This summer I took the plunge and dived into a brand- new job working with children at a science summer camp. It was tough and not what I expected but I’m glad I took the opportunity because apart from learning that working with children is not for me, I’ve gained some valuable skills that I can use in whatever area of sci comm I delve into next!
My first week was the worst time of my life, I was anxious, overwhelmed, under-prepared, I cried frequently both at work and in the evening, and I was haunted by vivid work dreams at night. Although it pushed me to my mental limits, this steep learning curve was just what I needed to get my act together and get on with the job!
The second week was amazing. Thanks to an experienced instructor, I learnt to relax and let go of that strict teacher vibe that I had been trying to keep up and finally started to enjoy my job.
So, what have I learnt? In short, lots but here are ten things that have really sunk in!
- Kids are scary!
Most of my anxiety at the beginning of a new week new week stemmed from the fact that I was meeting a new set of kids and I had no idea what they were going to be like! Will they be rowdy and uncontrollable or quiet and hard to engage? A mix of quiet and polite children is the dream and most weeks I had no problems at all getting them to listen to me. A lot of the time, you just have to be louder and find ways to get them to be quiet like shouting a word that they have to respond to and be quiet afterwards. Sometimes just sitting down and waiting until they’ve told each other off for talking is a good strategy but should be used with a group of children that you’ve known for a couple of days or they’ll just ignore you!
- Kids just want to have fun!
Especially when they’re in their summer holidays! There’s a time and a place for making sure they know Newton’s three laws but summer camp is the place to help them play around with stuff within those three laws. In my second week I learnt that kids will interact with you better if you’re fun and don’t mind being silly. This was my gateway to enjoying the job! Finally, I let go and had fun with them, chasing them around a field, letting them play dodge ball for half an hour and laughing with them.
After my baptism of fire, I realised that I wanted to play with the stuff just as much as the kids did and they loved that I would get things out again at the end of the day or repeat things that we had all enjoyed.
I learnt quickly that if they perceive you as a fun person, when you’re being stern, they will take you more seriously and listen to you more attentively; there must be a reason you’ve changed your tune so it must be worth listening to. I noticed that when I was trying to be strict all the time, kids didn’t listen to me at all whether I needed them to or not!
- Kids are always hungry!
The most frequently asked question was “when is it break time?” or “when is it lunch time?” and it can get a bit waring sometimes. It seems that kids don’t care whether they’re having a good time or not, food comes first and I even had a group say to me that it was lunch time at exactly 12pm when we were in the middle of an activity!
Even though they’re hungry, children will struggle to eat all their lunch or, on the flip side, they’ll eat it all at break time and complain that they’re hungry when it comes to lunch time! Controlling how children eat is a loosing battle and when there are four instructors looking after 38 children, it’s impossible to monitor whether they’re all eating correctly!
- Kids hurt themselves a lot
Most often the appropriate response is ‘You’ll Survive’. When children come to you with an ailment, sometimes the worst thing you can do is make a big deal of it! It took me a couple of weeks to realise this and my initial reaction would be to let them sit at the side of the class. I had a lot of tummies, fingers, legs, eyes and ears hurting which were often the result of eating too fast, falling into something, not washing hands when we told them to and being in room full of noisy children.
Children are sheep though; as soon as one child has itchy skin from touching vinegar, the other seventeen also have itchy skin and you’re doling out gloves to a room of hypochondriacs who then reject the gloves because they feel funny.
Sometimes we had genuine problems such as a girl that had bleeding gums because she whacked her self in the face with her knee as she fell off the climbing frame. Dramatic and gory but easily overcome once they’ve recovered from the initial shock.
Kids often forget their woes as soon as a game or activity distracts them though! If only play had the same miraculous qualities for adults!
- Kids’ problems tend not to be real problems
Many of the problems stemmed from interactions with other children. In my first week a common complaint that some girls would come to us with was ‘he’s spying on me!’ to which the only way that I could think to solve it was ‘just be really boring then!’
Other problems mainly came from the girls unfortunately. The boys would often just play card games or football at break times and amuse themselves but the girls had more complex social situations. The emergence of clubs that exclude other people are the worst thing but when I was younger having a special club with your friends was all the rage. One that me and two of my friends invented was ‘Triangle Club’ where we sat cross-legged with our knees touching and it made a triangle – that childhood imagination wasn’t really in play there!
I must point out that all of this post is based on my observations and not child psychology of any sort!
Stay tuned for part 2 of this mini series where I’ll share more of my experience of working with children next week!