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When the right kids are given the wrong tools

Magical things happen when kids are exposed to the tools that help them learn and grow. This is not that story. This is the story of one battle-tested facilitator's hard lessons learned from a disastrous summer theater camp for kids.

A summer of "Sit down!" "Sit still!" and "Be quiet!"

When I lived in Bellingham, Washington, I volunteered a summer of Fridays teaching an improvisation workshop to a group of kids. I was in charge of six kids. Our task was to, over the course of eight Fridays, come up with a play the kids would perform at the end of the summer. Other group leaders quickly claimed private corners of the gymnasium as their territory, to work and create with their kids in undistracted harmony. I made the mistake of claiming the gym supply room, which—while spacious and well lit—was where the school kept a massive stock of soda pop. It was a sizable cache. Cola of all flavors and bright colors, kept on hand to replenish the school’s various vending machines.

I spent the entire summer doing nothing but keeping them away from that soda and, on the occasions they managed to slip past my defenses, drag them away from the soda. Numerous times I had to pry a can from their unusually desperate grip. I spent the whole summer telling kids to sit down, sit still and, for the love of Pete, stop talking about soda pop!

You can see where I’m going with this.

Summer of hard lessons

By the end of the summer, all the other groups had pulled off the unlikely task of performing well-written, moving, even costumed narratives with props. Some even had music and choreography. Their parents were brought to tears and were standing and clapping wildly when their child’s scene came to a close. My group’s performance did not inspire similarly rave reviews. They were butterflies. Their interpretation of the impressive insect was a reach, to put it generously. Mostly the kids wandered around the mats nose picking. We even lost one little boy who, in the confusion, snuck off to the supply room for one last, desperate, go at the soda.

Anybody who has kids or has spent time around them can verify, they're an active bunch! And determined. As adults, it's not easy for us to understand what's going on in there, to remember that children are strapped to the metabolism of a hummingbird. They need to move and be active. Put them on a treadmill and ten children could power a small village. So it must be mystifying and frustrating they’re so frequently told, "Sit still!" and "Stay put."

Give 'em the right tools: let kids be kids

The key difference between the other groups and mine? All the other facilitators had the good sense to offer their blossoming thespians mats and chairs and boxes and tables which their kids were free to climb and move as they pleased. A refrigerator box became a castle. A chair turned upside down became a spaceship with handle controls. Their endless creativity, propelled by a tireless hum of energy, when combined with a savvy collection of tools (as opposed to, say, a lifetime supply of soda pop) their imaginations sparked. The kids were able to engage their energies and grapple with items they could use to interpret their world, on their terms. Really, it was something magical: those kids focused longer, processed faster, and learned better.

Of course, I was insanely jealous at how successful the other facilitators and their kids had been. Especially when my group’s justifiably bewildered parents demanded an explanation to what ‘Dance of the Butterflies’ even was.

Sometimes a kid needs to stand. Sometimes they need to sit. And sometimes they need to draw a unicorn in the middle of a desk. Take it from a battle-tested, veteran facilitator of a disastrously ineffective theater course—I spent a whole summer not teaching children about the magic of theater. Fully’s new collection of movement-inspiring seating, and imagination-stirring desks is exciting stuff. When we meet kids at their level, and provide furniture that can keep up with their moving, growing, shape-shifting ways, the sky’s the limit. Who know’s what incredible ideas they’re bound to come up with?