Chicago Children’s Theatre recognizes that as the impact of Covid-19 continues, the international crisis is levying a great deal of trauma and its residual effects on everyone, including very young children.
In fact, the current pandemic has made the company’s recent partnership with the Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago all the more timely, relevant and urgent.
Titled “Trauma Informed Arts Education for a Trauma Informed Illinois,” the collaboration couples the power of theater with mental health support to provide services that improve the quality of life for youngsters who carry the weight of poverty and violence in their homes or neighborhoods.
Whether trauma is born from racism, poverty, or is further spurred by the current pandemic, Chicago Children’s Theatre and The Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience have forged ahead in recent months developing new classroom curriculum to help support children who are experiencing trauma in their everyday lives.
“Trauma Informed Arts Education is gaining traction in schools of late, for good reason, but it’s happening predominately in middle and high schools,” said Jacqueline Russell, Artistic Director, Chicago Children’s Theatre. “What we’re saying is that if you’re not already addressing trauma and its toll on mental health among very young children, including pre-K, you’re starting too late.”
While COVID-19 restrictions have put in-person workshops on hold, Chicago Children’s Theatre has pivoted this initiative online to conform to the new reality.
On three consecutive Wednesdays in December, Chicago Children’s Theatre and The Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience are encouraging artists who work or specialize in TYA (theater for young audiences), early childhood educators and youth mental health experts to join in a series of live, virtual webinars to discuss, share and learn how to identify children impacted by trauma, and how to use theater and other art forms to address their emotional and learning needs while fostering resilience.
All three webinars are free and open to participants from Chicago and throughout the U.S. The sessions are intended to be sequential, but participating in even one will help participants better support young children experiencing trauma.
Sign up at https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_aTrg8viUQn2r9hqO__pkgg to attend.
Addressing Trauma and Fostering Resilience in the Classroom
Wednesday, December 2, 3:30–4:30 p.m. CST
JC Aevaliotis, Program Director, Polk Brothers Foundation
Colleen Cicchetti, Executive Director of the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children's Hospital and Associate Professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine
Karen Gouze, Director, Training in Psychology, The Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Lurie Children’s Hospital, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Carmen Holley, Social Worker, Center for Childhood Resilience, Lurie Children’s Hospital
Multidisciplinary Arts Education Approaches to Trauma
Wednesday, December 9, 3:30–4:30 p.m.
Carmen Holley, Social Worker, Center for Childhood Resilience, Lurie Children’s Hospital
Reginal Harris, Founder and Principal, Incontext Advising
Veronica Stein, Program Director, Snow City Arts
Trauma Informed Arts Curriculum for Early Childhood Education
Wednesday, December 16, 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Julia deBettencourt, Director of Arts Education, Chicago Public Schools
Terry Guest, actor, playwright and Chicago Children’s Theatre teaching artist
Micah Figueroa, actor, and Chicago Children’s Theatre teaching artist
Lizzie May, school teacher, and Chicago Children’s Theatre teaching artist
Jacqueline Russell, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children’s Theatre
Trauma Informed Arts Education: A sample activity
This illustration from Matt de la Penã’s book “Love” is the inspiration for a classroom game developed by Chicago Children’s Theatre and The Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience.
When developing Trauma Informed Arts Education tools and curriculum, The Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience focuses on four objectives: 1) creating a safe environment, 2) building relationships and connectedness, 3) supporting and teaching emotion regulation and 4) self care for teaching providers.
To address those goals, Chicago Children’s Theatre is using children’s author Matt de La Peña’s new book “Love” as source material for exercises they are creating with Lurie. One exercise, called “Fishing for Memories,” is based on an illustration of a grandfather and grandson fishing. The class is shown the illustration, then kids are asked to “draw or paint a memory of a time or place when you were happy.”
The drawings are rolled into scrolls and put in small plastic bottles and closed with a cap with a magnet glued to it. All of the bottles are placed in a giant cooler. The teaching artist sits on a “rock,” just like the grandfather, fishes out a memory, and shows it to the class. The child whose memory is fished out is invited to the front of the class and asked to share their memory in one minute.
