Teaching Across the Age Spectrum

One week in, we have had a great start to our Summer 2015 Camp! Throughout the week, children ages 9-14 from our Nablus neighborhood Khallet el Amoud have enjoyed karate lessons, soccer, healthy lunches, creating and sharing their class cheers, drama, volleyball, and a variety of curriculum activities emphasizing self-esteem, self-acceptance, and a sense of community and belonging. Amal Amira

It has been an exciting couple of days for our Core teachers as well, who have previously taught our 4-8 year-old Core Child Program children, and now have the opportunity to teach a new age group that brings a new kind of energy and unique challenges. At the end of day one, the Core team left TYO’s center as thrilled as the kids with the excitement of their first day. Many of them commented that there are some things that hold true for all ages – for example, that all kids learn best through direct, interactive experiences. Still, there are unique aspects to teaching adolescents. Last week, after a great start to teaching their 11-12 year-old class, co-teachers Ahmad and Amal reflected on their class’s biggest surprises, challenges, and successes.

Amal Ahmad

Is teaching children ages 11-12 what you anticipated it to be? What was the biggest surprise for you?

Ahmad: The thing that surprised me most was how quickly the children felt comfortable to speak up and share their opinions. In anticipation of the first day, we prepared a lot of icebreakers to help the children overcome shyness about engaging with their new classmates and participating in class activities, which is a common challenge with the [4-8 year-old] children in our Core Child Program. But it was the exact opposite! On day one, they brought so much positive energy and openness to learning and participating, and those who were shy overcame that within minutes. Honestly, we had the opposite challenge than what I expected; we had to manage their high energy and find ways to channel their enthusiasm productively.

What has been your greatest challenge in the first week of Summer Camp?

Amal: Combatting gender issues has been our greatest challenge. In the first two days, we had a few students show discomfort – and at times rejection – to working with classmates of the opposite gender, particularly when the activity involved physical contact, but also simply sitting at lunch or lining up for our team cheer. Their mindset is compounded by the fact that many of the children are close friends outside of TYO in their schools and home neighborhoods, where gender segregation is the norm. Ahmad and I made it a point to work on gender equality through our camp activities; every activity involves teamwork in mixed gender groups, which we assign – and honestly when the kids are having fun or competing with another team, they do not think twice about whom they are working with. It's true – teaching adolescents is a good lesson on how fun goes a long way in getting children to forget gender bias and work together.

What has been your class’s greatest success?

Ahmad: Definitely our afternoon drama activity. At first, a couple of children were too shy to participate. The success is that we did not have to intervene directly at all, because the kids themselves encouraged their shy classmates. Sama and Walaa were both very active in their group’s skit from the start, offering ideas for the script and competing for the lead roles; however Zein was too shy to participate. Together, Sama and Walaa gave Zein an important role in their skit and encouraged her to participate, and in no time she was performing in front of the class. Children this age really value peer affirmation, and that is a good opportunity for us as teachers if we use it the right way.

What are you looking forward to in the next four weeks?

Amal: Two things. One – I can see that our children are eager to express themselves and have a voice but do not have the tools to do that yet. I am looking forward to working with them to build their trust and comfort at TYO so they can better express their thoughts and many of the daily challenges they face. I have already seen improvement in two days, so I am excited to see where four weeks takes us. And two – As Ahmad mentioned, this [age] group craves social interaction and support from their peers. It could manifest as cliques and exclusion, which is what many of us faced growing up. But Ahmad and I have already learned a lot about how we can use that to our advantage to build a sense of belonging and teamwork. I am excited to continue working on that in the next four weeks.


- TYO Core teachers Ahmad and Amal, interviewed by Core Child Program Manager Niralee