As a teacher of young children, I often think about the role that children play in our community. I wonder whether they see themselves as a part of it? I ask myself how to promote a genuine sense of belonging and participation.
Our classroom is a community, too. We actively involve children in shaping their environment by delegating them some of our jobs like cleaning the tables or sweeping the floors. Some projects are more exciting like building a playhouse with wood and power tools. Usually, the children are exceptionally respectful and cooperative, partially because of the trust that we have in them.
I applied the same thinking when I approached the after-school Excel program leaders about involving children in stitching up the blanket squares for the Phoenix youth shelter. The elementary school that my daughter attends has already done a project for Phoenix in the past. The leaders were excited, and so were the children. I thought that it would make perfect sense to connect different generations — the senior ladies who knit the squares, the children who would put them together, and the youth that would hopefully benefit from the blankets’ underlying message of coziness and care.
Well… the blankets were stitched and they reflected all the enthusiasm and good intentions of those caring kids. However, the “blankets” weren’t really blankets in the strict sense of the word. They were more like colourful little rags loosely tied together with the very bright yarn. They were beautiful, and they made my heart warm but I had a very clear understanding that they would not make a real human body warm.
They looked more like… art. So I decided to reflect on the message hidden in those irregular, hole-y creations. The children worked hard to make someone they have never met a little happier, a little more comfortable in trying circumstances. They might have not had the skills to produce a blanket that would survive a wash but I felt that those pieces somehow belonged in the shelter anyway. If they couldn’t warm up the bodies, they still could warm up the hearts.
After selecting a few stitches pieces, I put them on the large sticks and asked the shelter staff for feedback. I explained the work that went into them and added a note.
The shelter staff was most gracious in accepting these works. Not only did they display both pieces at the entrance in the office but also they made a beautiful photo with all the staff members holding those stitched squares. The photo was framed and gifted to the school. In the following weeks, when I picked up my daughter from school, I would see the photo on the wall in the hallway.
I was amazed how respectful these committed and sensitive adults were towards the children’s work even though it didn’t serve its original purpose. Imagine how empowering it was for children to walk by this photo and be able to say “We did it, together”.
You might ask what happened to the rest of the squares? I had to take them apart, air on my balcony, sort by size, and give them to the local junior high school. Will older children be able to design and put together an actual blanket? As my daily practice shows, the only way of knowing what the children will do is to try and see.