This week I began teaching an after-school, enrichment drama program for elementary age children for the first time in many, many years. There are anything from 10-15 of them, from 1st grade to 5th, and not always the same 10-15.  A few have been there each day this week, and new ones still arrive.

Two immediate and lasting impressions: If you could somehow connect these kids to the electrical grid, the entire town of Mayer and surrounding areas would have power. The energy is Incredible. The other is that there is nothing more different than a 1st grade boy from a 5th grade girl. Put a camel next to an apple, these kids would be more different.

For 40 minutes Mon-Th and an hour on Friday, I am surrounded by manifestations of Personal Magic in varying degrees of good health.

In the book Personal Magic I write:

“Very simply, I summarize three main stages in the maturing of ‘Self’ in human  beings within society and culture. First the baby becomes aware that there is him/her (Self), with other objects and beings beyond its own flesh…. has no notion of being right or wrong, or needing to fit into a certain form or framework. Indeed, the very young child seems to be curious and accepting of  almost any person or object that comes into view, touch, taste or smell.

In the second stage, human beings become self-conscious; that is, he/she begins to  see him/herself in comparison to others, to judge and evaluate his/her own Self in relation to the other human beings in the immediate and then the larger community and the world.

 It is at that stage that most young people begin to lose that connection with the deeper inner world, with their Personal Magic.”

The first graders (boys and girls) are opinionated, eager, demandingly helpful, loud, constantly in motion and affectionate. The 5th graders (boys and girls) are careful, watchful, hesitant, deliberately resistant or even obstructive, tend toward leaning on walls or lying on the floor, and have a fit if any person other than their chosen best friend touches them.

I am fascinated, inspired and in awe of them all. With the book about to come out, I am glad to be reminded so starkly of the fragility of the expression of Personal Magic. What happens between 1st grade and 5th grade, that the open, confident expression of Self becomes so restricted?

The longer a person is exposed to the pressures of a social structure which depends on conformity and sets up right/wrong, good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable, the less there is capacity for comfort in Self. The challenge we face as the adults raising, teaching, working and playing with our children is how do we impart the options available to them to chose ‘appropriate’ behavior without destroying their Personal Magic?

It is not easy. I find myself doing a lot of STOP. ‘Sit down’, ‘Be quiet’, ‘Stand up’, Don’t stand on your hands and climb the wall with your legs’. I endeavor to be as conscious of all the opportunities to do YES!

I try to remember that their bodies need to move and their brains need stimulation as well as direction and clearly defined boundaries within which to stretch and dare. I pay attention to the difference between those 1st grade boys and 5th grade girls, and pace the class so there is (hopefully) a balance of time and space for ideas as well as activity.

I choose not to have the big kids  ‘take care of’ the little kids. They are not there as babysitters but to explore and risk as themselves. I learned a long time ago in my early teaching in the classroom days, that although the noisy, boisterous, obstructive ones are easily addressed, it is the quiet, watchful ones that need equal time, eye contact, verbal response and, if appropriate, touch.

Today, Day 5, I saw the results of the efforts of the week. I mean my efforts and those of the mixed bunch, bouncing around the high, wooden stage behind the blue curtain in the gym, where a PE class was also going on. We have established a warm up routine for the ‘Tools of the Actor’, as I call it: Body, Focus, Voice, Imagination. In spite of the bouncing and slouching tendencies they do it and have some confidence in that routine.

From there we branch out into slightly new activities, struggling to get the instructions to them before they break loose into apparent chaos, then stopping to check in and ask what is working, what isn’t and why? Today a particularly thin, blonde-haired, wall-climbing 2ndgrader said, ‘We need team work!’ We ALL agreed!

Today one who had been most standoffish (4th grade girl) held my hand (only, of course, to help her balance herself in a game we were playing). A small boy who usually plays his own noisy, ‘bumping into other people’ game was front and center volunteering to be the button for the ‘machines’ we were creating with our bodies and voices.

I did less ‘Stop’ and much more ‘YES!’ I let my sense of humor, play and awareness of their anxiety inform how I worked/played with them.

Personal Magic was on pretty good display today. The group is consolidating, with routine and therefore more willingness to risk. The safety in knowing what and how we do at the beginning leads to confidence to go into the unknown later.

I am earning their trust and, in turn, they are sharing their Personal Magic more openly with me. The little ones make more of those appropriate choices now and the big ones more often forget their discomfort with Self and shine.

So for all of us who have children in our lives, or adults who have somehow lost touch with their Personal Magic, share with them your joy and Personal Magic. It will lead the way to uncovering their personal paths into their powerful, confident selves. And, most magically of all, so your Personal Magic will be increased and shine more brightly, even when you feel exhausted and Thank God It’s Friday!