Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tyke Camp

We're into the third week of Tyke-ness. I've continued to be privileged with really excellent helpers. Last week's theme, unintentionally, was "messiness" admittedly one day we did schedule "messy play" but the rest? That was just because we're such lucky ducks.

We've done bunches of cookery...stuff. We made coconut ice (essentially dessicated coconut, sugar, and food colouring), jelly, pretzels, and today we made cheese straws.

Can I suggest something? if you're cooking with children, maybe don't start with something that a) you don't have the correct measuring tools for and b) you don't know what consistency the dough is meant to be. In spite of having no clue what I was doing the cheese straws somehow, miraculously, turned out just fine.

We've started presenting cooking in a TV show style way: we set up a table at the edge of the classroom and cluster them all on the floor around and call them up in pairs to do any stirring or mixing or rolling or what have you. This has been fine so far since most of what we've been making has had a barrier (i.e., a spoon) between the tykes' hands and the food. For the pastry today, though, we were mixing with our fingers which is when something occurred to me: the floor? In the classroom? It is *filthy* and the tykes? sitting on it? Keep putting their HANDS on it. So we had them washing their hands constantly- once so they could touch the dough, again because they couldn't get to the dough without touching the floor again, once more because seriously: don't touch the floor, a further time because do you want to mix the dough? DON'T TOUCH THE FLOOR!, and a final time after their hands were all floury and buttery from the pastry.

Last week with the pretzels I decided that next time I'm going to be a bit more emphatic about what shapes are allowed. No, you don't get to stand at the table for twenty minutes making a snake and then making a ball and than making a snake again- other tykes have not had their turn! Make the first letter of your name and then SIT DOWN. If you want to play with dough? We have some beautiful, perfect, homemade, blue play dough right over there. Yes, it's been there all morning. Right there. On the table. Over there. That table, in the corner. Yes, that one.

You can roll and flatten and roll that dough to your heart's content. But this? This needs to be put into an oven.

Seriously kid.

Right, that blob? That's what you made! Well done!

Now, shoo.

We've done some arts and crafts as well. Lydia brought in this brilliant science activity book so we had Science Day! (you can tell on the weekly schedule which things I have invented and which I've copied and pasted from earlier schedules made by other people. Mine all have exclamation points...) We made air rockets with card, tape, and paper straws. We made climbing lizards (looking a friction don'cha know). We've painted pasta and made pasta necklaces, made ingenious hand print and glitter fish puppets, spinning spiral mobiles, and huge STACKS of colouring in.

This week is quite a bit smaller so I've only got one helper a day instead of two. Because there are so few kids I've started taking specific orders for colouring. It turns out that there are brilliant databases for printable colouring pages. Anything you could possibly want to colour in can be found on the Internet. Thank you, Internet.

I tell you about all of these exciting activities we've been doing (and I haven't even mentioned the trips to the playgrounds and the science museum!) but you know what they get really, really excited about? And play with for literally hours on end? The train set.

Three year olds are awesome.

(PS. "Messy Play" involves covering the tykes in smocks, sitting them down at a table, and putting trays of stuff in front of them. Specifically corn flour mixed with water, shaving foam and glitter, hair gel and glitter, and shaving foam and sand. They liked it okay but I LOVED it. We had a very fastidious set of tykes that day. Most of the corn flour + water mix that ended up on the floor was entirely my fault. As was *all* of the shaving foam that ended up in the tykes' hair and on their faces. I'm so embarrassed...)

Impro Show

We had our show! My first ever acting improvisation show! And there were PEOPLE there! And it went really well! And in the very last scene I started hyperventilating and couldn't calm my heart rate down until 20 minutes later!

12 of us from the class ended up being able to make it to the show. Our teacher, Tom, told us that since only 12 tickets had been pre-ordered he expected about 25 people and due do the small audience size and relatively small size of our class he'd decided to do the show without an interval. This was definitely the right decision because there wasn't an unnecessary break in the energy in the middle, but we did a much more kick ass job pulling people into the show than Tom was expecting - 50 people showed up to be our audience.

