Two weeks ago, we started the first classes of The Learning Center, a program designed to provide developmental and social support for children 5 years old and under who live in the local children’s shelter. The conditions at the shelter are abysmal, and the children receive virtually no individualized attention. Because of this, many are drastically behind in their speech development, some have trouble walking, and all need support in early learning and social skills. Our goal is to work directly with the young children living in the shelter to prepare them for an eventual transition into a new children’s home that can adequately provide for their needs. We also believe that by working with the children in a supportive, small group environment, we can prevent the risks of attachment disorder. And maybe have a little fun while we’re at it!
Here are reflections from one of our teachers and the brains behind The Learning Center, Charrissa Taylor:
Last week, Lauren and I started classes with the pre-school children at the local shelter. We were disappointed at not being able to teach in our own classroom but have decided to make the best of the situation. At least having regular gringo visitors to the shelter at regular times increases the chances of the children being clean and cared for before we arrive which is a bonus for us and the kids. This certainly held true for the first two days when we had a clean space to work in and happy children to teach and play with.
And so, lessons begun. With the toddlers practising sounds and learning to share. Positive communication is the aim for all of the children but especially for these little ones who are growing up in an environment where fighting for things and attention is the best way to get what they want. We know we cannot change this environment but we want them to learn another way to behave so that when they are in another environment, whether it be school or, fingers crossed, a different home they will at least have begun preparation for this. The pre-kinder class are practising these important social skills while learning their colours and numbers.
Unfortunately, by Thursday, the shelter had descended into chaos once more. It was hard to begin the classes and there were frequent interruptions but even so we had some very productive time with the children. Already, there has been some encouraging progress with some of the children. Juan is walking around the balcony not needing his customary bum shuffle for a whole hour, Josue is sharing, Jesus waits his turn (kind of), Chole is copying sounds and then there’s Elsie. Elsie is a four year old, believed by the director to have schizophrenia although all signs point to an autistic spectrum disorder. Her first class she refused to attend, throwing the kind of anxious tantrum only an ASD kid can. Thursday she was curiously but warily peering in through the door. By Friday, she was in class playing with toys, pretending to fall asleep in my lap and giggling when tickled. Elsie needs consistency and positive experience to combat the anxiety that her disorder (along with a disordered environment) creates in her and it is an enormous privilege to catch an early glimpse of the sweet, affectionate child she can be.