As I started to write this post, my husband (the observant one) told me that the single most important thing I have done for children is Gloria. I didn’t quite know what to say, as he has never said something quite so profound about my teaching. I said, “Steve, there is Milly and the quilts. And, what about the Fisher House? And Jim Trelease and The Read-Aloud Handbook“. He gave me that all-knowing smile, and said, “Gloria has affected every child. Every one. She has done more for children than you have”. Wow!
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 twenty years ago.
When I discovered Gloria among a collection of Folkmanias puppets, I knew she would ‘work’. I had watched other teachers use multicultural puppets, but we’re not a very diverse community. A three-year-old back then was not likely to meet children or people from other countries or races. BUT, they would meet old people, or people who were not beautiful, or shy people. If my puppet represented the differences that preschoolers encountered, she would be far more effective than a multicultural puppet. Learning is all about building blocks, and I had to start with something that was ‘different’.
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 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. Children walked over to talk with her. They brought her toys and held her. 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.
One day I took Collin to the bathroom at rest time, and he looked very pensive. He said, “Jennie, can Gloria come to my house for a sleepover?” I wasn’t sure what to say, as this was a first. “Collin, Gloria has never been on a sleepover. I don’t know.” He said, “I have a night light. She won’t be scared.” I said, “Collin, I don’t know.” He said, “Don’t worry. I’ll have a talk with her.” He did! And Gloria was fine.
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. The parents were a little annoyed that other neighborhood families Trick-or-Treating did not ‘get it’. “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. What she does next is remarkable. Part two, next week.