The performance was set up as a "Maestro Show" which means that ostensibly it is a competition. Really it's just a good way of having a bunch of improvisers on stage together with some sort of structure. We all got little vests with numbers on them (1-12) and our two directors (our teachers Claire and Tom) would pick numbers from a hat, call those people on to the stage, and give them a scene/scenario/or game. At the end of the scene/scenario/game then the audience would be asked if that was worth 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 points and everyone in the scene would get as many points as the audience clapped for. (It's in your favour to have your friends in the audience...boosts your applause!) As the show progressed people with lower scores got dropped from the running until there were only two improvisers left - then there was an elimination round and one was crowned MAESTRO! And they won £5, that's the end. Go home.

Make sense?

I got called up for four scenes- I ended up in six because other people kept having scenes where they needed a token lady to show up and I kept being the only female in an aisle seat. (also? I'm way super volunteery) (Yes, that's a word.)

Everyone did a really great job, it was a lot of fun, and we're going to be EVEN better next time. That being said, because this is MY blog and it's all about ME- here's what I did:

The first scene I was in was a parent teacher conference. The set up is designed to have both a battle over status and also as much leaping and justifying as you can shovel in. We kind of lost the plot in the middle but I gather that I, as the head teacher, had called the parents in to talk about their son's eating habits because as a rule we don't prefer the children to eat the furniture and then they were talking about their son like he was a horse and then he had been eating all of the sports equipment and was I sure the school was feeding him adequately and shouldn't that be their responsibility? And MAN that got absurd and confusing quickly. In spite of that we got 5 points! (or 4, I don't actually remember) Woo!

Next I had gibberish scene with Anne Marie. (She's wonderful and Irish.) In gibberish scenes you switch between gibberish and English whenever the directors ding their bell. It's meant to be as fluid as possible going from one to the other in the middle of sentences or even halfway through a word and is excellent for upping the emotional content of a scene because when you're speaking gibberish the only thing you really have to work with is strong emotional and physical states- not so much with the content. Anne Marie had to fire me. As it transpired we worked at a zoo and I had opened the lion enclosure door because I felt that they needed to be free, but 18 people had been killed in the ensuing chaos and really? what choice did she have? Anne Marie was brilliant in closing the scene using the same phrasing I had used about freeing the lions to send me out of the office. 5 points again.

About half the group had been culled at this point and Chris and I got called up to do the final scene of a long running television soap opera in which as many reversals and big reveals as possible happen in the final 60 seconds. This was like taking candy from a baby (a sleeping baby who doesn't know they have any candy) since really all we had to do was cliche after cliche after cliche. I was his mother, I was dying of cancer, he was actually his evil twin, my brain was exploding, I wasn't dying of cancer, blah blah blah and then- (man this would have been cool if we'd actually managed to do it in unison) it was all a dream. 5 points.

You might notice at this point that I've got quite a lot of points.

Anne Marie and I were the final two standing and so as a tie breaker were given the task of filling 60 seconds with neurosis. I went first and freaked out about everyone watching me (inside I was like "what on EARTH am I supposed to be talking about?" First time I'd ever done anything like that.) and then started hyperventilating. This was in character, mind you, I was supposed to be being neurotic; but at that point in the show? Blinded by the spot light? Yeah, important thing to remember: Don't Pretend To Hyperventilate- you'll start doing it for real.

Anne Marie was confused at the beginning of her minute because she had thought she was doing a different word which played in *perfectly* to being neurotic because she kept asking for reassurance that what she was doing was indeed what she was supposed to be doing. It was great fun and Anne Marie won and I'm totally already signed up for the next course in September.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Tykes Have A Summer Holiday

At school we have a summer camp for the tykes. It's actually totally reasonably priced and so we end up with some kids from school, some starting school in the autumn, and some from the area. For this week and the next two I am the head teacher/leader/whatever for the junior camp. It's been great fun.

