At what site(s) do you volunteer, and what activities do you do with these kids?
I volunteer at Monticello. We do lots of writing and drawing activities, and we generally focus our activities this way: they can provide a way in, inside yourself to explore your emotions, your past, etc., or a way out, out of your real life (which is sometimes difficult) to places of fantasy and science fiction and make believe. Some favorites include exquisite corpse and anything with music.
What initially drew you to the Iowa Youth Writing Project?
Honestly, I needed a writing certificate credit that wasn’t a creative writing workshop! My advisor, Danny Khalastchi, suggested that I give Writing with Purpose a try. It turned out to be my favorite class!
Do you have a favorite story or anecdote about your volunteer experience?
One of my favorite experiences was seeing the kids from Longfellow Elementary at last fall’s reading at Prairie Lights. I volunteered with them during spring of 2014, and it was amazing how much some of them had grown as humans (they got so tall!) and as writers. And they remembered me! Some even said hi.
How do you assemble a lesson plan? Is there a set process or is it more rooted in intuition?
I tend to pick a warm-up, a main activity or two, and a “cool-down” (opposite of warm-up) or sharing time. As far as coming up with ideas, I’m totally an intuition kinda gal. There are a million books and web resources out there. That I don’t use unless I’m super stuck.
I love the collaborative spirit of the IYWP. Usually, I’m planning in a group. At Monticello we take turns, but usually I’ve got some ideas ahead of time. I’ll share them in the car on the way over and get other people’s feedback. We tend to build on the ideas, or find newer, better ones and build on those.
So by the time I sit down to write up the lesson plan, I already know 90% of what I’m going to write. (Usually I feel like none of it is my work, though that’s not true, really. And anyway, Catherine Blauvelt always used to encourage us to be pirates and steal bits of lessons from anywhere and everywhere!) I guess mostly, then compile things into one coherent lesson plan.
What motivates you when you volunteer? What keeps you coming back?
The people. Forming relationships with the students is important to me; I can’t just STOP showing up!
Also, I feel like I’m part of a volunteer team. We each have unique skills, and I never want to leave my team in the lurch when they need someone quiet to sit in the corner with a student who doesn’t want to share anything out loud. (I happen to be good at that.)
I’m also selfish. I love participating in the activities (especially theatre games) and being creative myself!
Can you tell us a bit more about the movement + word program you’re working on with Jess Anthony from the Dance Department?
Essentially, the program is a series of four days, four lessons, at Monticello where we use dance and movement as an alternate way to explore creatively. We then take that new knowledge and experience and apply it to writing.
We’ve done one workshop so far. We introduced the students to movement and dance in an approachable way with a warm-up that made us aware of our bodies and the space around us. Then, we partnered up and practiced using different “shapes” (straight shapes, curved shapes, angular shapes, and twisting shapes) to pose and to move. Lastly, we split the group in two. Half worked with their partners again while the other half wrote short phrases or adjectives describing what they saw. We took those lists of words and phrases and used them as the basis for a free-write.
And there’s more to come! I think we’ll be splitting into groups and making scenes or tableaus with different shapes. The audience will then write about what they, as viewers, see in the scenes (Is it a family having dinner? Or two birds flying over ocean waves? An apartment building lying on its side?) and build a narrative.
Thanks so much to Hanna for all her time and creativity!