It has been a truly wonderful week of remembering and writing about Aunt Sally. I am forever grateful to Wildabest for believing in me, being willing to work so closely with my cranky self, for always, always having hope. She really is the best.
I know you have lots of questions, so today is all about that.
We decided from the beginning that all rugs would be gifted. We were not interested in turning this into a money generating endeavor. That was not the point. Gifting to others was an important part of this project. Our students were rarely, if ever, in the position to give. We know the act of giving is a positive thing. We know it feels good, it promotes good brain chemistry, it fills the heart, it helps in self-concept and identity. Our kids were in sore need of this kind of experience. To be thanked, to be appreciated for making something beautiful is a powerful thing.
In some of the pictures you see rows of white fluffy ends. That’s toilet paper. That is what separated each rug. We made many connected rugs before taking them off the loom. Taking off each rug as it was completed would mean redressing Aunt Sally. We needed the momentum to be uninterrupted. Finish a rug? Weave in 6 inches of toilet paper, start another.
Who decided on the rug patterns? Whose rugs were whose? Ah, magic again. All rugs were done by all students. And they never argued about it, never criticized the colors chosen. When it was time for a new rug to be started, the student at Aunt Sally decided the colors and the pattern, wrote it on the loom board and everyone followed along. We made each rug between 36 and 48 inches. There was lots of measuring and counting. The kids became quite adept at using a ruler. Finally!
My paraprofessionals and I did all the tying off of the rugs. It was tedious work and required fine motor skills our students were not interested in developing. At the ends of each rug there was fringe to be tied off. That was another reason for the toilet paper. Once we cut the rugs apart, we pulled out toilet paper and tied the fringe.
We were fortunate to have a steady stream of sheet donations. The whole school was contributing. The kids liked using sheets with a patterns on them in-between the solid dyed ones. They were fascinated by how patterned sheets looked when woven. A few younger ones were disappointed that the Pooh Bear sheet they cut and used did not go back together, when woven, as Pooh Bear. They got over it.
One of our students requested that one of the rugs be given to his mom for her birthday. The others agreed that would be OK. He designed the rug and while that one was being woven, whenever someone would sit at Aunt Sally, a fellow student would invariably remind them to do their best work because it was for Sam’s mom.
Wildabest brought her classes up to learn about Aunt Sally and my students were the teachers. They would present and demonstrate to whole art classes. They were amazing. Who knew? Well, I did. The Experts were so proud. They were patient and kind and so wonderful as teachers. And it was so great to have our door open to anyone that wanted to check Aunt Sally out. Sort of reverse inclusion. The EBD room went from a foreign room that only ‘those’ kids used, to one of bustling activity and sharing. The lines blurred and soon were no longer there.
Aunt Sally was singing! I could tell who was weaving without even looking. Each student developed their own rhythm. Some were gentle and quiet. One of my students pulled that beater bar in a very distinct way. One louder bang followed by three quieter taps. It’s just how he rolled. We noticed that when someone was weaving and others working, there was pencil and foot tapping to the rhythm the student at Aunt Sally was generating as he wove. That always tickled me. They had no idea they were all syncing up. All unaware.
We took lots of data. There was a remarkable difference in student attitudes, self-concepts improved, attention spans and ability to handle frustrations improved. There was an alarming decrease in meltdowns. I had hoped for some improvement, but this was magic.
The first year we had Aunt Sally, we only had her up and running for 4 months before the school year was over. And it was that last day of school that We fully understood what a profound influence Aunt Sally had on all of us, on our entire school. It’s hard to find the words.
The kids laid all the rugs our like a large carpet. Throughout the day they each found adults they appreciated, wanted to thank, and brought them to our room. I wish I could do this description justice. As the kids brought back their adults, the adults gasped in awe at all the beauty and hard work. The students took some of their adults by the hand and strolled gently across the carpet of beautiful rag rugs, pointing things out, commenting on patterns and colors. And then they would tell their adult he or she could pick out any rug they wanted for their own. The adults were so moved and their reactions were all I had hoped they would be. Smiles were huge, hearts were softened. I saw internal shifts. I saw my students puff up with pride and feel the joy of giving something they made. Many tears were shed that day.
The kids made sure every adult in the building got a rug at the end of that year. The custodian (chose one for his new grand baby’s nursery), principal (chose one for her personal entryway), secretary, recess supervisors.
After the last bell of the year rang, every one of my students wandered in to touch Aunt Sally and say goodbye. One 6th grader brought his grandmother in and asked if she could buy him a loom so he could weave all summer. He was the last to leave the room. It was really hard for him to leave Aunt Sally. He was off to middle school next year and asked me to get a loom going in his middle school EBD room.
Sadly, after another year of huge success with Aunt Sally I left that position to move on to other things. My replacement saw no value in Aunt Sally and so that beautiful loom was moved to a corner under a sheet. This bothered Wildabest a great deal. It broke my heart. Wildabest has since moved Aunt Sally to her art room where she is enjoyed every day by all students. And I got to dress her over spring break. Oh, how I love that old gal.
We were able to get looms up in a few other schools. Looms were actually donated and found for us. Beautiful looms with names like Aunt Melinda, Grandma Rosie, Miss May, Stella….. Wildabest and I have presented this project to a variety of groups and at conferences. After one such presentation, one of the ladies suggested we needed a wringer washer to wring out all those dyed sheets. She was right. So Wildabest’s sweet mom found and paid for one and it lives in the art room with Aunt Sally.
Please be courageous. Look past the maladaptive behaviors of your students and search for the cause. Find solutions, no matter how unconventional. Until we help our students heal, they can’t learn. When they can’t learn, they present in unpleasant and unproductive ways. Never underestimate the power and opportunity you have to truly help your students to develop a sense of competence, a positive self-concept. Let them create, let them discover how truly beautiful they are.
…and you know I have to say this…. stop with all the rewards and consequences, stickers and token economies. Stop being so concerned about controlling kids.