I kind of keep forgetting that I'm in charge so my two wonderful co-teacher/leader/whatever folks have been a fabulous help. I don't forget in the sense that things don't get done but in the sense that a decision will have to be made like "hey, it's raining and we are scheduled to go to the fountain to go wading...that's not going to work. What should we do instead, Casey?" and I pause for a fraction of a second before thinking "Oh! Right! I'm in charge!"

Camp is pretty unstructured, we've got an activity in the morning, lunch and the great kid switch, and then a trip or activity in the afternoon. It's relaxed and focused on having fun. That being said, I'm so pleased that Linda and Lydia are my assistants the first week because they've got so many excellent ideas and it's great to have such wonderful people to get my sea legs with. Here are some things I've learned so far:

1. Free play time is great, but make sure the supplies and activities available for free play vary each day, otherwise the tykes'll get bored. Even the most fun activities are less fun when they are always there.

2. Tykes enjoy some structure. For instance- the obstacle course we built inside during the rain storm was great fun for about half an hour at which point there needed to be a change- the tykes were going from happy to manic and that's not fun to be around nor to experience yourself. We switched to circle games like duck duck goose and The Farmer in the Dell and that allowed us to extend the activity another half hour. Very good to know and learn for scheduling purposes.

3. Just because the schedule you inherited had lunch at 11am, that doesn't mean it's a good time to have lunch. On Monday the kids a: weren't hungry yet and b: finished lunch so early that we had to tuck another extra activity in there before the moms came to pick the morning kids up. Fortunately we sorted that one out right quick.

4. Songs are an excellent transition activity. And though it is the middle of the summer and muggy as anything- it's always a good time for "5 little snowmen fat" which is the current favourite song amongst this week's tykes. I started singing with the tykes on Tuesday while Linda and Lydia were setting up the cookery activity (yes, "cookery" activity) and it worked so well that I've put it into the schedule.

We made gingerbread men and decorated them. The kids counted the cups of flour, tablespoons of butter, cups of sugar, etc. and then each got a turn to mix the dough with their hands (before the eggs were put in). They rolled the dough and cut the cookies out. It was very successful. We didn't have any proper measure cups/spoons/weights so we were eyeballing the dough and estimating everything. Linda was shaking the powdered ginger in and, because everything reminds me of a song, I started singing "shake shake shake, shake shake shake, shake the ginger, shake the ginger" At about the same time as the tykes started singing along I suddenly realized that the actual song was "Shake Your Booty" by KC and the Sunshine band and maybe that wasn't wholly appropriate...

Today we made paper plate masks and painted them and sprinkled them with glitter. I probably sang something during that too, but I don't remember.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rattling around in my head

It's been a bit of a tough week. A bunch of my friends are going through some rough times and since 75% of them are foreigners we're also all panicking (do different degrees) about the new, more stringent visa laws. I'm good to go for another year still but it has been dawning on me that all of this is both precarious and likely temporary. Though I would like to stay in London and have all my friends stay here too- it is not up to us. So that has been frightening and difficult to come to terms with.

There have been two jobs that I have applied for recently that would have allowed me to stay in the UK. One I didn't get an interview for and the other I spent Wednesday taking four hours worth of assessment tests for. I didn't get called back for a second interview for that one.

(Part of the issue is that I'm not even sure what fields to even look in. The two I've applied for differ in all respects.)

I've been feeling down about it and so had tea and freshly picked cherries at Peter's house this morning when I picked up a bass I'm borrowing for a gig on Sunday. We had a good chat and literal tea and sympathy can never go wrong. Particularly as I now get to play with a 19th century, fretted, guitar shaped bass with a lion's head scroll for the next week.

I came back to the flat and glumly walked around the kitchen, bumping into Ella and Geoff. Ella, being the darling she is, listened to me moan for a while and then came up with an idea that hadn't totally occurred to me.

I currently *love* my job with the tykes. I bounce down the hallways and sing and grin and regularly walk into my boss's office and announce grandly that I. LOVE. MY. JOB. So I'd rather not lose that. That being said, I've run the numbers and it would be nearly impossible for me to make the amount of money that I need to through teaching alone (especially since I don't have a teaching degree). So the new idea is to scour any and all arts jobs bulletins, arts schools, and arts organizations to see what vacancies they might have. If I can make 70% of the amount I need from one of those jobs and if they'll allow me to take either one day or two mornings off a week then I can do that and my tykes and make enough to stay.

