A good education

I am a teacher. In today’s world we are are often bogged down with paperwork and state standards. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and loose sight of what is most important- teaching the child. Beetleypete (Pete) describes his education, which was excellent. Why? Because his teachers brought excitement into the classroom. They cared. They made students feel important and worthy.

Thank you, Pete. I feel inspired, rejuvenated, and eager to teach.

beetleypete

I confess that I know little of the school system today. I am aware that many teachers are unhappy, that exam results are possibly being manipulated, and Department of Education targets seem to be the driving force behind teaching. I also see that standards of spelling, literacy, numeracy, and general knowledge have fallen, and students rely heavily on the Internet for information that they might once have learned. University degrees have lost their status and potential graduates now have to face the prospect of years of debt ahead of them. Things have changed, of that there can be little doubt. There is a distinct lack of Historical knowledge, and little regard for the relevance of the subject. Geography, and geographical awareness, has reached a low, to the extent that many young people could not place themselves on a World map.

I do not have statistics to support these claims, but…

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Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, joy, School, teaching | Tagged , , | 35 Comments

Milly – Part 4

In Part 3, Milly brought in beautiful fabrics and placed them on the sketch of the Peace Quilt spread out across a big table.  Children came to her like moths to a candle, picking out just the right fabrics.  At last the quilt was completed, and it was a work of art.  We wrote a poetry book and the quilt was big news in town.  I told ‘the world’, including the director of the National Liberty Museum.

Part 4

“Jennie, thank you for telling us about the quilt.  I’m sure it is as stunning as your Peace Peace Portal” said the museum director.”  That was so nice!  She then continued.

“I want to tell you that the museum would like the Peace Quilt.  We want it as part of our permanent display.”

I was shocked.  And here, I’d just wanted them to know all that had transpired since I saw their Peace Portal.  I was thrilled.  Then it sank in- a quilt from my classroom was going to be displayed – permanently – in a national museum. I couldn’t wait to tell Milly!

We talked, laughed, and enjoyed the moment.  Milly was pleased as punch and just as taken aback as I was.

“Milly, you have done so much for us.  You made this quilt.  How can I ever thank you?”

Milly didn’t bat an eye.  “Take me to Philadelphia” she said, with gusto.

Road Trip!

Children and families were eager to go and be part of presenting their work to a national museum.  A good sized group made the trip to Philadelphia.  The director had one request. “Please bring Gloria, too.  After all, the quilt was her idea.”  Yes, Gloria made the trip with us.

My husband and I picked up Milly at the crack of dawn.  As the car went whispering along the highway in the early morning hours we chatted away.  Milly leaned forward from the back seat, putting her arms and elbows up on the back  of the front seat.  She said, “I’m the other woman”, with a low voice and body language that meant she wanted to really talk about herself.  What an icebreaker!  She told us she’d long been separated and has a dear soulmate, another man.  She told us that her daughter had died a few years ago from cancer, and how she’d spent every moment by her bedside, quilting.  Her daughter had two young girls, and Milly was pretty much raising those girls, along with their dad.  Milly talked about the quilting shop she had for years, and I learned about quilting clubs.  She reminisced about life in the 1940’s. We laughed, we cried.

It was the most delightful six-hour drive.  We became good friends.

The quilt presentation was exciting and humbling.  We were treated like kings and queens.  Milly was all smiles.  Gloria never left Grant’s side.  In the Part 3 photo, he and Gloria were checking out the quilt progress together.

The museum made a plaque to place underneath the quilt that reads:

“Peace Quilt” designed by students at the Groton Community School, Groton, Massachusetts.  Their teacher, Ms. Jennie Fitzkee, conceived this project after visiting the National Liberty Museum two years ago.  She saw many visions of peace displayed throughout the Museum, which made her wonder how her young students would interpret this concept.  With the help of a beloved classroom puppet named “Gloria”, Ms. Fitzkee inspired the youngsters to draw their ideas of “Peace.”  Quilter Milly Cunningham used their illustrations of rainbows, happy animals and even trucks to create this beautiful quilt.  The National Liberty Museum is grateful to Ms. Fitzkee and her students for this wonderful gift.

And so, we reveled in all the glory on our car ride home.  We shared stories and wrote thank you notes over the next few weeks.  We were truly humbled.  The rest of the school year Milly continued to come in to visit and play with the children.  Her bond was a strong one.  Children loved her.  They wanted to be with her and play.  I stood back and watched magic happen – every time she visited.

