Setting it Up
But Javier turned to interpret. "He wants you to come 3 days and work with all 5 of the younger classes." I tried not to gulp too obviously, but Javier caught my drift and laughed. "It will be a challenge. You can do it."
I witnessed a hint of a smile as he shook his head to my answer. Then he disappeared and left me with my "support team" Javier & Don. At least the teachers were expecting me. I just needed Javier to explain to each teacher that I needed some space on the floor for my quilt. I felt sure I could take it from there.
Yea, there was a teacher, but she didn't look too thrilled to have us interrupt. I introduced myself and then Javier explained I needed floor space. In moments the room was a frantic mess, with 22 heavy metal desks screeching across the floor. I gestured to the kids to sit in their chairs, then rewarded the quiet ones by escorting them one by one to a spot on the quilt's blue border. "La Manta especial!" I finally exclaimed as all were seated. Special blanket would have to do, since I had no word for quilt. Then I pointed to a heart and asked "Como se dice?"
The kids chanted back "corazon!" I told them the word in English and began patting my knees and singing in English, ''Do you see a heart on the quilt-oh, quilt-oh..." It was a rowdy little bunch of 22 and I knew better than to waste time explaining... even if I could have. The kids taught me a lot of words with the Quilt Song.
2 Helpful Words
After the first class Javier thought I'd be fine on my own, but I insisted he was wrong. I was okay once on the quilt, but the transitions with each class were a bit insane. We found the next classroom door locked, so I once again changed up the visiting order. The teachers, all in traditional dress seemed confused by my visit. I couldn't explain why I wanted to throw a quilt on their floor or what I was doing when I held the quilted bag up to my ear and made snoring sounds. Only later when I peeked at Don's photos did I notice a teacher taking pictures... or smiling when I asked the kids to sing, "Wake Up!" to my sleeping amigo in the bag.
I usually reserve my puppet for preschoolers, but I needed him desperately. After all the kids had a turn to sing into the bag, Senor Pickle woke up and he appeared to be a bit terrified of the kids, who all seemed anxious to grab him. The puppet whispered in my ear, then broke the news to the kids. "No hablo espanol." I shrugged and shook my head. Senor Pickle would not be able to help me.
The kids who had seemed embarrassed to talk to me, were much more eager to tell Senor Pickles their name. It gave me a chance to come face to face with each child. I'm no fancy ventriloquist, but it still amazes me that there were only a few who addressed ME with answers. It was pretty much between the kids and the puppet.
A Colorful Group
Clothing Affects Behavior?
It seemed like this group was so much more attentive.
Maybe the clothing had a calming effect? It turns out the class was dressed up for some kind of performance, so maybe they were nervously quiet about their upcoming show.
A Visiting Dad?
While the teacher sat back in her chair, not interfering, this Dad got on the floor and joined in. It made me wonder about parent participation in schools.
Parents and Snack Time!
Learning From Mistakes
As the morning progressed I had begun to learn what worked and what I should avoid. Do Not let kids help fold up the quilt. That's fun with kids you can guide verbally, but it's too easy to get a mountain of kids in the middle. And it's hard to achieve order once I've lost control! I also learned that the kids love it when I make a mistake. So Senor Pickles and I made quite a few.
Magda had already been acquainted with Senor Pickle from the house, so I was surprised when she responded with genuine enthusiasm. She is not a bit shy, so she could have demanded to be first or she could have yawned with the repetition. But Magda at age 4 was the perfect role model!
Throw and Catch
Before 8:30, the common area of the school was echoing with kids flying in every direction. I was suddenly bombarded with hugs and giggles from kids who remembered me.
Minutes later, it wasn't much quieter when I gathered with my first class on the platform stage in the corner of that room. We had no choice since the group I met with couldn't use their flooded classroom because of a storm the night before. Noise from all classrooms spilled out of open doors into the common area. Even children spilled out of classrooms now and then. A group raced through in gym uniforms and another small group gathered by the wall to do embroidery. I don't think I taught the kids on the stage much, with all the distraction.
Beanie Babies Help Out
It was time to say "Adios, Puppy Dog!" I hid the dog and clapped my hand over my mouth to show them we weren't allowed to sing (only hum) the word puppy dog, anymore. It got silly as we omitted different animals and suddenly we were only humming and gesturing the whole song. Miraculously, all 5 groups caught on!
Mardi Gras Beads
Scarves and Music
Just as I pulled out the I-Pod with New Orleans Dixieland Jazz, the teacher apologized and had to take the boys to gym class. I was left with a group of eager girls, ready to dance with scarves. Not a problem!
End of Day 2
creative energy works overtime to communicate with the face and body and gestures. The kids had responded with such enthusiasm, I felt rewarded, but I couldn't read the teachers and none spoke English.
As I was writing down the words of the song, another teacher came in and wanted the words to the Quilt Song. Then another teacher asked me to sing it so she could film it on her cell phone. And as I was leaving the school, two more teachers approached and each took a turn shaking my hand. All I could understand was the word gracias, but there was such warmth in the tone and sincerity in the eyes. I did the same thing back. I thanked them in English, (patting my heart) for sharing their classrooms with me. I hoped they could understand from my eyes what my words said, "Thanks for trusting me with your children... so grateful for the experience..."
What Did I Learn? Too much. My brain is still baffled 10 days later. But mostly I learned that there is a way to share and enjoy one another without verbal skills. I'd like to think I could do the same thing with kids in France or Japan or Brazil. But could I do it without the Quilt? I'm not sure!
Cinco de Mayo!
My Spanish was better for Fiesta Day, this year. I had just returned from 2 weeks in Guatemala the night before Quilt Groups. Now I know about 12 words in Spanish.
Then it was time for music and that's the favorite with my group at the Center. Margie arrived with a flower in her hair and others "spiced up" with a festive hat or garment to get into the swing of things. The Mexican Hat Dance was the favorite!
Waking up with Maracas
I skipped Lotteria with my next group and went directly to music. The maracas were a huge hit with my after lunch, often sleepy group! Once we "shook" ourselves awake, my suddenly lively group was full of stories. It was good to hear positive memories from these folks who traveled to Mexico as tourists in the 1940's through the 1960's. One remembered a daring adventure of driving through Mexico. Others remembered the fun of crossing the border from El Paso in Texas or into Tijuana from California. All seemed to recall the thrill of being somewhere exotic and different and full of colorful shopping.
What Might You Buy in Mexico?
We got off on a pinata tangent with my third group, listing all the things that could go wrong when blindfolded kids are invited to swing wooden sticks at colorful candy-filled decorations. Besides the obvious problems of injury, we cringed over images of kids fighting over the loot or not having enough prizes to go around or concerns about the sensitive child, upset at seeing the beautiful pinata destroyed.
In my final group we couldn't stop laughing at Ken, who loved the pretty Mexican doll in her fancy dress. Dot teased him and he took it well. While we were finishing up with some maracas, we noticed a toddler in the hallway. We invited her in with her aunt and decided that she was much more exciting than any of the props on our table. She held onto our tinniest maraca as her aunt brought her around to greet each of us. That was a tangent we didn't expect. What a delight to see each face light up when they had their own turn to visit!
What Did I Learn?
It's not about the junk, although it's always fun to share. Our little visitor brought more joy to the Quilt table than any instrument, book or photo! I used to say music was my number one tool, to lift the spirits and spark the memories. I changed my mind. Maybe I need to just borrow a child for each gathering!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.