Leaning under the dining room, with lanterns or candles, with neon planets and stars, with marshmallows between their teeth, they, parents and children, forgot for a few minutes the drama that accompanied the pandemic and, in an imaginary world, they shared a thousand stories. someone thought of a story and a camp to tell the story, when the confinements went from day to month, because of a virus that came from distant lands.
Jensi Calderón Ovando, physical education teacher at the Antonio Nariño district school in the same city, and her team were surprised to see that a project they had been consolidating since 2016 was going to be of such great help in the difficult moments.
It arose after learning of the case of a girl who was supposed to wear prescription glasses but stubbornly refused to put them on. I used to throw them in the trash, scratch them with stones and lose them on purpose. At 4 years old, he feels an unusual resistance to this imposed object which will improve his vision. “We had to create a story where she was the protagonist, the main character”, says the teacher Ovando, who was trying at all costs to make her student feel identified. “We even spoke to the family to find out more about his personality, what his tastes were, his favorite games…”.
That’s how they knew the little girl loved movies. The story they invented for him then spoke of a magical object: 3D glasses that would allow him to see the world as if it were a big movie. Without the need for advice or intense discussions, the girl understood that she had to wear them every daybecause with them he could see the sun and the moon, the butterflies, the faces of his parents…
Like this case, there were many. Until the pandemic hit, children were stuck at home, and the idea of storytelling, more than just an educational project, became a beacon of hope. Only two months after the first confinements, children began to forget their classmates and yearn for the park like never before. Covid-19 has not only invaded many physical bodies, but it has also penetrated the heads of children. “We had to do something to get interaction,” I thought.
While all this was happening, the families were going through very critical times full of uncertainty. Issues of domestic violence, financial shortage, unemployment, mental health complications began to surface. “We even had problems with the caregivers and the children’s homework,” says Professor Calderón. “They were under a lot of pressure. They felt anxious to send the pictures of the solved booklets that we sent them with the tasks, to show the teachers the proof. Sometimes even the adults did it. It wasn’t true . The photo didn’t help us. It was a very tense moment.”
The students felt anxious. Sometimes they colored so strongly that they tore the pages of the primers. And the stress was not only for the children, the teachers had unbearable loads: Jensi had to manage five classes, each of about twenty students, and the guides only worked a few weeks. Everything had to be rethought.
“When we called the families, children and adults began to communicate their emotions to us”, explains Professor Calderón. “Some asked us for video calls for their children, but what they really wanted was to talk to someone. Above all, mothers started demanding a space to talk.
It was not theirs, but the educators wanted to help and they began to discover realities they did not know, like that of three families who had to confine themselves together in one apartment to save and survive. They lived crowded together. “The student told us the bathroom was her bedroom.”
The mothers wept as they recounted their realities. The parents complained about the superhuman efforts they had to make to bring money home. Talking about their frustration has served to ease those days of pain that covid-19 has brought. “Seeing all these realities, we believe that the right thing to do was no longer just to involve the children in the activities but the whole family. It became like a mission.
The first thing they imagined was that now, in confinement, they would tell about experiences they were having at home. “Some told us that they had to dance to silence the children; others, that they had started to cook. We use all of this as input to create the stories.
But they soon realized that this was not enough to produce the magic, something more was needed. Then Jensi remembered the “camps” they did at school: reading the stories under a table or a blanket, by the light of a flashlight or candles, and with marshmallows inserted on a stick. in wood could make the experience more fun, more successful. “When the kids found out they were very happy, they remembered we had done something similar.”
At first, the idea of building camps in typically small spaces was a bit strange. Some were located under the dining room; others simulated tents with sheets and blankets; others more sophisticated assembled structures with PVC pipes. Creativity came out. “Kids were asking for candles, they thought that was what made it fun.”
At a time when tragic and negative news abounded, families began to meet every evening to read a story. They explained to their children what it was all about, resolved their doubts and fears. “Sometimes they would call me at 8 p.m. to see if I could lend them a book,” Jensi recalls. It was wonderful. I used everything I had in my house to please them.