I sing all the time with children, often playing the autoharp.  It’s a staple in my classroom.  On one of Milly’s visits Gloria wanted to sing.  We learned that Milly loves to sing!  She joined us in a chorus of songs.  Did you know that Milly’s favorite song is “God Bless America?”  I did not.  Well, the children were thrilled, as that is one of their favorite songs, too.

The school year ended, and the following year Milly was a frequent visitor.  Something different happened that year.  A group of children loved singing “God Bless America” and often begged for the song.  “Jennie, can you play it on your autoharp so we can sing?”  I did, yet I always played and sang many other songs as well.  This was becoming big, and I respond to big when it comes from children.  That means I had to do something, do more.  I did!  And it turned into a pathway I’d never expected.  Thank goodness Milly was there… stay tuned for Part 5.

Jennie

Posted in Gloria, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, Peace, preschool, quilting, Teaching young children, The Arts | Tagged , , , , , , | 52 Comments

Milly – Part 3

In Part 2, Milly came onto the scene, meeting the children and Gloria.  She accepted the “challenge” – as she called it – of quilting a mural which would become a Peace Quilt.  Gloria started the ball rolling with her own blankie, actually her personal Peace Quilt.

Part 3

As I collected photos for this story, look what I found in my archives:
the original sketch!

When the sketch was finished and children had decided that the quilt would be ‘just so’, they spent time coloring their design.  This solidified their images of Peace and reinforced how they wanted the quilt to look.  It was coming to life.

Milly came to school every week with fabrics.  They were gorgeous!  I asked her if she had purchased them at JoAnne Fabrics.  Her silence was deafening.  I compare this faux pas to asking a lady wearing an original Oscar de la Renta if she got her dress at K-Mart.  Milly was kind, she understood.  Each visit we spread out the sketch on a big table.  Children came to find a favorite part of the sketch and pick what they felt was the perfect fabric for that part.

Lizzie was especially interested in the horse and wanted blue fabric.  I smiled a big smile. Here’s why:

This was Lizzie’s second year in my classroom.  Children often spend two years with me as it is a full day, multiage class.  Lizzie rides horses on her farm.  She adores horses.  More importantly, the year before when we prepared for our annual Art Show, Lizzie was struck with the painting Large Blue Horses by Franz Marc.  She worked at her masterpiece over and over- five times to be exact.  By the time she finished the paint was so thick and heavy I was worried it would fall off the wall at the art show.

Can you now imagine the thrill that Lizzie felt when she picked out ‘just the right blue’ fabric?  I did!  And, I told Milly about the art piece while we watched Lizzie.  Each child had a similar story, or a reason.  Milly was the provider of the feast, and children came to the table to find their favorite foods.  It was that simple.  Milly ‘got it’.

As the quilt progressed each week, Gloria would pop in and check things out.

When Milly finished the quilt she asked me about the writing and lettering, how I wanted to say PEACE.  I hadn’t thought about that, I was so consumed with each part of the quilt.  Milly was way ahead of me, she was looking at the forest while I had been looking at the trees.  I said, “Milly, you decide.”  And she did:

She arrived at my house, held up the finished front of the quilt… and I burst into tears.  I never cry, but my tears came out like a flood when I saw this magnificent work of art.  Did you know that Milly only sews by hand?  She never uses a sewing machine.  That means when she began to quilt this fabric, she did so stitch by stitch.  Many weeks went by as she came to school and let the children watch her sew.  They were mesmerized.  It seemed as though watching each stitch connect their special ideas made the quilt all the more important.

Our next step while Milly quilted was to make a book, a Peace Poetry book.  We took all of the children’s ideas and put them into a rhyme:

A dog and a cat
A heart on a tree
Autumn leaves falling into the sea.
Stars and a rainbow
Triangles of white
Chicks and flowers, peeping and bright
Puppies and kittens
A cow and a moon
A big bright star, a truck that goes vroom
A horse and duckies
A heart that is red
The color of yellow, peaceful thoughts in my head.

When the quilt was finished there was a big ‘todo’ in town.  The newspaper came to do an interview and get photos.  The library wanted to hang the quilt for a while.  This was big!

  

Does the quilt look familiar to you?  I hope so – it is my blog photo!

