“Enough is enough!” I thought. If I saw one more child suicide due to bullying or pushed one more child’s chair near the door in fear of a nervous vomit during a state test, I would leave the profession. I have taught elementary and middle school for fifteen years. I teach because I want to. It feeds my soul. Recently the news headlines have forced me to start thinking, “What’s going on?” I noticed that children’s “play” doesn’t even remotely resemble my childhood days of selling fancy rocks to neighbors or building secret huts.
Nowadays, many kids are absorbed with fancy technological gizmos. These portals to the Internet have become platforms for harassment, an obsession with body image, a search for recognition, and just one more place where they feel the need to fit in.
This easy and constant accessibility to the Internet, which seems to be doing children more harm than good, coupled with the increasing demands of school work seems to have made children more stressed. Think it’s time for a change? So do I. This became my motivation for Child•cor (cor, meaning heart in Latin) : a much needed place for children to re-center, get grounded and regain a happy and healthy childhood spirit.
“A place for children to re-center, get grounded and regain a happy and healthy childhood spirit.”
While most of my career I taught in New York, working both in New York City and Westchester County, I had the unique opportunity to teach at the American International School in Budapest, Hungary. It was in Budapest where my journey began as I watched an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show “Life Class.” The episode talked about the benefits of children writing daily affirmations, or positive phrases that often begin with “I am” such as “I am fun to be with” or “I have a nice smile.” I loved the idea so much I decided to introduce it in my 3rd grade classroom.
Every Monday, each student entered the room with a sticky note on their desk. They were instructed to write something they believed positive about themselves. They could write it anonymously if they wanted, although having the students feel comfortable highlighting their own positive traits, even via one sentence on a sticky note, was a long term goal. Their sticky-noted daily affirmations were touching to read: “I have beautiful eyes,” or “I am a good daughter.” By our holiday concert in December all students happily welcomed a video, sharing their affirmations to all parents and children in the entire grade level. I was struck by how their self-confidence had grown in such a short time.
For my second year in Budapest, I was offered the position as the elementary school drama teacher. I should warn you that up until this point teaching middle school math was my favorite age and subject. In a way, arithmetic contrasts life’s chaos: it has definitive rules and answers.
In becoming an elementary drama teacher at an international school I thought I possibly had a shot at incorporating some “not so traditional” teaching methods successfully. I didn’t have to adhere to government issued “agendas.” I could just teach drama, without all that extra drama.
I had no idea what the job would actually entail, but it turned out to be the most rewarding and successful teaching experience I had ever had. It became a true avenue to teach my students holistically, in a way that would bring them back to the days of childhood play: real, creative and imaginative play. My first priority was to create an environment where all students felt safe. By feeling free to be themselves there would be no bullying, nor judgment, just acceptance and appreciation for others and for themselves.
“I created a safe environment. Free to be themselves…no bullying, nor judgement, just acceptance…”
I started every class with five minutes of meditation and five minutes of yoga. How do you get a room full of hyperactive kids to mediate and practice yoga? At first it wasn’t easy, but by week three I had students asking me how they could mediate at home or if I could review “tree pose.” The positive feedback from my students kept coming. One of them actually shared with me that their “angry person is now calm.”
As I watched 15 – 20 children lie down in complete stillness and presence I felt inspired and motivated to share these practices with others. Experiencing the little ones dance around during our Sun Salutation Yoga Dance brought me so much joy. Not only that, but drama class became a place where kids could be kids: where we used objects to create new objects, where we were able to explore, be imaginative and let go.
From there I began an after-school program for Improvisation. Why Improv? Because isn’t that what we did as children: create castles out of wood and blankets? We improvised with what we had. We didn’t have technology to create images in our mind for us. In my opinion, there are slim opportunities in life for children to create on their own. Technology has robbed that from them. My after school group resulted in a successful program…with a waiting list! They, all on their own, built a sense community. Bullying one another was not even a thought. This was a family where improvisation supported collaborative work to create an unprepared scene where everyone had to rely on their partners. I saw self-confidence take root because with improvisation there are no wrong answers.
“I saw self-confidence take root”
Through these experiences, what I realized was that while I may not have been teaching arithmetic or the science of gravity, I was teaching how to be proud of yourself, how to accept yourself and others, appreciate your peers, and how to be present, which collectively enhanced the learning of all of their common branch subjects. I was teaching the whole child!
After moving back to the United States, my excitement to return to those “government issued agendas” we so sadly experience in today’s classrooms was dim. Shortly after, I received a note from my friend Molly saying, “Looks like you’re smarter than the Dalai Lama!” At first I was confused by what she had meant but then I saw that attached was the quote…
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation~Dalai Lama.”
Inspired, I decided to do some more research. Could my gut instincts of the importance of wellness for children be on others’ minds as well? Now, do I know if the Dalai Lama is absolutely accurate? I am not sure and I do not claim that Child•cor will end violence in the world. I do know, from my own personal experience, that yoga, meditation, positive affirmations and dramatic arts supports a much needed sense of self-confidence, caring for others, presence and peace in children.
Currently, I am a Year 4 teacher at a British international school in Shanghai, China, as well as the Service Coordinator and a member of the Wellbeing Committee. In addition, I am so proud to not only be coaching my fabulous colleagues back in New York as they motivate children through the Child•cor program, but I was fortunate enough to be able to bring the Child•cor program here to Shanghai where I can reach many more children from such a variety of cultural backgrounds. Why did I choose to relocate AGAIN? Child•cor is my passion and its true goal is to connect children worldwide on a mission for kindness and peace. Fortunately, my experience here is allowing me to do just that.
Join my journey!
-Elena Olivieri, Founder