We knew we wanted to create an extra special “camp” to bring joy and healing into the lives of high school students in Queens, NY, before the start of the school year. While it can always be hard for girls in 8th grade through 12th grade, this year all of the “normal” teenage hardships are compounded by the pandemic, climate crisis, racial tensions, loss of reproductive rights, and school shootings, not to mention a mental health crisis. So we invited girls from The Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria to a four-day Care Collaborative — to immerse themselves in self-care and self-expression. And to help facilitate this, we created a space where these girls could feel cared for.
Here are five things we did to make their physical space a place of joy:
Music for different moods: Before girls even walk into the room, one of the easiest ways to set the mood is with music. They can hear the music when they walk down the hall, and they’ll know what type of space they’re walking into. Music is one easy way to create a healing-centered environment. Here’s one of our favorite “grounding” playlists — it’s mellow and upbeat and sets an intention of care and support. For moving around and getting some of the physical energy out, the girls in the camp helped put together this “empowerment” playlist for dancing. The higher energy and positive vibes gets everyone moving and feeling empowered.
Individual and collective spaces: A desk by itself is a desk. But arranged thoughtfully in small groups, they can encourage better conversations and collaboration. We like to make “minus one” circles so that no one’s back is to the front of the room, and it gives the teacher a spot to stand when addressing the group. Circles remove hierarchy and status, and create mini communities.
Everything within reach: We assembled the creative supplies within arm’s reach. Creating a healing-centered classroom involves giving students opportunities for voice and choice, including supplies. One of the most satisfying discoveries from our time with the girls was seeing how much the girls enjoyed painting and hearing how they would incorporate it into their own practices of self-care moving forward. One girl said, “I know I can use art to make me feel relaxed and calm.”
Fidgety moments: Many students (and adults, too) do their best listening when they have something to keep their hands busy. It’s not a distraction — it’s an outlet for that extra energy. Playdough or pipe cleaners are easy tools to have on hand. Consider adding stuffed friends to your space. We promise your students aren’t “too old” or “too cool.” P.S. Everyone loves bubbles AND they help us take deep, slow breaths. There is a myth that only boys need physical outlets, but as we know, all students benefit from movement, from fidget spinners to athletics.
True nourishment for minds and bodies: Real, good food sends our young people a message that they are worthy of the best fuel. Girls often learn that their bodies are for the pleasure and judgment of others, but slowing down to invest in healthy eating is about taking good care of our bodies for our own health and pleasure. As one of the campers told us, “This is the first camp where we actually got fed real food.” The top hits of snacks included:
- Make your own trail mix bar
- Guacamole cups with a variety of dippers (chips, pretzels, veggies)
- Dried fruit mix
While creating a physical environment that is caring is just the first step in celebrating the leadership and power of our girls, it is a foundational step that sends an important signal to our girls that their needs, big and small, matter to us.
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