When the dust settled I told ‘the world’ of this remarkable quilt, including sending an email to the National Liberty Museum.  I thought they might enjoy knowing all that had transpired since we recreated their Peace Portal.  Their reply was not at all what I expected, and completely changed the course of events.  Frankly, it was a shock.  Just when I thought this was finished, that our quilting adventure was at an end, I was so wrong.  Little did I know what was about to happen was the beginning.  Stay tuned for Part 4.

Jennie

Posted in art, Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Gloria, Imagination, Inspiration, Peace, quilting, Teaching young children, The Arts | Tagged , , , , , , | 47 Comments

Smorgasbord Afternoon Video – Random Acts of Kindness… They warm our hearts.

For all the dark side of life we see in the media.. humans and animals give kindness and love to warm our hearts.. thanks to KIND

Smorgasbord Afternoon Video – Random Acts of Kindness… They warm our hearts.
Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments

Milly – Part 2

In Part 1, I discovered a Peace Portal at a museum and recreated it in my classroom.  Peace became a big deal and very real to children.  When I saw quilts that were murals, I knew I had to make a Peace Quilt with children.  The only problem was finding a quilter.  At last I met Milly.  It was an unexpected meeting.

Part 2

“Milly is the best quilter, not just in town but everywhere.” said the director of the Senior Center.

“Great!  When can I stop by and meet her?”

“She’ll be here on Wednesday with her quilting group.”

Wednesday couldn’t come fast enough for me.  As soon as school was over, I was there.  I walked over to Milly and introduced myself.  She smiled (sort of) and I bounced around, telling her all about the Haitian quilts I had seen at the Bennington Museum.  I was so excited!  I showed her photos of the quilts, spewing story after story of each one and their art.  I noticed that the other quilters were looking down at their work, sewing like mad, as if making eye contact with me would bring a plague upon the group.

The more I talked, the faster they sewed, and the lower their heads dropped.  All six of them.  Hmm…  Milly hadn’t said a word.  Not One Word.  It occurred to me that perhaps I was behaving like a child who had been let loose in an amusement park.  But, this was such a terrific idea.  And those quilts were stunning.  Each one told a story.  Here are but a few:

I finally stopped, not sure what else to say.  Clearly I had overwhelmed if not alienated Milly and her fellow quilters.  I put the brakes on and told Milly all about the Peace Portal, and how making a Peace Quilt would be the culmination of all we had done in the classroom.  I held my breath.  I asked, “So what do you think?”

Milly quietly put down her sewing.  I’ll never forget what she said to me, her very first words:

“I am a traditional quilter.  I quilt blocks, squares.  I have never seen or done any quilting like that.  This would be completely new and different – a challenge – and I’d like that challenge.  Yes, I will do this.”

And so, a Peace Quilt was about to be created.  First, the children had to design the quilt. What does Peace look like?  How does Peace make you feel?  How was I going to link that concept of Peace to a quilt?  How would I start?  What would I say to children?  After all, the Peace Portal was last year, and many of the children were new.  And then it came to me.  I knew right away.

Of course… Gloria!

Yes!  Gloria has a blanket.  We always called it her blankie.  What if she wanted to call it her quilt, her Peace Quilt, because it makes her feel so good…peaceful.  Brilliant, Gloria.

Milly came to meet the children, meet Gloria, and hear all about her idea.  I have never seen a friendship develop so quickly.  Milly and Gloria hit it off right from the start.  We gathered for a group meeting. The conversation went something like this:

Gloria (she’s a little frustrated):  “Everybody calls this my blankie, but it’s not.  I love this. But, it’s a Peace Quilt, not a blankie.

Long pause.  Then Gloria continued.

It makes me feel good.  I love snuggling with my Peace Quilt.  Look at all the pictures.  See, there’s a puppy, and lambs.  Look at the pink.  I like pink.  And the best part is the back with all the stars.  When I go to sleep at night, I have my stars right with me.  This is my Peace Quilt.

Wow!  You could have heard a pin drop.  Gloria asked, “What do you like on my Peace Quilt?”  Fifteen children descended on her, each one wanting to look.  After all, they were now really looking at the quilt as if they had never seen it before.  It was amazing what they saw.  And yes, the stars were the most popular.  Gloria then turned to Milly and said “Hi.”  They stared at each other.  Just stared.  Then Gloria spontaneously gave Milly a snuggle in her neck.  Milly grinned from ear to ear.  “What do you think, Milly?  What do you like?”  They had a long and lively discussion.  Children watched.  Gloria said, “We could make our own Peace Quilt!  What do you think?”  “Yes we can, Gloria.” said Milly.

