From Michael Brix, our Executive Director
I am going to share something that may be unpopular: I love middle schoolers! (Full disclosure, I currently have two middle schoolers, but my love for this age group started way before those two yahoos found their way into my life.) I find that kids who are in that special pre-teen age are some of the most interesting, fun, and weirdly loveable kids around. Long before popular culture started calling them “tweens,” I knew there was something different about them.
Physically this so true! First of all, we know that anywhere in this age range kids can start going through puberty. It is not uncommon for there to be huge gaps in size and strength from one to the other. Their brains show the same kind of disparity. Inside each of them is the child who loved to play with their toys and the teen who would be devastated if their friends ever found that out.
While working on staff at Summer Theatre Camp (so many moons ago) I was with a middle school tribe who kept having trouble with one dynamic young man. In some school settings, he’d be labeled as a trouble-maker. His peers wavered between distraction, frustration, and tolerating him. To make our tribe work, I needed his peers to trust him. Over the course of two weeks, he and I pushed and pulled and then he found a stick. Like, a huge stick. He called it his staff and immediately I was worried that it was going to be a problem (one of the first lessons in my undergrad education program was “don’t let them have sticks.”) I am sure everyone was surprised when we decided to not only let him keep this half-a-tree, but also made it a central part of our tribe’s story! This staff became the way that the tribe interacted with each other. As each middle schooler surrendered to their imagination, a potential distraction or even dangerous object was turned into a positive experience for all.
I learned how to trust these not-quite-children, not-yet-teens through the years. Every time, I was rewarded. Heather Wolpert-Gawron, author and educator of middle schoolers says:
Anything you can do to help a ‘tween feel more secure in their abilities and possibilities will potentially improve their achievement… Anything you can do to make a ‘tween feel more in control becomes a powerful tool for you and for them. (Check out the rest of her article on middle school brains here.)
We need to learn to trust these amazing kids. At Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, our programming began 20 years ago with Summer Theatre Camp for 5th-8th grades. For almost 8 years, we exclusively served this age group because we looked around at programming in our neighborhoods and found a lack of engaging, empowering, and uplifting activities for them. We needed a place where it was ok to imagine, to pretend to be adults, to remember their childhood playtimes.
Through the arts, we can give them the opportunity to try and succeed, to learn through collaboration, and to apply their imagination to real world problems and difficulties. In acting, they play a character that is their creation and they learn to use their voice for power. In visual arts they learn that there are no mistakes (just “happy accidents.”) In dance and movement class they learn how to move that ever-changing body and develop a relationship with it even when it fails them. Through storytelling they hold on to their wildly imaginative impulses and have them validated on stage in front of an audience.
At a time when it is easier to let middle schoolers stay home, watch their younger siblings, or play on a screen, we encourage families to instead think about providing them a place where they can be engaged with their peers, with professional artists, and with their imagination. Join us today and allow us the opportunity to speak into your ‘tween’s life. They can even bring their younger siblings along.*
At Yes! And… Collaborative Arts, making art with ‘tweens is our passion, our work, and our legacy.