Learning from our children: How to get the most out of an experience
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. andamp;#8212;Last Sunday I had the great pleasure of attending Trails and Vistas Art Hike at Spooner Lake. This yearandamp;#8217;s theme was andamp;#8220;Reflections andamp; Rhythms,andamp;#8221; which had audience members hiking along a gentle two-and-a-half mile single-track trail in groups of up to 30 people. We paused at live music and dance performances, sculptures, poetry readings and innovative artistic expressions along the guided hike. Participants experienced art in a completely new way in the grandeur of the Lake Tahoeandamp;#8217;s eastern region.What I may have enjoyed most was watching the four children ages 3, 5, 6 and 7 who accompanied their parents through the woods to experience the art installations, play drums as a group, dance, listen to stories and watch some of the best performers the lake had to offer, such as Drummer Rhythm Child, song writer and musician Chris Spheeris, healing music by Angelika and InnerRhythms Dance Theater.The hike began with a warm greeting from andamp;#8220;Mother Earthandamp;#8221; who (in a Scottish accent) reminded everyone in our group we were now our own tribe and we are all connected to each other and to the planet and the stars. She did a magnificent job of making the children feel like they were very much a part of this experience, just as important as the adults on the adventure we were about to begin.One of the first stops was with Rhythm Child where we were all given the opportunity to find the drum beats of our hearts, and beat together as a group. It was surprising how everyone begins with his or her own rhythms, but eventually we fell into something that was collective and had a rhythm representing all of us. We then came upon Chris Spheeris, who had a song that encouraged a willingness to move to the beat andamp;#8230; to shake off worry, to andamp;#8220;be a kid again.andamp;#8221; This is where kids in the audience, and middle school aged dance students (dressed as forest fairies who accompanied Spheeris), helped the adults along. To see these forest fairies moving without any self-consciousness helped to remind all of us that it is really andamp;#8220;OKandamp;#8221; to move our bodies, to risk looking silly shaking a leg. It was the most fun Iandamp;#8217;ve had in a long time.The enthusiasm and curiosity of children engaged in this experience was remarkable. As we came upon creatures wrapped in muslin resembling part of the aspens in andamp;#8220;The Trees Have Eyes,andamp;#8221; the 31andamp;#8260;2-year-old girl participant became very quiet while approaching the installation on her tippy toes and whispered andamp;#8230; andamp;#8220;Oh this is interesting andamp;#8230; this is very interestingandamp;#8230;andamp;#8221; Indeed it was, and she merely expressed what all of us were thinking.The adults who decided to take their children to this art hike were taking a risk. What if they did not behave? What if they became tired on the hike? What if they did not enjoy it? Well, there is really no other way to find out what your childandamp;#8217;s capacity is for performance behavior without simply making the commitment and having a willingness to pull the plug if things go sideways. Unfortunately, many parents worry about this to the point they are unwilling to commit their children to the experience, so they simply donandamp;#8217;t go. But how else will children learn how to behave if they are never put in situations where appropriate behavior is demonstrated for them and required?I have been taking my kids to the theater since they were little. I never expected other audience members to suffer from my childrenandamp;#8217;s potential misbehavior so the deal would always be if they did not behave we were instantly out of there. I always told the kids ahead of time what the rules were: Be very quiet, no talking during the show, use the restroom before the show begins, no getting up until intermission, no running in the lobby, etc. I also told them if they could not behave we would leave the theater, go directly home and they would spend some time in their bedrooms thinking about how to behave better next time. We only had to leave the theater once because my son could not hold still. He was being as good as he could, but the wiggle factor was too much. We tried it again in six months and he was fine. Again, this is how children learn, and this is how parents learn what their childandamp;#8217;s capacity is for these experiences. Of course Trails and Vistas is very different because it is outdoors. But it does require quiet concentration for most of the performances and a degree of theater behavior during poetry readings, quietly sung music and slow dance routines, and of course you are not allowed to touch the art installations. I am very happy to report every child on our hike was very well behaved and added a sense of curiosity that helped each andamp;#8220;grown upandamp;#8221; on the hike to remember the wonderment that comes from being a child and seeing art with fresh eyes. Not one time did any of the children ask when it would be over. Each of them eagerly moved from one installation to the next, asking their parents, and at times each other, andamp;#8220;what is coming next?andamp;#8221; In between we heard questions like, andamp;#8220;Where do the fairies sleep at night?andamp;#8221; It made a great experience all that much better from my perspective.One of my favorite moments came toward the end at a yoga demonstration in which two couples moved through a body and breathing exercise. The youngest child in the group whispered to the oldest child andamp;#8220;What are they doing?andamp;#8221; to which he replied andamp;#8220;meditating.andamp;#8221; She quietly nodded her head. A few moments later she whispered again, andamp;#8220;What are they doing now?andamp;#8221; and he replied, andamp;#8220;They are still meditating.andamp;#8221; It was both touching and humorous as these two had just met on this hike for the first time, but had become friends, and the older of the two was able to share his andamp;#8220;expertiseandamp;#8221; with his tiny companion.The last performance was by Capacitor, a renowned ensemble of dancers with an orchestra of moving bodies set to earthy sounds who had a stunning piece that included dance, theater and a level of acrobatics that had the 5-year-old telling his parents, andamp;#8220;We have to do this one again!andamp;#8221;I would have to agree entirely.andamp;#8212; Raine Howe is executive director-of Arts For the Schools.
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