Experiments in Preschool

June 9, 2010

Because, ostensibly, this blog is about Freire, I haven’t always acknowledged that much the work I do is actually logistical, and many of the problems the literacy groups face are not so much methodological as practical. It could be that Freire might have worked in RS last year if the facilitators had shown up to the classes, or that the women might have learned to form new words if they weren’t focused on providing care for their children. In one class last week, there were 20 women and 25 children- 2/3 of whom were babies- in attendance. As you can imagine, it was not a quiet, orderly class conducive to learning.

Practical concerns don’t really interest theorists like Freire, which is a major problem because in a place like Guatemala, getting poor women to come to class is half the battle. One of my major learnings during my Fulbright year is that what communities, and women, really need are not simply bilingual adult education programs but joint preschool-adult literacy initiatives. Unfortunately, such an initiative would probably require a few more million dollars, and P barely has enough money to buy benches for the classrooms. This year, they did provide large boxes of toys and puzzles, but most of these materials are best suited to 8-10 year olds, not the chew-happy toddlers who need to be entertained while their mothers study. And 2-3 year olds ultimately need LOTS of supervision, not animal/number dominoes.

Since I’m in the Zona Reyna for such a short period of time and am hampered by my lack of Q’eqchi’ skills, I’ve decided that finding a way to organize the kids will be my major contribution to the literacy groups. Although initially some kids were terrified of the weird-looking white person speaking Spanish trying to tempt them with wooden blocks and the beach balls and foam puzzles I bought are not likely to make it to July, I’m happy to report progress. Even really simple activities like bouncing balloons and scribbling with markers have gone over well, and the women themselves got pumped for beach balls and foam puzzles. (A few apparently commented to the “disaster” facilitator that they were bored and wanted to play with their kids, and claimed the beach ball during their break. I thought she might have taken this as a hint to listen to my advice that the women should NOT spend all morning copying words from the board, but apparently not. )

Interestingly, finger painting was a bust. I was really pumped: I made little bibs from old plastic bags and brought two bottles of water to wash. But alas, my visions of hoards of painting children did not come to pass. One older girl painted three pictures and the daughter of the facilitator did a brilliant interpretation of Jackson Pollack on her jeans, but most of the kids just sat there, staring at me blankly, clearly thinking: “Why is this person who is dressed like my father suggesting that I put paint on my hands?” (It’s amazing how something that seems as simple and straight-forward as play can vary so much from one culture to another.)

No matter. My expert mother continues on the case, and I’m on a mission to locate massive wooden block sets and bubble-wand-making materials this week. (Have tried coat hangers to no avail, so I’ll be cutting up fly swatters on Friday.)

I never imagined myself as a preschool teacher, but really it isn’t half bad.


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