One of the most powerful experiences which arts education can bring about in a child, is a sense of belonging. When children walk into a room, they bring with them an entire week of their lives as a growing young person. They bring with them an entire week surrounded by their peers, an entire week of their family lives, and most importantly an entire week of growing and changing in their understanding of themselves and who they are.
We as adults forget that a single day can feel like a week, a week can feel like a month and a month can feel like a whole year in the eyes of a child. A moment of shame or embarrassment can feel as though your world is coming crashing down. A mark on a test, a slight from a friend or even wearing the wrong pair of shoes can make you feel as though you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
I hang up a visual schedule in a window of the classroom. I place a large timer just below on the ledge. I set out eight mats in a small circle in the middle of the room. And then I open the door. This is my ritual.
As educators, as guardians and as parents of these young people it’s easy to forget and underestimate the refuge of safe spaces, and of the sense of belonging. The most remarkable aspect of being a teaching artist is being able to facilitate a safe space, and a sense of belonging. Arts education and participation in the performing arts in general have phenomenal and numerous benefits including the development of social skills, public speaking skills, socio-emotional skills and creative thinking to name a few. However, in my experience, none of these benefits come close to the benefit of giving a child the sense of belonging.
Every week children walk into my classroom to participate a drama class. They walk in with peers, usually strangers to them, who they have met a few weeks before. They talk about their weeks. They share how they are feeling: sleepy, grumpy, happy, excited, scared, anxious. We ask them to name their feelings. We invite them to share their feelings in front of the same group every week. I hear new answers every week; I see new children every week. I see them express these emotions freely and they are encouraged to bring these feelings with them to the class. They are invited to challenge themselves. They are invited to be creative. They are invited to play. They are invited to be silly - they are encouraged to be silly! They are celebrated for who they are – their own individual triumphs. But most importantly, every week they come back. They walk into the room and they bring their whole world with them. They know they will always have a place to return to, and they will always have a community to support them. These repeated visits become a pattern. This pattern turns into routine. The routine becomes a tradition and the tradition becomes a ritual. With a place to count on, and the trust of people in it, this small but sacred ritual becomes part of the support system that will help the child grow. The child counts on the weekly ritual, and in return feels comfortable to share their creativity, their laughter and their trust. In sharing this the child begins to form close relationships with those around them, and the cycle continues. Together they are valued, cared for, encouraged and listened to. They belong.
I hang up a visual schedule in a window of the classroom. I place a large timer just below on the ledge. I set out eight mats in a small circle in the middle of the room. And then I open the door.
By Eliza Martin.