Please Don’t Call Me Grandma

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Please don’t call me Grandma. I haven’t earned it. I never had a biological child, so I never had a biological grandchild. That’s why I love being a Grandmother in the Foster Grandparent (FG) program. It puts me in touch with little ones. But I don’t want to be called Grandma. I have a name, Ms. Barbara, and grew to a ripe old age outside of being a parent or grandparent, until now.

And what a joy it is (the name notwithstanding). In September, 2011 I walked into the Martin Luther King Day Care Center and met veteran Foster Grandparent, Ms. Lucille, who taught me the ropes. How to feed, entertain, put to sleep, burp babies and allow them discoveries on their own, without harm etc.

The Day Care teachers also guided me, especially Ms. Aida and Ms. Di.  Ms. Aida taught our two-year olds “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in Spanish, Ms. Di in English, and I did so in Japanese (having lived and taught children in Tokyo for three years). We delighted in the kids’ delight at learning new sounds and body movements. The only thing we didn’t do was change diapers. That is not allowed in the FG bylaws – thankfully, because with six babies in the room that would be a full time job.

At Early Learning Research Academy (ELRA) teachers Ms. Brittany and Ms. Caithlyne led me to more interactions with little ones and their parents. At ELRA and Leap Academy it is possible for a child to go from the infant room on up through high school. A great gift of stability in social interaction and education for children in Camden.

Foster Grandparents can give one-on-one attention to children in the classrooms in which they’re placed and, not having to be in charge, have the luxury of being able to observe the tiniest details of change (without having to document it).

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In classes of three, four and five-year olds, I took photos of the 18″x 22″ acrylic paintings each child did on his or her own without prompting from a teacher. The child could tell the teachers when they were finished. Every month each child produced a large colorful painting which was hung in the classroom. They learned and felt early on, the values of self expression. I truly believe we would have a more peaceful world if all people could have such creative experiences in their youth. (http://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?project=902227)

The proof is in the pudding. Look at the first graders’ mural “Exploring Lines” initiated by art teacher Nina Speart. Many went to ELRA pre-K. Visually the whole class’s individual work comes together as a whole. It’s important for parents to support their child’s artwork and to display it in the home. They can further encourage the child by going online, looking at and discussing the whole class’s work in terms of color, fun, action, line, etc.  (www.artsonia.com – go to Camden, NJ, ELRA and/or Leap Academy).

In my life as a teacher and Director of Art Aware, I knew about art, but my four years as a Foster Grandparent and taking photos of children’s art and posting it online, have increased my appreciation of the value of art in education and, of course, of all children – they don’t have to be biologically mine…    10256690_10203562967015378_1118713721472519567_o

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