Paper Butterflies and the Art of Changing the World

nov7

I volunteer to teach art to a group of inner city kids in downtown, Phoenix. In the summer, classes are longer and I am there for over three hours during the afternoon. Strange as it may sound, I like to go there unprepared. No lesson plan, no preconceived projects designed to hold their attention and occupy their time. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I have noticed that when I walk into that room with no expectations and open heart, a lesson will unfold.

Sitting at tables drawing together, I spontaneously picked up a piece of paper and folded it into an origami butterfly. The girl sitting next to me asked if I would show her how to make one. Yes, I told her.. of course I will.

We moved onto the floor at the other end of the room, followed by two more girls. Step by step, the four of us slowly folded pieces of paper into butterflies. While we worked, I kept talking – stopping whenever someone got lost, backing up a few steps, gently encouraging them and taking the time to make sure everyone was following along.

“The first time is the hardest,” I explained. “With each butterfly you make, it will get a little easier.”

Sure enough, after about three or four butterflies, they were really getting the hang of it.

A group of other kids wandered over to where we were sitting and asked if I would teach them how to make butterflies, too. “Yes, of course,” I replied..  then I turned to my three butterfly-makers and said, “These are your teachers.”

The girls looked at me, surprised. “You can do this,” I told them. Then I grabbed a piece of paper and waited for the lesson to begin.

Throughout the day, more and more children came into the room – “Is this the origami class?” they would ask. Yes, I replied – welcoming them into the group. Every time a new student sat down, a new teacher would be there to help them learn. Each teacher that emerged, taught their students with the same gentleness, patience and encouragement that I first showed to the three little girls. I heard them softly repeat my words to each other, explaining how the first time is the hardest.. how with each butterfly, it will get a little easier.

Although I only taught three girls, about 40 kids learned how to make butterflies that day.

How can I even begin to explain how it felt to watch the chain-reaction that unfolded before me? Children as students, learning and becoming teachers; sharing their knowledge and empowering new teachers. Over and over, the cycle continued..  like the ripples of so many stones tossed into an endless river.

When I walked into that room I was a teacher. But when I became a student, a lesson unfolded with the delicate whisper of paper butterfly wings.. and the power to change the world.

 

 

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26 comments

    1. Thank you, Ann! I have been enjoying your blog. Living life positively and creatively is a wonderful thing.. and Middle age has snuck up on me too 🙂 Looking forward to reading more of your posts!

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  1. The greatest success of a teacher is to see his/her students help others and become teachers in their own little way… Reading your article inspired me to put up arts and crafts lessons and other review lessons to the kids (most of whom come from underprivileged failies) I coach soccer to. These kids definitely need another channel aside from soccer to overcome the trauma of Typhoon Haiyan which we lived through. (Permission to reblog) 🙂

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    1. Thank you for sharing 🙂 I have been enjoying your blog – You have such great insight and a deep understanding of the impact you make in the lives of your student. Teaching them how to have a rich and fulfilling life – so inspirational!

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      1. thank you so much… i believe in “let your dreams mean something to others,” I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and I just want my fulfilling this dream to make the world a better place…

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  2. Reblogged this on mspatsperous and commented:
    It is every teacher’s sweet success to see his/her pupils become teachers in their own little way… And sweeter even, when a lot of those pupils end up pursuing the teaching profession… 🙂

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  3. Brilliant, all of it! You’re wonderful, I love the idea of not preparing. In my experience I’ve only risked this a couple of times, but it always worked out, as you say. A good lesson in trust, of yourself, of the process, of the children. And some how this is conveyed as part of what they pick up as well.

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    1. Thank you, Sarah! Yes, it is a good lesson in trust on so many levels. As human beings, there is so much we can learn from each other. These beautiful children have taught me a lot about myself and about life in general. Truly, the experience of working with kids has changed the way I look at the world.

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    1. Thank you, Kimberly. Actually, I am self-taught..been drawing since I was a child, and never stopped. Throughout my life, art has always been intensely therapeutic for me. Although I have never participated in any organized art therapy sessions, I can see how wonderfully kids respond when they are encouraged to open up and express themselves creatively.. the transformation is astounding. Truly, art is a universal language.

      Liked by 1 person

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