Aquariums, Play Therapy, and Farms, Oh My! : Casa Week 3

Today marks the halfway point of my Live It! summer program at Casa and we have had an exciting week. The garden is growing bigger and the kids scrapbooks are filling up with photos from the past two weeks and resilience-based activity pages.

example resilience-based activity pages

example resilience-based activity pages


The two excursions this week have especially been a hit. On Tuesday, a group of three moms, seven kids, and myself trekked over to the aquarium at the Mall of America. Some of the sea creatures were just out of this world and both the moms and the kids were impressed by the different exhibits. On Friday, at the request of the group, we went to a small water park next to the Como Zoo. We all swam and splashed around for three hours straight!

Another great aspect of the week was the visit of Diana, a play therapist that works at Centro Chicano Cultural in Minneapolis. Diana led a session of activities with the kids and their mothers that focused on managing and understanding emotions. She began with a discussion about feelings, using pictures to talk about where feelings come from and which ones we like to have and those we don’t. Next, Diana included the group in an exercise to practice deep breathing using bubbles. The kids were challenged to blow a single bubble with one breath in order to master taking slow breaths, a useful strategy to calm down when they are feeling upset or angry. Finally, using guided imagery, Diana presented another strategy that the kids can use to manage their emotions—visualizing oneself as a cloud that takes the form of various shapes. She finished this section off by handing around a whipped cream bottle for the kids to create their own cloud. At the end, the kids created a group cloud by mixing all of the whipped cream together.  The mothers and I were all very grateful for Diana’s visit—her type of work and play therapy in general is so helpful for kids in situations of trauma and family instability.


On the remaining days, the kids and I had lots of fun doing activities on-site. In addition to a lot of swinging and red light-green light, the kids participated in a week of farm-themed projects. We made sheep out of constructions paper and cotton balls and very funky pig masks, created individual farm dioramas, and still have yet to finish interviewing their mothers about the farms back home in Mexico and Cameroon, respectively. I would have to say that the group’s favorite activity was the egg drop challenge in which they were given a bag of materials (cotton balls, egg cartons, paper scraps, string, etc.) to invent a contraption to protect an egg that would be dropped from the second story deck. The kids got very creative and we gave it two shots. Unfortunately, the egg broke both times. We have not given up though and definitely will try again soon!

IMG_5814 IMG_5985

I have so enjoyed the past two weeks and am excited to finish off the program. In addition to adjusting to many changes in the activity schedule and working with a larger group of kids than anticipated, I am hoping to further modify the plans based what I have seen to work/not work thus far. Most importantly, it quickly became very clear that this group of kids is very high energy and very physical, so although they enjoy art projects and working on the scrapbooks, they move through them quickly and prefer to be up and moving about. Therefore, I hope to improve the balance between active and quiet activities as well as to provide options of both while we are on site at the Refugio. Similarly, I have noticed some areas in which the scrapbook element of the program can be improved—providing the resilience activity pages in both Spanish and English because some of the native Spanish speakers only write in English, working on the activity pages one-on-one with each child, and reflecting on the activities and excursions via discussion or physical activities rather than through writing. Finally, I have adjusted the onsite activities to just cater to the kids, because although the mothers enjoy participating, they are most grateful to have some time to themselves. I am so grateful for the amount of enthusiasm the mothers have for the excursions/activities and the trust they have in Casa and myself to work with their children.



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