Friday, May 23, 2008

The Poor People Project

I had the pleasure of baby-sitting granddaughters Caroline (5) and Charlotte (2-1/2) today. I am a firm believer in teaching moments - and those are not one-way, either. The girls have as much to teach me as I have to teach them.

While Charlotte was napping, I asked Caroline what she wanted to do. She said she wanted both of us to draw pictures of Abraham Lincoln. But these weren’t going to be ordinary pictures - oh no. She continued: “Then after we draw pictures of Lincoln, we will fold them up and stick in a bunch of money and give it all to Poor People.” One never quite knows what Caroline is going to do or say, but it never fails to amaze.

She brought out two sheets of paper and her box of markers, and we set out to create our masterpieces. She apparently had messed up on her drawing, so she obliterated her false start with black marker and began to draw underneath it. Always feeling the need to give an explanation for everything, she said she had decided that that was a rain cloud, and she was starting over to draw Lincoln underneath the rain cloud. I told her that was quite appropriate, since in real life, Lincoln probably felt as if he were under a rain cloud frequently.

We finished our pictures. "Sign your picture, Grammy," she told me, as she carefully printed CAROLINE on the right side of her drawing, having run out of room after the N and having put the E on the next line by itself.

“Now for the money,” she said. We went into her room and she grabbed her piggy-bank off a shelf. Her piggy-bank looks like a jungle scene, and it plays Talk to the Animals. She struggled to control the heavy object as she lowered it to the floor. “I want to put in bills,” she said, “because Lincoln was a President and there are Presidents on dollars! Do you get it?” Yes, I got it. Then she said, “Except I don’t have any bills. But I have coins, and there are Presidents on coins, too!”

She turned the piggy-bank over and started reaching in a small hole, pulling out whatever coins she could retrieve. As she did so, she began to relate to me how much she wanted to help Poor People. I capitalize that because she used the phrase almost as if she were using someone’s name.

“Poor People need my help,” she told me. “We certainly don’t want them shivering outside, standing in the rain, in the mud!” She pulled out a couple of quarters, then looked up at me again. “This money will help them buy the things they need, like...houses, and cars, and couches.” She grabbed a nickel and pulled it through. “And if they can’t afford a car, they can use this money to buy a wagon and some horses.”

Finally she had about 20 coins. She folded her Lincoln drawing and poured the coins inside, then tried to tape the paper shut, but the coins kept falling out. I could see that unless I did something, she would be using a whole roll of tape to try to control the spillage. So I took apart her first attempt, and showed her how to line up the coins and get one piece of long tape and tape across the line to hold every coin in place. She made and taped two lines of coins, one on the top and one on the bottom of the picture. Satisfied with the result, she went to her desk and came back with an ivory envelope, and we carefully folded the drawing, coins intact, placed it in the envelope, and she ran her tongue across the flap and sealed it. She handed the envelope to me.

“I’ll write Poor and then you write People,” she instructed, handing me a pen.
“Do you know how to spell Poor?” I asked her. She spelled it aloud correctly, then wrote it in capital letters on the front of the envelope.
“Now you write People,” she said. So I did.
She then said, “Grammy, I want you to put a stamp on this envelope, and when you leave today, I want you to mail it.”

We, of course, weren’t through yet. We went back into the living room, got my drawing of Lincoln, and proceeded to do the very same steps - except this time, the coins were coming from my wallet. Again, we taped, and again, she wrote POOR and I wrote PEOPLE on the envelope, and again she gave me the same mailing instructions.

When Rachel got home, I brought out the envelopes and explained the situation. She said, “Caroline, I don’t think this is enough money for poor people to buy a car or house. But do you remember how the grocery store always has cans at the cash registers where they collect change for kids who have cancer or people who are hungry? Would you like to take these to the grocery and give the money to those people?” Caroline thought that was a good idea.

I went to Caroline’s house today thinking I would be a teacher, and I left a student. I was worried about how the ever-increasing gas prices would affect me as I filled up on the way home, and Caroline was thinking about Poor People, and not only thinking about them, but actually putting her thoughts into action.

“And a little child shall lead them.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The little child shall lead, indeed, but I might point out that the child has BEEN led by some very special adults as well. :)