Three months ago this group were amongst a crowd that argued and protested over everything – time to get up and time to go to bed, their rights, not being consulted about how much pocket money they got, and how awful the food was. Of course the child care workers also got the mutters and told the youngsters to “behave yourselves" and such-like. Then one of the staff decided to go on a fitness run around the neighbourhood every morning, and invited anyone who wanted to, to come along. Jeers and unbelieving laughter all round – but soon one, then three, then a whole crowd of kids went along.
Here are some of them now, just back from a run and really looking forward to breakfast – no matter what is on the menu – complaining about how sore their legs are, how steep Pine Hill felt this morning, and how they'd better slow down on the cigarettes.
The staff member had discovered something that child and youth workers have known for a long time: it doesn't matter what you do with kids, so long as you do something!
Just doing something with kids gives them powerful messages: “you are worth spending time with; you are included and are welcome to join in; we can learn this new activity together ..." The staff member also sensibly picked an activity which had to do with the children's own lives – their bodies, their growth, their health and having fun. The staff member wasn't saying “Stop doing that!" but was saying “Come along, let’s do this!"
When we can motivate groups of people to do things together, we build the subtle layers of experience and identity – more important, of shared experience and identity, making “we's" where there were just “me's" “and moving kids away from being rootless and isolated and left out, towards being connected and included.
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So you can get up now. It's time for breakfast and (phew!) you'll need a shower first. And forget those aching muscles and creaking bones – because if you think this was bad, tomorrow we're going the long way around over that big hill, and you don't want the kids to think you're a work-shy, no-good, big-mouth layabout, do you?