I don't know if it will work, but the new idea at least offers a glimmer of hope where I was starting to feel like there wasn't one. Between the two of us we've already managed to find two more jobs that would fit the bill, sound interesting, and I have a hope of getting. They both close on July 19th- so there is even still time to apply.

So there you go, those are the things rattling around in my head currently. Wish me luck?

PS. Happy Birthday Mommy! Happy One Day Belated Birthday, Grammy! Happy Three Days Belated Birthday, Papa!

Monday, July 5, 2010

4th of July

The fourth of July was very well celebrated over here. On the third a bunch of us made a picnic and trekked over to Victoria park where they were having a World Music Festival. The vibe felt a bit like the concerts at Woodland Park Zoo where yes, the music is wonderful, but the real joy is in the picnics, little children dancing, people watching, and chatting with your friends. We made, once again, about 3 times as much food as was really probably necessary and had a marvellous time. Some of the non-musicians were a bit bewildered as the rest of us nattered away trying to sort out just what time signature each song was in.

At nine the park closed but we weren't done hanging out so we walked along the canals and ended up in a field right next to a pub where we sat and chatted for another couple of hours. I've recently learned to do headstands consistently and as it was a nice balmy evening and the grass was soft- I kept tipping myself upside down. Might need to stop doing that...I think I'm starting to annoy my friends...

On Sunday Meredith and I went up to Nottingham to visit Sarah and Dave and Dave's family. We had a big barbecue, met a bunch of his relatives, and re-enacted the battle of Trent with water pistols. It was very silly. Some of Dave's second cousins-in law (...) were visiting from Australia. One of them was an eight year old named Amy who had a pony named Aussie, a cat named Bull, and two adolescent mastiffs whose names I have forgotten though I am certain that I was told. She was great. Really looking forward to the wedding now, it was lovely to see Dave's family on their own turf- all relaxed and friendly and funny. So welcoming to us as well. We all took the train back to London together and it was nice to have the dinner club together again. We played a version of the surrealist game the exquisite corpse. In our version you write a phrase, the next person draws it, the third person writes a phrase that the drawing is illustrating, the next person draws that phrase, and so on until the paper is all used up. We thought to use Newspaper headlines as the phrases and ended up with some seriously bizarre results.

No fireworks, but a very well celebrated Independence Day none the less.

PS. Happy Belated Birthday, Mical!

Improv Class! Characters

Today my favourite of the teachers we've had so far taught and it was an abnormally small group, only twelve of us, so there was a lot of time to try things and really get into things- which is always a treat.

We played a game called "hot seat" where you come into the space as a character and then everyone else gets to ask you whatever questions they want. A good way of doing this for anyone, but especially as beginners, is to base your character on someone that you know. Because there was no impetus to work on setting a scene or develop a plot or anything like that, it meant that all of your energy as an improviser could go directly to fleshing out who your character was.

It was riveting.

The bar was set frighteningly high by the first few people to go- the characters were heartbreaking and breathtaking, fully fleshed out and interesting. Because we weren't sharing *our* stories but instead our *character's* stories it meant that everyone felt very free to hand out secrets, to be open, revelatory, and honest. It was incredibly intimate; it was an honour to be entrusted with these characters' stories. At the break we were actually hugging each other- it had been such an intense experience.

I chose a friend of mine and was shaking before my turn. "I don't know how she's going to answer these questions!" I thought, certain that I wouldn't be able to give as authentic (it wasn't really a performance... an experience?) as everyone else had. And then there she was. Or someone rather like her in any case. I had about 12 minutes of answering questions and she didn't even pause. Best of all, she was internally consistent and her motivations were clear with later statements making references to earlier statements and everything making sense. One of my classmates later said that he got so angry with her. Not me, her: such strong opinions about everything. She really rubbed him the wrong way.

Man, that was exciting.