Teaching 2nd Graders How to Walk the Line
My first opportunity to play with kids on a slackline came the Summer of 2013. This was no ordinary summer for me, no twiddle your thumbs, “What do I do?” summer. In fact it was very much the opposite, full of activity, smiles and tons of fun. This was a warming of the heart summer, where after volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club for 8 months, I was offered a job.
I originally began volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club because when I was a youth living in San Diego, CA. there was a branch there that provided a safe place for me to be. A beautiful building with a huge open floor plan, with a giant game room as you enter the front door, filled with kids playing pool, air hockey, ping-pong, and foosball. Lots of kids smiling and laughing, a vibrant energy in the air–walking in there the first time I knew it was a place I wanted to be. It became a place where I could escape from the thunder and rain storms of emotional downpour at home, and just be a kid! I was there, at the El Cajon Branch, where it was sunny and colorful, more than I was at home. Home, where it was cold and grey, and I had to swim through the high flood waters just to get to bed.
As an adult, I have reflected back many times on how valuable that space was, how encouraging and accepting the staff was, and how much I truly appreciated having that establishment in my life. In 2012 I began to wonder how I could give back to them, and return the kindness that they shared with me. Volunteering at my local Bend branch kept coming to mind, so I decided that was it and submitted my volunteer application.
After 8 months of fun and play, I was offered a job. The position was full time, a 3 month seasonal Summer position. I accepted the job offer and my official title was 2nd Grade Program Coordinator. It was great! Myself and a couple others got to schedule out 12 weeks of fun activities for an estimated 40-70 kids a day. Luckily, my idea to have the kids try slacklining as one of their activities was supported. That’s how it all started, a fun idea, a little support, and by the end of the Summer I had over 100 kids (2nd graders all the way up to teenage) and a few adults on the slackline. Most of which had never been on a slackline in their lives.
The kids started looking forward to Slackline Week, and because I could only set up one line at a time, they had to wait 1 by 1. I was amazed to see how patient they were and happy to see how excited they got every time it was their turn. Every now and then, the excitement would out wit the patience and in a flash there would be two or three kids trying to get on the line at the same time. That was part of the game for me, how do I ensure everyone gets a turn while keeping everyone off the line as well? Hmm…. I began making a no-cross pinecone barrier. Just one pinecone, placed about 4 feet away from the line, and all the kids had to line up behind the cone. If even one person crossed the barrier when it was not their turn, then all slackline action was ceased!! It was easy, the kids would self regulate really well, I mean…no one wants to be under the spotlight and holding up the play party. The pinecone barrier breakers would retreat to the back of the line and the slackline adventure was back on.
Most of the kids started off trying to just run across the line. Slowly but thankfully, I was able to encourage them to slow down, focus more on their breath, and feel the balance. I took each child and helped them get up on the line, then holding one hand I had them put their arms out, stretching far and wide like giant air plane wings. We would start the journey together; the mission, to walk across the line one way, turn around and walk it back. It became a very serious thing for some of the children, a few who really wanted to walk the line without holding my hand. You could see in their focused little faces, the determination to be balanced on this 1″ webbing-ALL BY THEMSELVES!
Throughout the Summer, there was many laughs and smiles shared while playing on the slackline. I learned a lot about how kids interact on the line, what they’re scared of on the line, and why they like slacklining. Each child was a little different, some really confident, some scared, others shy, and some just curious. It was important to me that everyone got a chance to try out the slackline. That everyone got to experience some success, however big or small that may be. For some, that success was defined as overcoming fear and stepping up on the line. It was a great year to overcome fear, it was warm and beautiful, with clear blue skies stretching across the horizon. It was the perfect environment for us to be outside soaking up the delicious sun rays, while balancing a couple feet above the skinny blades of green grass. The kids really impressed me! By the end of the Summer there was many of them who actualized their goal, by taking a couple of steps on the slackline, ALL BY THEMSELVES! Most, if not all the others completed our original mission of walking across the line, turning around and walking back.
After that 3 month journey, I found myself moving towards the idea of working like this all the time. That is, working with kids, and doing the things I love to do. My partner and I started a small business called Bend Parties & Entertainment, a local service that offers instruction and entertainment in a variety of circus and body movement skills. Skills such as juggling, stilt walking, hoop dancing, ariel silks, partner acrobatics, slacklining, and much more. This became a great way to continue teaching and playing with kids of all ages, sharing with them fun and expressive forms of body movement. It also became a great reminder for me to keep myself trained and disciplined in my own practices.
I went back to the Boys & Girls Club a couple of Summers after I worked in 2013. My partner Lindsi, and I thought it would be fun to offer some circus instruction to the kids. When the Boys & Girls Club approached us, we were able to make a deal that allowed as many kids as possible to get involved. We set up an 8 week circus series, twice a week, at 2 locations. What was so great, is many of the same children I had as the 2nd Grade Program Coordinator, were still at the Club. We got to connect again through playing and balancing on a slackline. Only this time we got to explore a lot more, not just on the line, but with all kinds of fun and silly circus activities. It was a delight to see many new faces, all excited to get on the line. It put a smile on my face when some of the 2nd graders I had before, now 4th graders, would say “Oh yeah, this is slacklining. I’ve slacklined before, let me show you how.” That year we got to explore Pointer, Sitting, Slacker Stance, and Double Knee Balance on the line, as well as more walking. Slacklining, along with juggling, partner acrobatics, and bubbling was a circus series success!
Working with those kids on the slackline was a great joy. It helped remind me how to be creative and fun, how to be silly and laugh. It created a great teaching experience, showing me how important it is to express direction clearly, and that simple is sometimes best. Finally, it enforced that doing what you love is important. Having passion in what you do, can impact individuals and offer positive change. The journey truly is the reward, and the smiles and laughs along the way are priceless.
Thanks for reading, many blessings and peace in your slacklining adventures.