Over the next week we pooled together all of our ideas.  Children had terrific ideas of Peace!  They understood.  Gloria had helped them to do that.

Little baby peeping chicks
Kittens
Stars (many votes)
My heart
Cows
Flowers
Ocean of blue and green
The color yellow
Autumn Tree
Puppies
Horse
White Triangles
Rainbow
Duckies
Big Star
Dogs
Truck that goes vroom
Hearts

We rolled up our sleeves, rolled out the big paper to sketch our ideas, opened our hearts, and got to work!  A classroom parent and artist came in put all the ideas of Peace onto paper.  Not an easy task when the children are in charge.

Little did I know how the sketch would look, much less the quilt.  And then, what would happen with the quilt?  How would Milly do this with the children?  More importantly, would she connect with children?  Stay tuned for Part 3. 

Jennie

Posted in art, Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving, Gloria, Imagination, Inspiration, The Arts, Writing, young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

Milly – Part 1

Our “This Land is Your Land” quilt was the last quilt my class made.
Let’s start at the beginning.
How did quilting in my classroom even begin?
It was a divergent pathway.

Every good story has a great backstory.  To know how Milly came into my life and tell you about her early years in my classroom, I have to back up and tell you what really happened.  It’s a great story, and began what would become a legacy.  Hang onto your hat!

“It happened like this…”

My husband and I were at a fall wedding in Philadelphia.  We had an hour to spare, and went to the historic district to visit Carpenters Hall. After the tour, we had ten or fifteen minutes until all the museums closed.  Directly across the street was the National Liberty Museum, so we headed over.  Walking into the museum I was thunderstruck by a magnificent Peace Portal.  I stood underneath, soaking in all the beauty.  The museum was closing, and I hadn’t moved from under the Peace Portal.

Image result for national liberty museum peace portal

“I can do this!” I told my husband.  “I need to do this in my classroom. We can build this on top of the loft.  It will be a place for children to go, to just be. Children need Peace.”

And so it came to pass.  I contacted the National Liberty Museum to get permission to recreate their Peace Portal.  They were thrilled.  Little did I know that Peace would become an enormous part of the lives of children.  They loved being on the loft- sitting, thinking, reading and playing under the Peace Portal we had made.  Children felt the same way that I felt under the “real” Peace Portal.

       

I decided to talk to children and ask them how Peace makes them feel.  Colin said, “Peace makes me feel hearty.”  I said, “So Peace makes you feel strong.  That’s terrific, Colin.”  He looked at me in frustration, patted his heart, and said, “No Jennie, Heart-y.”

Their thoughts were so remarkable that we made a Peace Poetry Book in the spring. It is card catalogued at the public library.  Our school year of Peace, from making a Peace Portal to writing a book of poetry was a very good year.

Little did I know, this was only the beginning.  The stage had been set for  Milly.
And little did I know that the museum would play a big role. 

The following fall my husband and I went to the Bennington Museum in Vermont to see their Grandma Moses collection.  We walked into the front entrance to see a display of Haitian Quilts.  These were murals, as detailed and stunning as a painting.  I was frozen. This must have been what the first people felt when they saw the ocean or the Grand Canyon.

“I know that look”, said my husband.  “Do you really think you can make one of these at school?”

“No, but we can design one.  Peace was a wonderful part of school last year, and the children wanted more.  This is IT.  We can make a Peace Quilt!”

We looked at each other and said in unison, “We need a quilter.”

Meeting Milly was not what I expected, and certainly meeting me was not what Milly expected at all…

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Jennie

Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, Peace, preschool, quilting, Teaching young children, The Arts, wonder | Tagged , , | 51 Comments

Literary Lines

Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ~ Marcel Proust ~

Literary Lines
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Cape Cod and Friends

I am on the Cape with dear friends.  Dear is an understatement.  We have been together for 25 years, since our children were little.  Now, we have grandchildren, and our adventures keep on going.  I wouldn’t trade these ladies for a million dollars.

Here is an old and a new photo:

I will be away for a few days, but will catch up with my fellow bloggers soon.

