Educators have known for years that helping children develop core social and emotional strengths, like self-regulation, self-awareness and social awareness, is necessary for students to succeed in school and other areas of life. That’s why two years into the pandemic, which educators have said has resulted in a significant loss of progress in academic and social-emotional learning, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument held a family-day event in March called Mission: Resilience.
More than 1,300 children and families participated in the event, which sought to strengthen children’s mastery of six tenets of resiliency—optimism, self-regulation, self-awareness, self-management, connection, and strength of character—through a host of fun activities. In support of Mission: Resilience, Western National Park Association funded staff training on social-emotional learning.
“Over the past two years, we’ve all had a hard go of it,” said Sara Sutton, education coordinator at Casa Grande Ruins NM who developed the program. “We wanted children to know they can learn ways to handle whatever life throws at them.”
At a character development activity station, children made clay pinch pots to encourage reflection on their own personal strengths. To demonstrate self-awareness, they took selfies with the Great House, a four-story adobe structure, as a backdrop and then shared a personal attribute that is a source of pride. In a lesson on optimism, children were reminded that they have the choice to adjust to disappointment and difficult circumstances after learning how plants, animals and the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People had to adapt to survive.
In an activity on self-regulation, Precious Vincente, a member of the Gila River Indian Community (Akimel O’odham) and a conservation legacy cultural education intern, taught children and families about games that were played by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People and their descendants, the O’odham. The Ko’omai (women’s game) and Gins (men’s game), played after a hard day’s work, gave the desert people a chance to connect with family and friends.
The games were played with pieces made of arrow weed and cactus rib. Each piece had an assortment of markings representing different values, or points. The first person to score the target amount of points was the winner, and prizes were awarded.
“Games aren’t just all about fun but are a tool to help self-regulate,” said Precious. “We all have different ways of coping with stress, whether it be art, music, or even just taking a walk.”
Casa Grande Ruins NM protects the multistory Great House and the ruins of other ancient structures built by the Ancestral Sonoran Desert People over 800 years ago. There are six traditionally associated tribes that trace their ancestry to Casa Grande Ruins NM: Ak-Chin Community; Gila River Indian Community (Akimel O’odham); Hopi; Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community; Tohono O’odham Nation; and Pueblo of Zuni.
“Resilience is a challenging idea to translate into something easy to understand for young children,” said Sutton, “but we used examples of daily setbacks they could understand, like forgetting a school lunch or missing the school bus, and then we suggested ways they could manage their frustration or disappointment.”
She added, “By drawing on the resiliency of our site’s resources, we hope kids will tap into the resiliency within themselves and ultimately see Casa Grande Ruins and other national park sites as places of healing.”
Families gathered at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument this past March to help children develop core social and emotional strengths, like self-regulation, self-awareness and social awareness. The result, was a fun-filled day of learning!