I am currently implementing the MISP (Massage in School Program) as a volunteer for Kids Company, the charity founded and run by the fabulous Camila Batmanghelidjh. The MISP is very simple and aims at teaching children boundaries, respect for others and the ability to let go of tension and therefore be able to learn in a more effective way.
When I first got involved with the program, I never thought it would have such a profound influence on my thinking and awareness, and my views on what the current school system does to support children's development and learning. I was one of those who, as a child, found school supported my way of learning: I thrive in social settings regardless and I probably am, as a learner, someone who enjoys verbal ability oriented learning. Through the program I have become aware of the fact that only a minority of children thrive under such conditions and that many are kinaesthetic learners- they learn through doing things and movement. The MISP also brings to the fore the issue of positive touch and how touch is addressed in schools; see for example the 'no touch policy' adopted by a number of institutions, here and abroad.
Although altogether banning touch seems a bit extreme, you can totally see where this comes from: especially if you are a parent. If bullying and physical violence are endemic in a school and embedded in the 'culture' of that school, then perhaps a no-touch policy may be the way to eradicate that problem. It can also be effective in preventing any inappropriate touch taking place between staff and children: imagine how devastating it must be, if you discover that your child suffered abuse at the hand of someone who was supposed to be taking care of your child. The reality is that there have been a number of cases where this has happened and it's paramount to take the necessary steps to prevent such abuse from happening. Therefore, banning touch is a measure aimed at preventing abuse, basically a measure put in place to protect children. It's not enough to say that things should be 'normal' and spontaneous like in the old days: it's a very good thing to recognise that clear boundaries need to be established.
The problem is though that touch is also nurturing and has a very positive effect on the mental, emotional, psychological levels: in fact it's a necessity for the correct emotional/mental development of the child. Banning all forms of touch is the equivalent of killing the good bacteria with the bad. We can't, and we shouldn't, eliminate nurturing touch from schools: that's where the Massage in Schools Programme comes in.
The ethos of the program is to reduce children's stress levels, aggression and bullying in schools: it consists of simple peer massage, received with the child's permission, on the back arms and hands. It's a program specifically aimed at 4-12 years old: positive touch lowers stress levels and improves concentration, which in turn facilitates learning and a peaceful atmosphere in the classroom.
When I attended the instructor training, I was struck by the simplicity of the program: the two women behind the MISP are both educators with years of classroom experience, and know what the issues in the current school system are. The MISP is a simple but effective way to make learning easier and more inclusive. It will be interesting to see how the children respond to the MISP in our primary school: we are starting with two Year 2 classes and if things go well I hope we'll be able to extend the program to other year groups: I'll keep you posted on this one!
For more information on the MISP:
On Kids Company: