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The Jamaica office of UNICEF held its version of ‘Activate’ talks, last night, at the UWI Law Faculty. As the UNICEF website states, these talks ‘bring together innovators, experts and thought-leaders to showcase the latest innovations that can deliver progress on the major issues confronting the most vulnerable and marginalized children in each country’. The Jamaican offering was “Far from Chalk and Talk: Learning from Innovative Approaches in Education.” My fellow blogger, Emma Lewis, has written a very good piece on this already and I will not even attempt to do better, so read her post in the Gleaner’s Social Impact blog.

I ended up at the talk in interesting circumstances, as a special guest, having responding to a promotional challenge for ideas of innovate ways to educate. I offered them my ‘magical’ approach to teaching some very young children the rudiments of football.

Children learn readily through play. Games are often an easy way to try to give new information. A child’s imagination is usually fertile ground. Even when children cannot count, read or write, their ability to relate physically goes far.

For example, I was coaching 2-3 year olds soccer. They cannot understand the mechanics of kicking or throwing. Some can barely run without stumbling. They do not have good control over their legs and arms, or heads. But, they know stories.

So, to get them doing exercises, we ‘played in the woods’. We walked like bears: our arms bent high at our shoulders. We writhed like snakes, arms together, in front, making weaving motions. We froze: keeping our balance and being attentive to any noises in the woods. We picked up sticks, bending down to reach for imaginary pieces in front of each foot. Then we threw them to the sky, raising our arms high above our heads.

After 10 minutes, we are all loose, sweating, and laughing. We could now start to do some faster running, to the fairy house behind the bush.

I believe in fairies, so do children. Do you?

They believe in fairies!

After I coached this group of kids yesterday, several of them offered their principal a piece of ‘cake’ that we had baked with ‘raisins’ and ‘strawberries’, in an ‘oven’ under a noni tree. She graciously took ‘slices’ with her as she headed off to teach at another school. Some of the children could not contain themselves when their parents arrived for pick-up, and had to show off their best ‘lion’ roars, which I’d just asked them to do as it’s a good way to get them to take deep breaths. 🙂

Yours, truly, with Allison Hickling, Communications Specialist, UNICEF

Yours, truly, with Allison Hickling, Communications Specialist, UNICEF

As is very common in Jamaica, and many small countries, the audience was full of people already known, or with whom one is already connected.

Allison Hickling turns out to be a family friend whom I had never met before. Some UNICEF and UN staff I knew from my time as a resident representative in Guinea, and they had since been transferred to Jamaica.

I have had nice connections with Jason Henzell, Chair of the BREDS Treasure Beach Foundation, and work with one of his former football coaches, now that I am coaching at schools in Kingston. Interestingly, the video that Jason showed last night had ‘games’ that I have used a lot in the past, including ‘trust’ games (such as encouraging people to fall with their eyes closed, assured that they will be caught) for team-building. As you can see, above, I also like to let kids’ imagination do the work. Adults are often uptight about ‘feeling goofy’.

Deika Morrison and I had never met before, but we spend a lot of time having interchanges on Twitter, and I love what she’s doing with Crayons Count, the benefits of which I have also seen first hand at the school my daughter attends.

Dr. Renee Rattray and Marvin Hall are both people I want to meet again, not least because they have amazing energy and ideas for working with ‘less-advantaged’ children, which is an area to which I am drifting with some other activities.

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