If you are new to my blog, you don't know about Bobby, Buffalo and Making Lemonade. Here are the links to the two original stories that have now created a legacy of learning and international understanding, while having a lot of fun along the way. Enjoy!
“The world is smaller through children’s eyes.”
Most people our age would argue that statement. When we were children, the world looked immense. Our dad was the tallest person on earth. The sink was only accessible for tooth brushing if we stood on tiptoe on the well-worn wooden stool bearing our name. And, learning to cook meant pushing the kitchen chair over to the counter, so we could watch the vanilla being added to the aromatic butter cream frosting in the KitchenAid.
But for the children in my kindergarten classroom, the world is a tiny place, and the other side of our planet is only a puppet away.
Last February, my school children at the Elmwood Franklin School, in Buffalo, NY, made lifelong friendships with two puppets, named Bobby and Annie. Bobby belonged to Allison Scott, mother of U.S. men’s champion and US Olympic team member, Jeremy Abbott. Bobby, (via Allison’s enthusiastic emailed letters and photos,) was our eyes and ears in Vancouver. The children learned much more about Vancouver and the competition than they would have ever absorbed by reading a book about it or watching the events on television. They got first-hand insight into the passion, the excitement, the “lemonade,” and the lessons inherent to competition.
As a result of our friendship with Bobby and Allison, we were gifted a red-headed moppet by the Folkmanis Puppet Company. We named her Annie. Annie is Bobby’s sister, and she was also meant to travel the world, to teach us about far-away places, and to be an ambassador for cultural understanding.
We styled her hair with ribbons in the colors of the Olympic flag, and sent her off on a friendship-making mission to Prague, in the Czech Republic, where the brother of one of our kindergarten children lived. We waited for weeks, and then months, to hear if she arrived safely in Prague, but that day never arrived. The children were devastated, and as their teacher, I blamed myself for not ponying up the big money to send her FedEx instead of through the regular postal mail. I was sure she was sitting in her damp box in the well of some oily ship, and would never to be found. The school year ended with a huge question mark: Where was Annie?
Imagine my delight, when I found her battered and crushed box in the mailroom at my school during the summer! I think I cheered out loud when I discovered that she had mysteriously found her way back to Buffalo; 4 months older, but intact!
Annie was back on my shelf, but she could not fulfill her purpose from there. I was more determined than ever to create a situation where Annie could perform her missionary work.
The rest of the summer was spent looking for a classroom overseas to connect with. I’ve never been conservative in my teaching. “Go Big or Go Home” is my motto for projects and teaching ambition. So when I was searching for a classroom that we could collaborate with this year, my first thoughts were of China.
What small child hasn’t tried to dig to China? Isn’t it halfway around the world from us? Sending Annie to China would be a great way to learn about a country and a culture that had always fascinated me. Do I speak Chinese? No…. Did I know anyone currently in China? No! But I didn’t let those issues get in my way. I began my search through the many teacher websites that are designed to connect classrooms via the Internet. However, it quickly became clear to me that 90% of the teachers searching for connections were USA teachers. I wasn’t going to get anywhere, that way.
I changed my strategy. I searched for a school as though I was a parent moving my family to China. I read and researched, and finally found a delightful situation. The Hong Kong Ling Liang Church School is located in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. The teachers speak English and Cantonese, and the principal of the school was intrigued with my ideas. She put me in touch with the classroom teachers in one of their kindergarten rooms, and we both agreed immediately on the limitless positive possibilities of the collaboration.
Our first communication was a video conference between the children! Because of the 12-hour time difference between our locations, my school children came to school on a Thursday night at 7:30pm, in their pajamas! The children in Hong Kong were just arriving at school, at 7:30am, the next morning. It was a magical experience. With their teachers as translators, the children asked questions of each other, as only children can. “Do you like pizza?” “How do you get to school?” “What sports do you play?” Everyone giggled and laughed. We sang our school songs to each other, and we were sad to have to say goodbye at the end.
The next week, the children prepared Annie for her trip to Hong Kong. We took photos with her, kissed her goodbye, and again, crossed our collective fingers, as the box was taped shut and she left our school in the arms of the postman.
However, Annie was born to be an ambassador, and this time, she arrived in Hong Kong safe and well.
Annie is a born teacher, breaking the language barriers between the children, and uniting us in the way that only childlike imagination can. She travels home with the Ling Liang children, and the children document the experience through photographs. So far, Annie has gone to the harbor at Causeway Bay, she rode on a 100-year old tram, and she has dined on dim sum. She marched in a Chinese Halloween parade, she watched cartoons on Chinese television, and she went to a Chair Race and a Chinese Bazaar. The children in my class are fascinated with these photographs. What makes them so intriguing? Our friend Annie is in every one!
Next up: a pen pal project between the children! Also, Ling Liang is sending us stuffed animal teddy bears that we can take on adventures and photograph places for them! Our school children are excited to show the children in Hong Kong what our area of the country is like.
So, China may be on the other side of the world, and most of us will never get there to visit. But if you ask my kindergarteners what the region is like, they can tell you! Because we have our very own red-headed ambassador to show us around!
Hong Kong is only a puppet away!