This is one of my favorite themes, especially with mixed groups of young and old.
My seniors had the real train memories, but the kids were all fascinated by the very idea of trains!
Books and Magazines
Images of train travel with sleeper cars and dining cars, brought back many memories. There were so many voices talking at once in my first group, we had to pass around a small train to show whose turn it was to speak!
"I remember when I was 5 and I had to get dressed up in a ruffly dress to travel with my grandmother on the train. I hated that dress and I couldn't stop crying!" Another shared, "I remember when I traveled alone on a train with my 5 kids. The best part was that they had a car where parents could take their kids to play. It was large and open and the kids even played ball! We had a great time." I couldn't even imagine there was such a thing!
Some books brought back memories of old movies. The book photo of "Some Like It Hot" gave a lot of us a good laugh. Who wouldn't love to be on train, "slumber partying" with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe? We came up with quite a list of movies involving trains... "North by Northwest", "Strangers on a Train", "Shanghai Express" , "Orient Express"...
Kids and Trains
When I was a kid, there were more toy electric trains and everyone knew the story of "The Little Engine That Could". I had quite a few kids visiting my senior groups and I was surprised at how much train knowledge they had. The "Thomas the Train" craze, with all their books and videos must have educated and entertained this generation more than I realized!
Waiting for Trains to Pass
One senior recalled walking to school with her young uncle when she was a child. They came upon a train stopped on the tracks. Her uncle insisted they crawl under so they wouldn't be late. When she began to cry, her uncle told her she could either go with him or walk back home herself. She remembers the panic she felt as she followed him under the train.
The old Currier and Ives prints reminded us of how train travel used to be. Inez reminded us of the coal carried on the trains. And many of us knew how dirty people used to get in those early days of train travel... with all the steam and soot. The image above of the people watching the train go by reminded Betty of being young and waving to the service men when traveled by on trains.
Music can be a powerful reminder of the past. My old recordings of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", made the weariest in my group sway.
Songs like "I've Been Working on the Railroad" had my youngest singing along. But the nicest surprise was in a group I don't have pictured. At the nursing home I had a son visiting his elderly mother. He and his cousin sat away from the group, just watching. But then the cousin asked if I knew the song, "People Get Ready". I said I wasn't sure, could he sing it? And he did an amazing version of the old Curtis Mayfield song. You could imagine a church choir backing him up. We were reminded of how often the train is a symbol in songs of the journey to heaven.
I shared a recording of the clanging sounds at railroad crossings. My toy wooden train whistle actually had a pretty authentic sound. But it was the recording of a distant train whistle that got the best reactions. We all agreed, the sound of a train at night was the most special, when the rest of the world is quieter. "What do you think when you hear a train at night?" I asked one group. Dorothy answered with a sigh and grin, "Ohh! It makes me think of going places!" To her, the sound conjured up good travel memories. I asked, "Anyone else?" Dot, who shares so many funny stories, became quiet. "It's a lonely sound." She said. We all agreed.
Last Stop for the Train
But the best part was when I announced, "Everyone grab a chair! Let's play train!" (The kids didn't even act like I was a crazy old lady!) Our train wound around the mountains of Utah... which was their choice of places. And every time I blew the train whistle, the train screeched to a halt and we took turns sharing all the amazing things we spotted out our train windows.
The little girl just beamed when she told me the name of a shelter where I could share the quilt with other kids. Her lit up face made me smile, but the thought of her knowing yet another shelter made me ache.
What Did I Learn?
Soft in the Grass
I'm used to the quilt being spread on a large table or on a gritty classroom floor or even a bit of carpet. It felt odd to have just the 3 of us, casually sitting on this lumpy soft quilt... on the grass!
The kids "woke" Pickles the Puppet up out of his sleeping bag, just like my preschool groups do. It was fun to let Silas take over the puppet work for me.
I'm not sure what Pickles was telling Silas, but he and Colden thought it was pretty funny.
I thought it was pretty scary when Pickles nibbled my shoulder.
And Then We Read
We played a bit and then the boys, who both love books, sat and listened to two Quilt Story books. These two amaze me with their love of stories. We would have been done faster, but Silas asks a lot of questions. And then when we finished, the sun had gotten too warm.
I wasn't going to blog about our Farm Theme last week. I've done this theme before. But the little stories and the things I learned keep nagging at my brain. It's as if I worry that I'll forget these sweet stories... so I'll share.
Quite a few talked about having to feed the chickens or gather the eggs. In the past I've had to sit through some stories of chopping heads off chickens. No one brought it up this time. A few had the job of milking the cow and it made me wish I still had my big stuffed cow I owned as a child. That thing had a clinking bell as well as a plastic udder! It would have made a good tool for the few who kept trying to show me their techniques with their fingers!
Farm and Barn Music
It was the bluesy music that changed the tone of the group a bit. Some liked the foot stomping tunes better, but Dorothy wanted to hear Bo Carter singing, "The Country Farm Blues" over and over. Maybe Dorothy felt connected to the music since both she and Bo were from Mississippi.
Music Eases the Pain
He could remember his parents singing "Cotton Eyed Joe", which was a surprise to me. I associate that song with cowboy dance halls. But after getting home I researched the history of the song and learned it was first sung (with very different lyrics) by African Americans in before the Civil War.