Jennie

Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Love, Nature | Tagged , | 74 Comments

The Real Start of Teaching the Fourth of July – Part 4

In Part 3, we made a giant sketch for the quilt based on what the children felt were important parts of the song and the book, “This Land is Your Land.”  Woody’s guitar, the church from the ‘sad page’, landmarks in America, and even Gloria were most important to children.  Next, Donna the quilter arrived with fabrics.  I mean a truckload of beautiful, interesting fabrics, not the kind you or I would find at a regular fabric store.  Children had a heyday with the fabrics before getting down to serious selecting.

Then, Donna arrived with the face of the quilt, sewn just like the sketch, with the fabrics children had selected.  The last part, selecting fabric for the border and lettering, seemed the hardest for the children.  I wonder if Woody felt the same way when he selected the words to his song.   It was a wonderful day.

Part 4
The quilt was gone for a while.  Children felt like it was gone for a long time. We knew that it went to the ‘long arm machine’ and while we waited, we watched videos on YouTube that showed the machine at work.

This did not help at all.

And finally the quilt came back from the big machine, and came home to us.

Children were overwhelmed in the best of ways.  It took a long, long time for them to see everything.  There was so much more than when they last saw the face of the quilt.

Together we found the rays of the sun, the raised and sparkling fireworks, the waving kite tails, and twenty apples on the tree (for twenty children in our class).  Then we looked closely.  There are strings on Woody’s guitar.  Really. The quilting from the long arm machine makes smoke from the chimney, clouds in the sky, fish in the Gulf Stream waters, and pebbles in the desert. The land is lumpy and bumpy to represent hills.  The border is a decorated fabric.  So are the letters, and they are stiff and rough.  It is a wonder, from big to subtle.

The final piece was sewing a dedication onto the back, Donna’s words:

From the love for their community and their country,
an idea was born and this quilt was created.
The inspiration was the book and song,
This Land is Your Land.
With love and support from teachers and quilters,
the visions of the children were woven together through words,
drawings, music and finally fabric.
Our children have such wonderful dreams and inspirations.
The adults in their lives are honored to help their dreams come true.
April 2019
Groton Community School
Groton, Massachusetts

It is a quilt to be admired.  And it is, from many people.  I was directed to the Guthrie Center in Massachusetts.  “Jennie, you should tell them about this quilt.”  I did, and more importantly I told them about the song and passion children have for singing.  They forwarded my email to Arlo Guthrie’s company (Woody’s son) and I got an email from his daughter (she does his bookings) asking for more information.  I said something like, “How wonderful it would be for Arlo to hear children sing to him his father’s favorite song” and I invited him into my classroom to sign the quilt.  No word back.  I’m not holding my breath, but I am so very glad that I made the gesture, because I know that he would indeed be moved.

Children continue to be in love with the quilt.  Mia decided to make her own drawing.  The fireworks are on the left.  So is the house and our school.  The rainbow is in the center, and Gloria is holding the kite.

Our current chapter reading book is Little House on the Prairie.  Last week Pa finished building the house, except for the roof, floor, and door.  He and Ma put a quilt in the door hole.  Ethan, one of our younger children, immediately said, “Just like Donna’s quilt!”  He was so excited to make a quilt connection.  And those connections keep happening, every day.  Even Travis keeps singing the song when he comes, and children love it.

What a wonderful journey for the children.

Jennie

Posted in America, American flag, children's books, Early Education, Inspiration, picture books, preschool, quilting, Singing, Teaching young children, The Arts, wonder | Tagged , , , , , | 65 Comments

Tiny Julia and a Tiny Tree

It is raining cats and dogs today.  I went outside to check on Julia, our baby frog who has taken up residence in our pool.  The children named the frog Julia.  The vote was unanimous.  Julia was nowhere to be seen.  Smart girl, in all this rain.

Along the way to check on Julia, walking with my head down, I spotted a weed and pulled it up.  To my surprise, it was attached to a walnut.  It wasn’t a weed after all, it was the beginning of a walnut tree!  I looked at the leaves, and sure enough, they are the same as the walnut trees on our property.  It is so tiny!  Won’t the children be excited to plant the tree at school!

Things happen in threes.  I wonder what Tiny #3 will be.

Jennie

Posted in Inspiration, Nature, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , | 62 Comments