It is in our nature to want to feel good, to improve ourselves, to think creatively, to communicate better, to be self confident, to memorize easily, to be well coordinated and to make that sometimes elusive connection between mind and body. This is true for all of us, but it is perhaps especially relevant for young children and for sections of the community with special needs, such as those with learning disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
For most Israelis the ability to speak fluent English is recognized as a desirable goal, and yet this is difficult to achieve through the traditional, didactic education process. Although these days exposure to English through the internet and the other electronic media contributes to an understanding of the language, it does little to help young people speak it with the confidence needed for reasonable fluency. Many reach their matric examination with fair proficiency in reading and writing, but are woefully incapable of stringing a few words together in order to utter a sentence in accurate English.
Two programs that address each of the above-mentioned subjects, but which were developed quite independently, have recently come together and are combining to boost the wellbeing and personal capabilities of the next generation.
Eyal Glazner is a musician/producer/educator and former member of the Mayumana Dance Group. He developed a concept which enlists rhythm and music to train mind and body. The system is called TGoof, an abbreviation of the Hebrew for “Drumming on the Body”. Unlike Mayumana, which is pure entertainment, this is essentially a body language or training program, like exercising, which is fun and yet profoundly therapeutic. It appeals to people of all ages. By putting the participant in physical contact with his own body, it establishes a self-satisfying connection between body and mind. The trainers are accomplished and experienced in communicating with individuals and groups. The program is built out of 40 didactic drills divided into two basic and three advanced techniques, and the participants make progress according to their individual abilities. It combines mime, humor, and social interaction to improve concentration and self-expression, to establish contact with one’s own self, to overcome frustrations and to encourage dialogue with and empathy for others. The students’ advancement is accompanied by feelings of success, relaxation and pleasure.
About five years ago, two former accountants, Tal Forer and Meirav Pinto, came up with a new idea for helping young Israelis to acquire proficiency in spoken English. The underlying principle is that young persons have a unique ability to absorb a new language if sufficiently exposed to it. The older the child, the more difficult it is for the new language to compete with the dominance of the mother tongue. So Tal and Meirav created KidsCool, a concept aimed specifically at children from the 1st to 4th grades. It comprises a series of directed activities starting immediately after school at 13:30 and continuing until 16:30, not less than three and usually five days a week. The children are collected from school and transported to one of four centers at country clubs in the Greater Tel Aviv area. From the moment they are picked up, and for the next three hours, all verbal communication with them is in English. They are served a hot lunch, and are then divided into groups of 10 or less. They rotate between non-didactic, experiential sessions on diverse subjects such as world cultures or inventions and other communicative experiences, and each day they participate in one of four distinct activity groups- plastic arts, sport, juggling and….TGoof. There is no free time, there are no computer games, but just continuous and intensive stimulating experiences which provide the children with three hours each day of total immersion in English as a spoken language. The instructors all have English as a mother tongue, ensuring that the exposure is to genuine Anglo-Saxon accents. The key word is ‘immersion’, and the success of the program can be measured by a modest beginning five years ago with just 15 kids at one center, now having grown to nearly 200 participants at four centers, and by graduates having being integrated, in many cases, into high school classes for native English speakers.
The TGoof activity which was introduced into KidsCool just this year is already popular with the kids and their parents, many of whom have been exposed to it with their children, are enthusiastic. The children react and interact to the combination of rhythm and music that appeals to nearly every six to nine year-old, and the stimulating and enjoyable experience of ‘drumming on the body’ is fertile ground for the absorption of the language of instruction.
The TGoof/KidsCool experience is therefore doubly rewarding. It is helping to develop a young generation of confident English-speaking Israelis, and instilling qualities and capabilities that will take them way beyond their oral matric examination. For parents needing a creative solution for the hours between the end of the formal school day and the time the parent returns from work, this is about as creative as it gets.