “the Minotaur and Hercules were at a dance party. . .” for the first line of her myth.
I guess what I am saying is, let’s have a dance party. The Minotaur and Hercules can come too.

~ By Catherine Shook

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