Friday, June 25, 2010

To Be So Honored

It's a little thing, but as I continue to learn by working with children, it's the little things that resonate.

New parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles scour toy stores for the best gifts to entertain a toddler, only to watch the little one sit in the middle of the kitchen floor and bang, clang and rattle pots, pans and wooden spoons. So much for the expensive thingamajig in the corner.

By the second year of The Shakespeare Club, I figured out two small incentives that generate as much excitement as a drawer full of Tupperware does for a two-year-old.

They have to audition to be considered for the club. This isn't because I'm scouting for the best actors. Often it's the shyest that interest me because they may gain the most. I insist on auditions as a way for me to meet one-on-one and determine first, if it's their idea, and second, to calculate eagerness.

Without real desire, they won't have a rewarding time, and I'll be nagging.

My second stimulus is Honor Roll.

I printed out a sheet of paper that said HONOR ROLL, with twenty numbered lines underneath it. Then I glued it to a piece of cardboard. But this makeshift prop might well be etched in pure gold, to hear the kids tell it.

As we near the month or so before production, I set the Honor Roll at the front of the room. Then I make an announcement.

"I'm excited today because one among you has already earned a place on the 2010 Honor Roll of The Shakespeare Club."

I do this in a sonorous voice bespeaking the dignity of the occasion. The kids sit up fully alert and ready. I continue.

"This person has earned three s for leadership, for learning lines, for journal writing and for helping others, as our mottos remind us. I am very proud and ask that—"

At this point, they start pointing this way and that guessing who it might be. I've been careful not to disclose gender or the part the actor may be playing. The anticipation grows and they're buzzing like a hive over jasmine on a summer afternoon. I cut through the hum by raising my voice, a little.

"Congratulations...Ellie! Please come up and sign the Honor Roll!"

In a wave of generosity, the kids applaud and shout out praise for Ellie. In a shy but pleased manner she steps forward, takes the pen from my hand, and in great ceremony signs the document.

"You all have opportunities to join Ellie on the Honor Roll. Right up to the six o'clock performance, you can earn your spot."

Over the coming weeks, the boys especially, will pepper me with questions about who has s and who has xs and I always say, "That's private between me and the actor."

The heat is on, and it's a robust flame.

What it means to be a best friend. I think being a best friend means to look out for each other, being true to your word, not manipulating them and being there for them.

Being a best friend is a commitment to yourself and trusting your self. Sometimes you can have fights or duels but that only builds your friendship.

Every friendship means something special, so you have to keep it strong.
Darby, 5th grade

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