Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fiber, school, and kids

For the last four days, I’ve gone to an elementary school as a substitute art teacher, and given spinning and weaving demonstrations to every single class of kindergarten through second grade, numbering close to 300 children.  Had a couple pre-K classes in between, too.  Thus, my mind is humming with the after-effects, dazed and worn out, but still rolling the experience over.
Mural showing student paintings of Qatar: downtown skyscrapers with cranes, Museum of Islamic Art, camel
My favorite thing about the school where I substitute is the vast variety of students.  I noticed the first time I went that every class of 20 kids seemed to be an almost equal mix of Arab, European, Asian and African children, at least by appearance.  I was glad to see children growing up in such a rich, varied community.
The truth is, it’s even more complex.  How people look does not necessarily tell you where they’re from, and the question of where anyone is “from” when they live in Doha is another story.   When we first moved here, we met the most interesting combinations of married couples, such as Korean-Afghani/Canadian, Mexican-Egyptian, and Scottish-Malawi.  People who live here are often nomads, who have lived abroad before, and many have met their spouses away from their home country.  Their children are in the school where I taught this week.
When I told a second-grade class that my Louët wheel is from Holland, a girl said, “That’s where I’m from!” Her classmates immediately started to argue with her, contradicting her Dutch origins, until she insisted, grumpily, that her father is from Holland.  It sounds absurd, but I assumed that her family has lived anywhere but Holland, and her friends knew this, and so questioned her sudden claim to Holland.

Other conversations I had with or overheard among the students were similar:
“Have you been to Taiwan?  That’s where my mother is from.  Have you been to Germany? That’s where my father is from.”

“I thought you were Scottish.”
“Half-Scottish, half-English.”
“Oh, okay.”

“She was talking about being from Spain. How can she say she’s from Spain?  Is her father from Spain?”

All the students interact in English, and even take on American accents, since it’s an American school, but when their parents come to pick them up, the halls are a chatter of Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, Japanese, Tagalog, Hindi, Czech, Norwegian, etc. 
Given that the lingua franca is English, and their current home is Doha, the children are in an unusual situation concerning identity.  Accents and looks give away a certain amount of information, but the rest of their story has to be narrated and explained, even to their closest friends. This explains why I heard so many snatches of conversation about different countries or nationalities – during kindergarten and first grade, they must be just sorting out how to present their identity to others, experimenting with what to say and how to characterize their families.
World Peace installation in the elementary school hall
Oh, and they enjoyed the fiber demonstrations, too.  It was a great opportunity to tap into hidden skills or interests: if children have never tried to work with fiber, there’s no way to know whether they might take to it.  One Arab boy, who worried me because he was completely hyper during my demonstration, sat down and proceeded to hand-pick and fluff up the nicest, largest mound of raw wool anyone made all week.  Another boy insisted on trying to spin with the spindle, and held his hands below mine as I drafted, mimicking my motions and spinning the spindle when it stopped.
Since these kids were so small and so numerous, they only got to handle very small bits of fiber, which we tried to gently pull apart and add some twist, using fingers or rolling it along our leg.  Then they got to use prepared pencil-and-potato spindles, spinning them to ply yarns together into bracelets they could keep.  They plied the two yarns, then held the middle and let it fold in half and twist into a four-ply, unknowingly making cabled yarn.  This was the best thing the other art teacher and I could come up with that let them use the spindle and take something away with them.
The second grade was already engaged in weaving on little frame looms, so they continued their work, with the option to explore fibers and ask me questions.
By exposing hundreds of children to fiber and spinning, I hope to simply plant the seed in those few who will come back to it and carry on the exploration later in life, when they get the chance again.
The price I had to pay was showing the dead worm inside the silk cocoon again, and again, and again, listening to the chorus of “Eeeeww!” and managing the mosh pit of cocoon-handling competition that naturally follows.
It was worth it.


CCK said...


Laverne said...

What fun! That picture of all the potato spindles is great!

clairz said...

The kids were lucky to have such a wonderful substitute, and I am lucky to have discovered such a wonderful blog.

cyndy said...

wonderful post!

i too, enjoyed the photo of all those potato/pencil spindles lined up!

...I'm sure you planted a seed or two!

Piroska said...

This is EXACTLY what I am going to do today with 6 and 7 year olds. Loved your post! Good luck with you "fiber mission"!

Laura said...

Your fiber class will be remembered and many kids will grow up and tell the story of that experience! Thank you for instilling in them an appreciation of old crafts!

IndigoNightOwl said...

This brought me exactly back to 5th grade,when I was one of those kids on the floor during a visiting spinning demonstration. I held onto that until I finally got a wheel of my own in my late 20s. I'm sure some amazing seeds have been planted, and they will sprout when they are meant to. What a wonderful time it looks like you had there. Thanks so much for sharing this! R's preschool is interested in having me go in during this summer; it's going to be so much fun. Awesome potato spindles too; what a great project to give them a taste.

Kelly said...

As a teacher myself to 2nd graders, I love this post! They are like little sponges at that age! Those seeds were planted, and even if they don't fully bloom, you gave them such an experience that most of them will always remember! BRAVO! :)