Sometimes the teachers contacted the children by WhatsApp to tell them stories with sound and images. Other times they made them dance with their mothers. It was about identifying what each child liked and using that as anti-stress therapy. “Although the school is a collective space, there will always be singularities to be respected.”
Families began to value the work of teachers and, in turn, educators, to understand the reality of each family. “And the best thing, the parents got to know their kids. It was an emergency pedagogy that left a lot of beautiful things”.
Parents even got to know the libraries that delivered books to their homes. And many, for the first time, took the time to read to their children, page by page, a story of monsters or zombies or superheroes. “Those who were stressed about having very young children and living in noisy spaces came to realize that if they paid them a little attention, they could calm them down. On the contrary, the roles began to shift. to intertwine, it was positive, and all this mediated by the school”.
After a few months of implementing the strategy, the camps started to get more sophisticated. It was as if adults were reverting to childhood. Once more, they constituted their imaginary kingdoms. Some demanded to go to the camp, even though their children didn’t want to. And many wrote first-person stories, in which they told their lives.
“It was very funny,” says teacher Jensi. “The men in the house got involved and the mothers started getting upset, because they said they were just bored, they also wanted to start playing and not just help with homework or prepare. delicacies.”
As if the success of the stories and a camp to tell them weren’t enough, more and more guests started arriving at this place. One of them was the grandparents, who for reasons of force majeure, and given the impossibility of taking care of themselves, went to live with their children and grandchildren during the quarantines. And seeing that they were laughing in strange knots, they started asking for clues to participate. But there was a problem: they couldn’t kneel down or get into such small places. Next, many have adapted the camps so that older members of the family can participate and, incidentally, they will bring one or the other story of their life.
On other occasions, neighborhood friends found themselves involved in the story. Once, a family invited a neighbor, in thanks because she had lent the internet key to the children so that they could study. These were difficult times and any help was essential.
Sometimes families didn’t even have windows to see the empty streets. One of Jensi’s students, for example, had to climb onto a bench to see blue skies through a small hatch. “With him, we had to paint imaginary windows on cardboard.” Claustrophobia had to be fought with the imagination.
With such a panorama facing the miners, fears were growing day by day. They had nightmares. And in the camps, these anguished dreams were translated into stories. “It was his way of externalizing what was going on.” Many have also lost a family member, especially grandparents killed by the virus. Perhaps for this reason, in the stories they invented, the little authors also talked about dead rabbits attacked by zombies, living germs or animals that were fighting.
That the children learned about fear and understood the meaning of death was also a gain. “This subject is avoided a lot with minors”, testifies the teacher. “But it’s important that they understand the problem as a real possibility.”
And for physical education classes, teachers had to be even more creative. For this reason, a kind of obstacle course has been imagined, with circuits that everyone has built with objects from home. “It was difficult because many houses had no space, there were no places for children to play. They had to put all the furniture in one corner,” says Jensi. And even that helped parents understand that their children, instead of being still, needed movement. “At the beginning, they wanted them to remain static, not to play, not to do stupid things. It was impossible. The families had to give them alternatives. The idea of the circuits had a so successful that even if the children were not in class, their parents made them do these courses to exercise themselves.
Ability to express emotions
We are already at the end of the most difficult period of the pandemic, and teachers value the resilience of students and their families. Not everyone has the ability to build a new world within four walls. “Out of 100 children in our care, we managed to connect 90 in the camps. It was a very nice accomplishment. »
After such an experience, teacher Jensi concludes that people are used to a very verbal way of expressing their emotions. “During the pandemic, they gave us a clue and from there we held on to create environments and scenarios in which they could express themselves,” he says.
The lesson, then, is to keep looking for ways for students to express their feelings in different ways. For example: eating marshmallows under a table or a carpet of seeds, while the youngest of the family tells the stories of grandfather around a candle or a lantern.