An Unexpected Adventure
A week ago I was in Cozumel for 7 hours. That is a sinfully short amount of time, but that's what you get as a cruise ship passenger. My daughter and I decided to spend the morning wandering the non-touristy side streets of the village, before heading to the beach. But plans changed when we found a school.
As Heidi and I wandered, we lugged towels, sunscreen and books...and the quilt. We could at least make use of the quilt on the beach, since two days earlier our plans fell through to use the quilt with children in Honduras. We had made arrangements to visit a school, but weather prevented the ship from making it into port. So, in the beach bag, I also carried Pickles the puppet and a large supply of play-doh, just in case we should happen to run across a school.
We Heard Children!
We did. We heard the laughter and squealing of children a block away. We moved towards the sound and found Jardin de Ninos. We could see kids and teachers through the colorful gates.
We let ourselves in and walked towards an office, off of the courtyard. The woman at the desk spoke no English, but we showed her our bag of donations and she nodded and pointed us towards a male teacher. The young man had a pleasant look on his face as he watched over the children who were all busily playing with stuffed animals and magnifying glasses.
The young teacher spoke no English but he seemed to understand my gestures. In just seconds he had the eager children seated in a large circle. We could have just handed out the containers of Play-doh, but the teacher and kids seemed receptive, so I whipped out the quilt in the center of the group and had them scoot in. The large group of kids seemed amazingly focused. Most were smiling up at me, and a few were quietly examining the quilt with their magnifying glasses.
The Puppet Pays a Visit
I decided to go ahead and use the puppet, since the group seemed ready to be entertained. I pantomimed that there was something inside the bag...sleeping. I invited them to sing "Wake Up!" with me and expected the same blank stares I had from my last non-English speaking group. But these children caught on quickly and chimed in with brave voices.
The Animals Meet Pickles
As soon as Pickles the giraffe emerged from his sleeping bag, the children with animals came to life! Arms reached up, holding well loved bears, bunnies and penguins, all jumping and dancing to get my attention. Pickles had to chat with them all. The kids holding the magnifying glasses got to examine the giraffe's fur,eyes and ears.
Some of the kids wanted their animal to have a pickle tickle.
Some kids thought a pickle tickle on the chin was a good idea. Then all the kids except maybe 2 very shy ones, had to have a chin tickle.
And One Adult
A little boy's mom wanted to have a chin tickle, too.
Passing out Play-doh
A few of the kids kept an eye on Heidi who was getting the Play-doh ready to hand out. She could at least understand some of their Spanish and told the kids that we did indeed have something for them. I held up the containers one at a time and the kids called out the colors in Spanish, before I handed over the supply to their teacher. I was sure I didn't have the skills to handle all the color requests that kids have when there are options. But now that I think about it, I'll bet these children would have gratefully accepted whatever color they were given.
The kids made sure to give Pickles a few tickles before we left. And as we scurried towards the gates to leave, their teacher organized them quickly in a group chant. "Good Bye! Good Bye!" We could hear their voices as we reached the street!
What I learned from visiting Jardin de Ninos:
I guess, in ritzy classrooms filled with overwhelming options, maybe this simple activity would never work. I so wish I could have stayed to observe and learn more.
There was nothing needy and clingy about how the kids handled the animals and magnifying glasses, but you could tell they were valued. They never put them down.
I walked away with a great reminder about simplicity. I will always remember the image of these joyful children clutching magnifying glasses and small stuffed animals. These simple, uncomplicated objects allowed these children to share and learn in such a refreshing way.
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.