Homeless in Seattle: Part 1

Homeless in Seattle: Part 1

(The following events occurred 9/22/11 in my Trailblazer Classroom, which contained eighteen 3-5 year olds at the time. Each classroom at my school had its own name; ours just happened to be called “The Trailblazers &Explorers,” or “Trailblazers” for short.)

My friend and colleague, Patty Hatfield, would occasionally surprise me with different materials she'd come across that she thought my kids would enjoy – wiggly eyes for art projects, plastic bottle caps for the sensory table, and books that were beyond the scope of the toddlers and twos she was currently teaching. Today she brought in a book she was sure my group of preschoolers would really connect with. The Teddy Bear , a story about a boy who loses his favorite teddy bear, which is then found in a garbage can and loved by a homeless man, captivated the kids. In the story, the boy finds the teddy bear a year later on a park bench. When the boy hears the man crying and searching for his missing teddy bear as the boy is walking away, he returns the bear to the crying man. David McPhail's book is such a beautiful story that talks about a homeless person without even using the word homeless. My preschoolers saw homeless people all the time in their daily lives since they attended day care in the city and many of them were city dwellers, just like many other children in our country. This book is a great way to discuss this issue in a human way and get children thinking about others less fortunate than themselves.

The book that inspired the Trailblazers

 

As I mentioned, the children were completely transfixed by this story. You could have heard a pin drop as I read this lovely book to them for the first of many times. When the story ended, we had a very heart-warming discussion about it. Some of the details of that discussion revolved around cause and effect (“The boy lost his bear because it fell on the floor so his parents couldn't see it;” while eating at a diner, the boy falls asleep, knocking his bear under the table accidentally.), defining new vocabulary (“What is a dumpster?”), and thinking about what types of things might the man look for in the garbage cans while he was “working” (“Food, a cozy scarf.”; “Maybe a plastic bag to keep his treasures dry and clean, or cardboard to shelter him from the wind or rain.”).

 

What made such a huge impression on me, however, was the ease with which the children demonstrated compassion for others and recognized what is fair or the right thing to do. When we were exploring why we thought the homeless man cried when he thought his teddy bear was gone, my insightful four year old friend Julia exclaimed, “Maybe even adults get lonely too! The teddy bear was his friend and he missed his friend.” Wow!

 

Julia, wiser than her years

 

These young people also noticed and asked why the parents in the story walked away quickly when they saw the homeless man walking toward them, even though this was not stated in the book specifically. We decided that sometimes people don't know what to say or do when someone else needs help, looks dirty, or needs a bath. Or maybe the parents felt nervous because parents are always wanting to keep their kids safe and they didn't know the man.
A bit of a debate began when I asked the children why they thought the boy decided to give the bear back to the man. Chen began with “To make the man happy.” His friends agreed that this was correct, until Julia interjected, “But it really was the boy's bear first.” Issues about ownership and fairness were added to the discussion. After some debate, I refocused the group by asking if they thought the boy had other toys to play with at his house. Elizabeth exclaimed, “Yes! So he shared it with the man. He didn't need so many toys!” Bingo!
We wrapped up our conversation after Elizabeth and Maya commented that the boy was smiling as he walked away because he felt happy after helping someone.
Finally, we made a list of ideas including what each of us might do if we saw someone who was lonely, cold, hungry or tired like the man in the book. Noah suggested giving him apples and water since those are healthy foods, while Tommy proposed bringing him to his house for pizza and apple juice. While that is a generous idea I wanted the kids to know that they could help people without bringing them to their homes. I relayed the story about a former student and friend named Quinn who would keep boxes of granola bars in his car. When Quinn and his parents would see someone who looked hungry, they would stop the car and offer the person a granola bar.

 

This also seemed like the perfect time to reiterate that sometimes just saying “Hello” to someone or giving her a smile can also make her feel happy. Lots of people look away from people who look dirty or maybe smell yucky because they can't take a bath very often. A little kindness can really brighten their day.
At that point, Cameron declared that he was not sure what he would do if he saw a real homeless person. I reassured him that it was OK, that it's good just to think about it in case it ever happens to him.

 

My co-teacher Jessica and I have had the Trailblazers put on a play for the past four years as a way to combine social awareness and civic responsibility with the creativity, language skills, and confidence required to perform in front of a group. Because of the response of the children to this book, “The Teddy Bear” was the play we performed in the Fall of 2011 as a way to raise money and awareness for homeless individuals and families in our city of Seattle. We raised approximately $325 in donations from the performances.

 

Stayed tuned next time for Homeless in Seattle: Part 2 .

 

 

 

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