Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Hanging out with grown-ups

This year I haven't done any kids crafting, actually not much crafting at all. We are moving after 25 years, to a town about 12 hours drive away, so I have been preoccupied. I did hear about a community project with the aim of teaching various crafts to the women of the town as a way to increase income. I asked to join the classes as a way to improve my teaching by observation. The classes started while I was out of town so I shrugged my shoulders and forgot about it. Imagine my surprise when the organizers called me and asked me to present a class! The teacher they booked was unable to continue due to family troubles, and they asked me to teach crochet with plastic bag yarn ('plarn'-- there are PLENTY of tutorials available!) Of course I said yes, prepared a booklet, and made some practice items.

I've done a lot of teaching kids: holiday crafting club, girls' club, Sunday school, parenting, even peer tutoring when I was a kid myself, but not so much with teaching adults. And adults here are a different story especially when it comes to language and culture. English is usually a third language for anyone born before independence in 1990, which means anyone over 25, and still a second language for most. After 25 years, at least I know a bit and can tell if the interpreter is getting it wrong!

Kids are funny and fun to work with. They are brutally and embarrassingly honest, have an unexpected perspective, automatically think you know both everything about the world and nothing about them, and can really move a conversation around.
Adults are a bit different, slower to bring out their personality, But still funny if you have an eye open for enjoyment:

  • They are quieter. Which means if they don't understand something they will just guess and continue, like a machine that's stuck 'on'. Miles and miles of crochet chains. MILES!
  • They don't like to ask for favors from their classmates. Not even 'pass the scissors, please'. They will sit idle until you notice they are idle and go to help.
  • They don't want to stand out. Seriously, some of these ladies know how to crochet. but when they see their neighbor struggling will pull out their own work and ask how to do it, too.
  • They are out to get as much as they can. I've seen this in kids, too. It's part of the culture here that I find irritating in large doses but funny on a small scale. They clearest example, for kids and adults, is cookies. If you have ten cookies and eight girls or ladies, one will do everything in her power to get both extra cookies and consider herself the 'winner'. If you have 30 cookies, the first ones will take 3-5 cookies each, leaving one cookie for the last 3 ladies to share. If the person that was the'winner' last week is one of the last three this week, there will be loud and bitter complaining. Otherwise there will be disgruntled mumbling and plans for revenge next week
  • Some of them know how to knit and try to knit with the crochet hook. Luckily I saw this with kids first because I don't knit and they were able to explain the weirdness. I think this looks hysterically funny but I do show them the proper way before letting them continue their way. After all hobbies are more about fun than perfection

I have especially learned that, kids or adults, my preferred teaching environment is gentle chaos. Those 2 hours go by so quickly, the facilitators have to chase me out every time.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The child who isn't listening hears more than you think

I have a little Sunday School group. The official church policy is from age 4, but I allow any children who can stay without crying, my only restriction is I don't change diapers. I generally keep them until they are old enough to read well, up to grade 4. In the past we only had about 12 children altogether so it was a good break-up point. Lately we have around 10 that fit in my group and only 1 or 2 older ones, not enough for a class, that have the option to join me or stay for the adult service.

My group is often chaotic. We discuss patience and tolerance and looking out for little ones a lot. We have special rules and one is that Sunday School does NOT have the same restrictions as regular school. I allow my overly-energetic ones to move around, just asking them to keep it quiet. Today I had 16 little ones. Three of my regular ones were a bit squirrely, but still within listening distance and one of the other children tried to get them in trouble by pointing them out. So I remembered the awful way I learned that being still and listening isn't the only way to hear.
My niece joined our house when she was about 3. Energetic, short attention span, emotional, demanding, loving, clever, generous, What I call a 150%child. Eventually we found out that cutting out artificially colored and flavored sweets smoothed some of the ups and downs but she was still naturally 'over the top'. I remember giving her instruction--I don't even remember what it was--and she was all over the place: playing with her dolls, rolling on the floor, singing to herself. I got SO angry!! I told her to settle down and listen, she says 'I am listening'. Backchat and lies! Punishment was on the way, but in my anger and frustration I shouted something that I would not normally say to a child under 5: 'PROVE IT! What did I say?!!!'
  And she repeated, word for word, exactly what I had just told her.
 AAAAAARRRGGGH. All this anger and frustration and no legitimate excuse to let it explode on this child!!!!! This experience stands out as an example every time I start losing patience. I think of all these bright, loving children who have annoying ways of behaving, whose parents, teachers, and friends try to 'shut down' on the energy and end up shutting down on the spirit.

So I wanted to tell that one who was complaining that she shouldn't worry, that the boys were still listening even though it didn't look like it. And I was so proud when one of my older children, a quiet one that never disrupted in his entire time in my class (4 years),  told her before I even started.  The best kind of feedback possible.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

eating like a child

My dad was the first of 12 children, my grandparents were uneducated and poor and I'm quite sure they did not have easy childhoods. I have also seen that children consider their own life as normal, at least until they see more of the world. If a child grows up taking a cold water bath once a week, they assume that's how every child on earth bathes. If they grow up having a doughnut for breakfast every day, they are shocked to the core when they sleep over at their cousins and get an egg but no doughnut.
My dad grew up in poverty at a time when poverty was normal--towards the end of the great depression. They could afford bread but toppings were a bit of a luxury. He grew up with ketchup sandwiches. Yes, two slices of bread with a generous dollop of ketchup was a taste of home and family for him that he would still visit as an adult. He never encouraged us to like it but every once in a while he would sit down and put some ketchup on bread and remember the carefree days of his childhood. And we would tease him terribly and pull faces of disgust and he would laugh and we would all laugh together. He did introduce us to 'sand sandwiches', which is bread with butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar 'sand'. I made these for my kids, too, as a texture treat.
My sister tells the story of her days as a busy business woman. She had been travelling with two colleagues, wining and dining with current and potential clients. They had been on the road for nearly two weeks, finally heading for home. They went with a group of 4 clients to one of the nicer restaurants in town, with a comprehensive menu. My sister says she looked through this menu, with it's delicate and delicious offerings, on full company expense, and decided that she was tired and didn't need to make an impression with her food choice. She decided to order a grilled cheese sandwich, which came with tomato soup.She gave her order and saw all of her companions open their eyes a little wider. She braced herself for the teasing. And each and every one of her companions smiled and ordered grilled cheese. They were ALL tired of the travelling and the luxury but no one had been willing to admit it. They ended up having a very relaxed and friendly evening that washed away a great burden of the two weeks of travelling.
So today I had chicken soup. And remembered all the (cans of) chicken soup we had growing up. And remembered that we could NOT eat it without at least crackers to crumble in the soup. And remembered the BEST thing for chicken noodle soup was peanut butter sandwiches. I don't know if this is still a thing, but even at school lunch, peanut butter sandwiches went with chicken noodle soup.
So today I had a peanut butter sandwich that I dipped in my chicken soup and I tasted sitting at the kitchen table with my brothers and sisters while my mom corrected papers and my dad washed dishes. I tasted the long tables in the school cafeteria, happy and laughing because the principle was on the far end of the table, reprimanding kids that weren't us. I tasted late night studying at the dorm with my little hotpot. Somewhere along my way, I stopped dipping peanut butter sandwiches and then stopped dipping sandwiches altogether, but today I visited my childhood normal and I feel warmed and love as a result.