18 Oct 2006 08:48 pm

As most of you know, since I was about 8 years old and really knew what ‘making babies’ was, I’ve said I didn’t want to have kids.  There was a brief, fleeting moment in there when I thought having kids with a certain someone would be good but after that was over, I was back to my old self again, not liking kids all that much.  I much prefer pets.

So why did I choose to work with kids, you ask?  I was kind of confused myself but maybe this will help to explain it.  My area of study is Anthropology, the study of cultures and people within those cultures.  Through traveling as an adult, I come in contact with adults quite often, talking with them or seeing how they live.  But kids are harder to access as they’re usually protected by their parents or off doing kid things rather than hanging around the grown-up places travelers frequent like restaurants, the grocery store, etc.  So this is a good way to meet kids that I wouldn´t normally meet and, by meeting kids, I learn more about the culture of a place.  After all, kids are where it starts!

A second reason is that kids are imaginative.  Because there is so much they don’t know and can’t confirm yet, they lack the details and life experiences that shape the world into a less colorful and more logical world.  The result is a creative individual who doesn´t even recognize the sky as the limit.  You never know what wonderful things will come from them.  This is one of the myriad reasons I wanted to do the photo project.  Not only are you guaranteed to see photographs from a different perspective, you’re also providing them an outlet for their creativity.  It’s a win-win situation.

Another key reason I wanted to work with kids is that they intimidate me and I´m tired of being intimidated.  The way I´ve described it to my co-workers is that I don´t have many kids in my life.  The only two that I really KNOW are my nephews, Jason (8) and Jesse (5).  So I´m here to get to know what it´s like being around kids.  I knew it would be a challenge but I had no idea it would be like this!

About three days ago, Andy and I were working in Pamplona at the school called Las Minas.  It´s definitely the smallest of the schools as only about 10 students attend each day.  This particular morning, I was trying to help three girls who were sitting at the same table.  They were given a number then asked to write the number before and after it.  So they´d be given the number 5 and would have to come up with 4 on one side and 6 on the other.  Easy right?

Well, the kids know their numbers but for some reason they could’t figure out most of the answers.  Being me, I couldn’t work out why they could say the numbers 1-10 but they couldn’t figure out what came before and after any particular number.  Having tried for about 2 hours that morning, I started getting really frustrated, not at the kids but at the fact that I couldn´t put myself in their position and understand what was so confusing about the task.  I simply couldn´t.

For this reason and a few other experiences trying to help other kids with math (another bad idea as I´m clearly no math afficianado!), I left Las Minas that day feeling really frustrated.  Firstly, part of the reason I was stationed at Las Minas that morning was to scope out which kids would be good to participate in the photo project.  You understand… not all kids can handle a camera, even a simple one, especially the youngest kids who are 4 and 5 years old.  It would be a fruitless task and may end up in a loss of equipment!  So I needed to observe the kids and figure out which ones could handle it.  After trying so desperatly to keep the kids’ focus on their math and failing quite miserably, I was scared none of them could pay attention long enough to learn to use a camera. 

In the end, Jos and Andy reassured me that photography, as a subject, is not like math.  It´s art and art is fun so the kids will be more interested in it than in something more mundane like math.  They seem completely confident that just introducing the cameras will grab their full attention long enough for the teacher to get in a full a lesson on what to do and what not to do. 

Also, I was thinking we’d be teaching things like the rule of thirds and the use of color in photography and more advanced concepts like that.  Well, Jos and Andy told me these would fly WAY over the kids’ heads.  I needed to start simple and probably stay simple, asserting three main rules: Don’t take pictures and night, get as close as you can to the subject, and stay still while you’re taking the picture.  This is where I realized what a putz I am with kids.

To me, these rules are just things you do naturally and I wouldn’t have even thought to tell a new photographer this!  In my life, I always had a mom who took pictures and I watched how she did it… she always got as close as possible, stood still, and took pictures during the day.  Duh, right?  But I’m so bad at putting myself in the place of kids and especially these kids, that I forgot they not only might never have seen someone take a picture, but also, THEY’RE KIDS!  They’re blank slates!  You have to teach them from the ground up!  I wasn´t sure I knew how to do this…

So I’m kind of using my conversations with Andy as lessons in being a kid and thinking like a kid. I don’t know how, but Andy is really good with little people.  He can talk to them and entertain them and they enjoy talking with him.  Then there’s me!  I get by, for sure, but I think it looks obvious that I’m not as comfortable being crawled over and being in demand all the time.  But more importantly, Andy understands kids and knows what their minds can handle.  I have always treated kids like little adults, which has translated pretty well to kids in the States who speak English and are products of at least the lower grades of our intense public education system.  I can make more logical demands of them and talk straight up because we share the same first language, plus they’re used to being challenged every day.  These kids, I’d say, are not challenged by their parents and hardly receive positive attention from them.  So when they come to school, they aren’t expecting a challenge, they’re just expecting attention.  So, at first, I couldn’t get it out of my head that my role in the school was not to teach the kids but to support them.  I don’t need to teach them how to do math or how to logically produce answers, I just need to encourage them to do their best.  The teacher, who speaks their language perfectly and is respected as their permanent instructor, is the one who teaches.

So this is an on-going challenge for me. I’m not really outwardly affectionate and have never been really good at being affectionate with kids specifically.  I’d say I’m pretty good about being encouraging, but I think with kids, you have to be affectionatly encouraging, so I’m still a work in progress!

On the up-side, this bad day has been the only one this week.  I think after realizing my deficiencies and making an effort to chill out on my insistance that they learn as much as possible, I’ve been a much better volunteer.  One boy, Cristian, has stuck to me like glue, especially because I’ve been working at his school two days in a row now.  I’m not sure he gets much attention at home, especially because he has to compete with a very forward and socially superior older brother.  If their parents give them much attention, I´m sure the older brother wins most of it.  So little Cristian, 9 years old, comes to school looking forward to being hugged, encouraged, and befriended. 

So here, you´ll find the adaptation of an adapter… an analytical observer learning to be a creative participant… an adult learning to be a kid.  I’ll be sure to inform you of my progress as I have high hopes after seeing what it’s like to just chill out these last couple days.  Keep an eye out and if you have any suggestions on simple things to keep in mind while working with kids, I´m all ears!