After acknowledging their happy memory, more kids can be invited to share theirs as well. Teachers can devote an entire class session to this game, or intersperse it through several days and weeks until all the memories are fished out, and the students are sent home with their bottles as keepsakes.
How the program started
Nelson Simmons (right) played Kenny and Deanna Reed-Foster was Grandma Sands in Chicago Children's Theatre's 2019 production of The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963. Credit: Charles Osgood.
Chicago Children’s Theatre launched its partnership with The Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience before it premiered The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 in January 2019 with the support of a grant from Illinois Humanities. The play is based on the Newbery-winning book by Christopher Paul Curtis about the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young black girls. The lead character is a young boy from Flint, who, while on a family road trip to visit his grandmother in Alabama, exhibits clear signs of trauma after experiencing intense racism and surviving the bombing.
“Before the production began, we anticipated that there would be children in our audiences who might relate with Kenny’s plight more than one might wish,” said Russell. “We wanted to make sure kids, particularly school groups who attend our shows on scholarship, had tools to deal with the impact of racism and their own potentially trauma-inducing home life. That’s why we teamed up with Lurie to launch our new program, ‘Trauma Informed Arts Education for a Trauma Informed Illinois.'”
According to Mark Hallett, Program Manager, Illinois Humanities, “There is a lot of interest in this work not only in Chicago, but statewide, and Illinois Humanities is proud to support Chicago Children’s Theatre and the Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s in their efforts to bring people together to advance the conversation on the trauma-informed approach. It can be a real game-changer.”
About the Lurie Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children’s Hospital
Center for Childhood Resilience (CCR) at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago develops, evaluates and disseminates mental health best practices to promote systems change and to increase access and reduce mental health disparities where kids live, learn and play. Founded in 2004, CCR is an experienced leader in working with education, community-based and other youth serving agencies and organizations to deliver innovative, sustainable and culturally attuned evidence-based strategies, promote mental health and wellness, and foster resilience in the face of adversity. Studies indicate that up to 50% of children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old have experienced one or more types of serious childhood trauma. CCR knows culturally responsive, healing centered care in early childhood classrooms and settings provides a unique opportunity to maximize the likelihood that children will have the best possible psychosocial and academic outcomes. To learn more about Center for Childhood Resilience, visit childhoodresilience.org.
About Chicago Children's Theatre
Chicago Children’s Theatre was founded in 2005 with a big idea: Chicago is the greatest theater city in the world, and it deserves a great children’s theater. Fifteen years later, Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theater company devoted exclusively to children and young families, with a national reputation for the production of first-rate children’s theater with professional writing, performing, and directorial talent and high-quality design and production expertise.
In January 2017, the company celebrated the opening of its new, permanent home, Chicago Children’s Theatre, The Station, located at 100 S. Racine Avenue in Chicago’s West Loop community. The building, formerly the Chicago Police Station for the 12th District, was repurposed into a beautiful, LEED Gold-certified, mixed-use performing arts, education and community engagement facility that now welcomes all Chicago families.
Inclusion and access are core values at Chicago Children’s Theatre, where every child can have access to the company’s programming regardless of financial position. Thanks in part to the Susan M. Venturi Fund in memory of James and Roslyn Marks, CCT provides scholarships for children and families with demonstrated need. As a result, one in five youth at CCT receive financial assistance annually. Additionally, tens of thousands of free and reduced price tickets are distributed to under-resourced schools each season in partnership with Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago Children’s Theatre won the 2019 National TYA Artistic Innovation Award from Theatre for Young Audiences/USA for its pioneering work creating and presenting live theater experiences that tear down barriers for persons with disabilities. In addition, Chicago Children’s Theatre has garnered six NEA Art Works grants, and in 2017, became the first theater for young audiences in the U.S. to win a National Theatre Award from the American Theatre Wing, creators of the Tony Awards.
Chicago Children’s Theatre is led by Co-Founders, Artistic Director Jacqueline Russell and Board Chair Todd Leland, with Board President Armando Chacon. For more, visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org.