I tossed in a few tiny things that could spur on a memory. The washing board wasn't really a farm tool, but many remembered clothes being washed with one on the farm. Ramona even remembered washing the clothes in the river. I had an apron to help us think of typical "farm woman" chores back in the day. I had no overalls, but Robert recalled in fine detail about all the pockets and loops on his overalls. I wish I had a small tractor in my prop collection, but we needed no props for tractor memories. I heard from men and women who could tell me all about driving those symbolic machines!
She loved her little sheep that followed her every where. "Like Mary!" I laughed and she agreed. She was giddy with the memory of that sweet lamb.
Some who had no farm history, had stories of vegetable gardens. And we all had a good laugh about living in Sugar Land, Texas. There was a lot of sugar cane growing around here, back in the day. Not when I moved here 17 years ago, but the Imperial Sugar Factory hadn't down closed yet. Dot didn't grow up in Sugar Land, but in Mississippi, her family grew sugar cane. She remembers big vats of sugar syrup being stirred for days at the end of the season!
info about silk tea and the song Cotton Eyed Joe and well water. I think I need to drive out southwest of Sugar Land and see a little of that cotton, before the season's over!
A Daycare Center in Coxen Hole
It's thinking about my zany morning at the Allred School, where I gathered on the quilt with these delightfully energetic kiddos!
When we found Allred, it looked like a little ship, sitting on a wedge of land in the "Y" of the road. The colorful mural was a good distraction from the barbed wire above the wall. Some workmen with noisy electric saws greeted us as we passed through the gates.
It was already heating up by the time Don and I arrived at 8:15. Heavy duty fans whirled the warm air around the dim, but colorful room. Children rushed up and greeted us with big grins and hugs. There were lots of "holas" even though the older ones had been learning English.
The Crab is Spotted!
When we heard the squeals and saw the little bodies leap and dash about the room, we realized this was not a daily occurrence. I was glad to see the teacher handle the situation with a smile on her face!
Two little boys made an attempt to capture the critter with flipflops. The youngest child made a leap into Don's lap! (Don made a lot of friends, when he sat his 6'2" frame into one of those little kiddie chairs!) The teacher managed to grab the crab in a towel and move it outside.
Starting with the Youngest
The kids were pretty wound up by the time I spread out the quilt at 9:00. I've learned lots of tricks for working with kids who don't speak my language, but this was the most lively non-English speaking group I've worked with. My little tricks weren't very helpful! I have to laugh just now as I notice something in this photo for the first time. The little boy who seems to have his head thrown back into the bookcase, appears to be wearing one of my sandals!
Too Squirmy to Sit!
There was no way these kids wanted to sit on that quilt. So up we went, onto our feet to sing, jump, pat and clap. No need to ease into this group.
Listening and Singing
After a bit, I could get them to sit back down, long enough to hear "Senor Pickles" (the giraffe) snoring inside his sleeping bag. I was surprised that almost every child wanted to sing "wake up" to him. So many beautiful little voices.
Senor Pickles Brings Order!
It was a bit comical how little control I seemed to have over my young group. But my puppet managed a lot better. When Senor Pickles whispered a command in my ear, I sat up at attention. The kids obviously caught on because they laughed and sat up straight and quiet...at least for a moment.
We stayed seated just enough longer for me to pull out a few Beanie Babies to teach another song/game. I'll admit, this game was just a bit too tricky for these kiddos. They attempted to follow my motions and we had some fun, but the best part of the Beanie Baby song was that I got to leave those stuffed animals behind for adoption. Slowly but surely, the toys that my grown kids once played with are finding new homes in far away places!
Scarves to the Rescue
These packable, chiffon scarves are my best travel prop. With my young group they suddenly became fun rewards for the kids who were sitting. I placed the sheer scarves on their heads and they gazed through the colors until I started the music... then some pretty silly dancing began.
The Older Bunch
I suddenly noticed the little boy in blue & white stripes and how carefully he worked to follow my movements. I seized the moment and had the others sit down and invited him to "perform" alone. He beamed at their applause! It's always hard to notice the kids who are trying hard... in a wild group.
Creative with Scarves!
With this group, I balled up the scarves and tossed to kids who were seated with their hands in the air. Right away kids began finding clever things to do with the colorful props. They became, hats and belts and blankets and ties. The little boy in red was so delighted with his cape creation.
This kind of fun can so easily turn to chaos... when 2 kids collide or fight over a color... or test the limits by leaping off of chairs. But I lucked out. I steered a few to work together in pairs, trying some new moves...
A Circle... Sort Of
And then we connected our whole group, holding scarves instead of hands. It was sloppy as we circled with the music in one direction and then the other. But no one got hurt and there was laughter. Good enough.
Adding to the New Quilt
I handed out fabric markers and quilt squares and showed a photo of the new quilt that I'm working on. Their artwork added to the new quilt will help me remember my visit!
What Did I Learn?
Then I looked at the teachers and realized they had many more hours to go. I thanked them for the work they did to give these children a safe and enriching place to be. My experience with the kids in Roatan was delightfully draining. And for some reason it taught me to not forget the teachers. I need to thank them more!
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.