Wednesday, December 3, 2008

an animated solution

[In 2007-2008, my family lived in Vincennes, France, just outside the 12th arrondissement of Paris. The kids, aged 5 and 8, went to the regular French school, and I did some poetry writing & teaching and ran a little English-language preschool program once a month in our apartment. When we returned, the kids picked up in K and 4th at Wyngate ES, and I returned to teaching, in MCPS for the first time.]

Duncan went to his first after-school basketball session yesterday and Daisy will have hers on Friday. Watching the coach at work, I remembered that I returned from France with a mission and that I must contact Michelle Rhee and Barack Obama at once about the following: In France there exists a legitimate job entitled “Animateur” or “Animatrice.” These are the people, usually young, very often male, who hold diplomas (either nonvocational or professional) in sports, leisure activities and animations and who staff the before- and aftercare centers housed at every school. 

They design and provide the ateliers (workshops) in sports, pottery, drama or cooking that are offered by every school system, who play with the kids at countless “vacation villages” while their parents pursue adult recreations, and who—because this is also standard in France—staff the Centres de Loisirs that take the place of school during the numerous and lengthy school breaks. In Vincennes there was a cadre of young people—GUYS—of many cultural backgrounds employed by the Ville de Vincennes during the summer to work the trampolines set up for free in the town square, and to work the ice rink set up in the winter. They ran the Festival du Sport in the spring and were, with very few exceptions, cool, kind, skilled and attentive to even the youngest kids. I’m researching the official process for licensing animateurs and animatrices, but in the meantime, this is my big idea. 

 We—I mean Americans—should start thinking laterally about the benefits of a national service requirement for young people, about the need for quality childcare and the need, particularly in low-income communities, for more opportunities and more positive role models for boys. I bet every one of us knows a teenager whose big talents are in the area of PLAYING, and while very few will get to do that in a major league sport (and I think I'm right in saying there IS no major league Playstation, Warcraft or Wii), what if there was a 1-year diploma to be earned in the subject of, let’s call it, Playcare? What if there were a legitimate professional path in this country for people, male and female, who enjoy kids and like to play but don’t want the demands of full-time teaching? This might be because they’re taking a year out before college, or because they’re deciding whether to go to law school, or because they are artists or performers with other work to do, or it might just be because they don’t have grandiose mainstream professional plans and because PLAYING is their true best thing. 

I don’t have all the facts and figures, of course, but I do have this gut feeling that many of the social challenges we face, both downtown and in the ‘burbs, could be at least partly addressed by making creative, active childcare a real career. I'm sure there are teachers who will tell me that first on our agenda ought to be achieving true professional status for teachers and the salaries that go along with that. But when I think of all the kids aged 16-24 who don’t necessarily excel academically, who may be hanging around waiting to be trained and employed, who could be recognized as contributing members of society and earn a living organizing after-school games for their own younger siblings, those concerns fade.

I’ll be getting back to you on how I’m doing with my mission. In the meantime, I’m grateful for Brian the babysitter, who can always be relied upon to goof off responsibly with my kids when I don’t have time, and for Monsieur Iba, the senior animateur at Duncan’s school in Vincennes, who played clowning and drumming and all kinds of fun, and for this guy, Cyrrr63, who takes his animations very seriously and is blogging about them in France.


  1. Interesting topic and cool idea, Heidi.

    There is, I think, a recreation education degree in this country. When I worked for Mongomery County Recreation Department I knew people with that degree. They're the ones who plan and staff all the recreation programs for the county. And there are tons of high school and college age people who work as camp counselors-- some of them for pay and some for the commmunity service credits they need to graduate from a Mongomery County high school. I agree that we need even more of them though.

  2. That's a brilliant idea. I was recently in a discussion about the lack of public service avenues for people in the US. Apart from the armed forces or police, fire, emergency, there does not exist enough opportunities for young people to serve.

    I'm with you on the animateurs/trices

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