So, how did Gloria the puppet become Gloria the person?
I know puppets help teach preschoolers. Any good teacher knows that. When I first realized that a puppet in the classroom would be a great teaching tool, I had no idea that it could be, or would be, so powerful in teaching both the children and me. That was more than twenty-five years ago.
When I discovered Gloria among a collection of Folkmanis puppets, I knew she would ‘work’. I have watched other teachers use multicultural puppets, but years ago we were not a very diverse community. A three-year-old back then was not as likely to meet children or people from other countries or races. BUT, they would meet old people, shy people, people with disabilities, or those who were not beautiful. If my puppet represented the differences that preschoolers encountered, she would be far more effective than a multicultural puppet. Accepting differences that are familiar to children is the first step to accepting global differences. Learning is all about building blocks, and I had to start with something that was ‘different’.
When the children first met Gloria at Morning Meeting, she had her face smushed against the crook of my neck, and refused to say ‘hello’. I talked with her, but I had no success. So, I sighed and had a talk with the children:
“Gloria is very shy. She’s really kind, but at the other school where she lived, they called her a witch. At this point, Gloria whips her head out and says, “Yes they did! Just because I like black and look old they called me a witch. I have sticky-uppy-outy hair and wrinkly skin. Oh, do you like my black hat? And look at my striped socks. Do you like them?”
Gloria stopped and looked at the children. They were transfixed. I asked children if they would like to greet Gloria, inviting each one up to shake her hand. My assistant teacher interrupted with a big “Gloria!” and a long hug. And so it began. Children went from handshaking to hugs to talking directly to Gloria, eye-to-eye. And now, every September Gloria greets children in the same way.
Gloria quickly developed a personality. She was very shy, and often had to be coaxed. She was silly, a good friend, and someone who always seemed to understand the Aqua Room children. She had a way about her- children related to Gloria, and loved her.
For a number of years Gloria (named by the children, of course) lived in a picnic basket on top of my cabinets in the classroom. She came out as part of our curriculum every month or so. She was always a big hit, and very successful at introducing everything from emotions, to how to count, or sing the ABC’s. Once a month, everyone loved Gloria.
One day, I forgot to put her back into the picnic basket. She was on the little couch in the classroom. I was busy in the classroom, not paying attention to Gloria or what was happening. Children walked over to talk with her. They brought her toys and held her.
“Jennie, I gave Gloria a bear.”
“Jennie, Gloria won’t talk to me.”
“Jennie, can I hold Gloria?”
This was a big wake-up call for me. Why had I kept her in the picnic basket, when every ‘visit’ in the classroom was so successful and important? I was not seeing Gloria as a person, and the children were. Gloria continued to ‘live’ on the couch.
It gets better…
One day I took Colin to the bathroom at rest time, and he looked very pensive.
“Jennie, can Gloria come to my house for a sleepover?”
I wasn’t sure what to say, as this was a first.
“Colin, Gloria has never been on a sleepover. I don’t know.”
“I have a night light. She won’t be scared.”
“Colin, I don’t know.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll have a talk with her.”
He did! And Gloria was fine.
When Colin’s mother sent me this photo of Colin and Gloria, I asked her, “Beth, do you remember when Colin was the the first child to take Gloria home for a sleepover?
She answered, “Yes I do remember that, Jennie. He was so enamored by her. Took her home every weekend for a while until the other kids started getting wind of it and wanted to start taking her home too.”
Therefore, I started a Gloria journal.
Now, she was living on the couch, and was spending some weekends with children. The journal was instrumental in recording Gloria’s adventures and making a bigger connection with both children and families. If there was a fire in the school and I could only grab one artifact, it would be Gloria and her journal.
That year Erin took Gloria Trick-or-Treating. Really. Gloria was Minnie Mouse. Her parents were a little annoyed that other neighborhood families Trick-or-Treating did not ‘get it’.
This is Gloria’s first journal, one of three
packed with stories and photos.
“Why is the witch dressed as Minnie Mouse?”, people asked them. The family told me (with much frustration.)
“I kept telling them that she’s not a witch. She’s dressed up for Trick-or-Treat as Minnie Mouse. Why didn’t they understand?”
Ahh… Gloria is very real, indeed.
Did you know she and Milly the Quilter were best friends? Gloria’s necklace came from Milly. Spontaneously. It was a ‘moment’.
Gloria has been to graduations, birthday parties, a concert in Boston, the Boston Red Sox parade, mountain climbing, Cape Cod… and her journals are living memories that children enjoy visiting.
Colin is now a senior in high school, and Gloria continues to give children love, hope, understanding, and great memories.