I attended a workshop conducted by an institution that partially funds our community circus summer day camp. About half-way through the workshop I was making my fourth page of doodles, when the facilitator cued up a video from Edutopia, George Lucas’ repository for his Star Wars earnings. I think the video was titled: “How long does it take to change a child’s life?” What I remember of it reinforced succinctly what educators have known for years: the first 90 second interaction you have with a child can set the tone for the teacher/student relationship and change that child’s life forever.
I see it in my circus arts teaching everyday. As the character, ‘Mr. Amazing’, I greet each child with, instead of a handshake, a 90 second game: When I first meet a child, I extend my hand and say: “Give me Five, Give me a High Five, Give me a Side Five, Now Give me a Round Five.” When I get to the Round Five, the child’s learned goal is to slap my hand just like they slapped it in the previous 3 interactions. They expect to hit my hand as it revolves in a circle right in front of their eyes. But they can’t. And the squeals of delight when they can’t are deafening. The laughter is infectious. When I ‘let them’ hit my Round Circle hand, the completion of the task is fulfilled. But curiously, they want to do it over and over and over again. Why? My hunch is the sense of accomplishment, the sense of applied wonder, and the message it sends to their cognitive brain that I CAN DO THIS.
And that is why I play this game with them…to teach them that they can have wonder, apply it, learn from it and succeed…in 90 circus seconds.
Sometimes the first 90 seconds doesn’t go so well. 15 years ago a 13-year old was brought into my youth group, at my church. He had just punching out his wrestling coach (that was the story around the school, but he actually just shoved him – either way, it was enough to be suspended from school. I had a history of working with tough kids. He was a tough one. We made eye contact in the first 90 seconds, but that was all. No matter what question I asked him, he refused to answer. This went on for 20 minutes. I finally gave up, stood up and said, “Ok, then, let’s juggle.” His eyes lit up, a wry smile came to his lips and I knew I was ‘in’. We juggled for another 30 minutes. I invited him to our first rehearsal of Amazing Grace CIRCUS! That young man now performs for thousands of people every year in circuses around the world. He is a fine teacher, and a great example of what circus arts can do for young people.
So What? Yes, you might say, So What. It’s true, other kids had this same ‘mind expanding’ reaction with Music, Dance, Painting, Math, Science.
What’s the difference here? Well, circus arts is the something different that kids with little ‘sport ability’ can do because, unlike sports teams, there is no limit to the skills one can acquire and excel at in circus arts. One doesn’t just do ‘circus’; a student can find literally a hundred different ways to ‘be in the circus’.
So What? So This… In 90 circus seconds children can ‘GET’:
Power over their Mind (researchers call it cognitive control, and it’s really important)
A New Image of Themselves (emotional learning) learning, instead of struggling
The Habit of Aligning their Success with other’s success (social learning) means they will PLAY well with others…
Why is All this Important?
Because Self-Image gets a boost when they make a habit of these new behaviors…
And then Self-Worth improves… and then Academic Achievement jumps… and then Self-Doubt takes a back seat. And Circus Arts Learning is what ‘gets’ them there.
The Big ‘So This’:
It’s pretty exciting stuff.
And here’s the best part: the 90 seconds it takes to change a child’s life, is the same 90 seconds it takes to Donate.
Your donation today is a Matching Grant for a child’s future tomorrow. Thank you!