One week down, one to go. And what an incredible, eye-opening week it has been. Today, May 23, was the day that all of us had been looking forward to for a long, long time — Dr. Li’s Simple Interactions Workshop. This was something that all of us working with Simple Interactions had always heard about, but never experienced in person. Over the years, we have been hearing and watching the almost unbelievable stories from the village in Qingdao — stories of women with hearts too full to describe doing everyday actions to help better the lives of the children who come to their center — and today it was becoming a reality. The day started off as usual—breakfast and lots of yogurt — then it was time for the fun to begin. Come 9:00am we were all in our seats ready for the workshop to begin. The previous night we were all up much later than usual for this trip going through videos and discussing what we had seen, so I think we were eagerly waiting to see how the workshop would play out and how the team’s hard work would come together. There were two parts of this workshop — the first session being directed toward teaching the staff and visiting workers about the foundations of Simple Interactions, and the second allowing the staff to watch videos of themselves interacting with the children and learn from what they were seeing. Watching the audience’s reactions during the workshop was so profound to see. These people, who from observing them throughout the previous days, were the most caring individuals I had probably ever met, were not prideful of their tremendous work here at the center, but were utterly humble and eager to expand their knowledge of child care. If it so happened that one of the staff members was shown in one of the clips, she didn’t take that as her moment of glory, but from what I saw, each staff member was filled with pure joy and love — so happy and excited that they could help care for and love these children. I could really notice their excitement to learn throughout the workshop. Every one of the staff members was ready to go with pen and paper in hand, making note of any and every bit of knowledge they thought would be beneficial to them, and therefore, beneficial to the children. It was a really special sight. This was, I thought, the perfect environment to showcase Simple Interactions. A place bursting to the seams with such pure love and desire to make each child’s world better. After the workshop had ended, we all had the opportunity to have a small roundtable discussion with all of the staff members, and what a marvelous time that was. If it wasn’t clear how much everyone in this village loved and respected everything Dr. Li has done before, oh my goodness, could you feel that energy now. They had so many questions — nearly everyone had a story or an inquiry about something they were worried about. And the crazy thing was that they not only wanted Dr. Li’s opinion, but ours as well! That nearly blew my mind away. I couldn’t even imagine myself teaching these amazing women anything after seeing how much I had learned from them just in a few simple days in the village. But of course, everybody was happy to chime in and give any bit of advice they thought would be helpful, and the staff genuinely appreciated it and were really grateful for all the contributions made. It was a long day, especially considering that we couldn’t understand a majority of the workshop because we don’t speak Chinese, but I for one, felt like I had learned so much just from being in that room. The passion and ideas were practically bouncing off the walls and it was impossible not to feel completely a part of the entire experience. We ended the day with a seafood feast! So many different types of food, and all so fresh! Some were braver than others and tried things like jellyfish and mantis shrimp — I was too scared to try that one because it looked too much like either a BIG bug, or a small dragon . . . either way, I couldn’t do it. Anyway, to conclude this long post, this whole day was a phenomenal way to really see into the heart of Simple Interactions and see head on how “professional” resources and complex activities are not necessary to have a beneficial outcome on a child’s life.
Today we had the opportunity to visit neighboring learning centers in the Qingdao village. Our first stop was at the local elementary school. We walked through the bright hallways and noticed the sunlight pouring in through the big windows and potted plants in every possible nook, and I knew it must be a special place. Although the school was not a brand-new facility, it was clear that the learning environment was not reliant on the physical structure of the building or the available resources, but rather the teachers. We stopped in an English class and noticed the work the students were completing. The class was working on grammar through reading and writing sentences. One student was invited to recite a scripted story in English about Christmas. She was very excited to share her English with us, ending the story with asking if we wanted to build a snowman. We were honored that she shared this with us, and I was struck with her courage! One immediate difference I noticed in this elementary school as compared to schools in the U.S. is the immense respect the students show for the class and the teacher. The students stand up by their seats to answer when they are called upon; all students sit up straight in their seats, and they are genuinely eager to participate in the class. That being said, all children have fun – during recess, the children stood near us and we exchanged many “ni haos” (hellos). We took a selfie with them and the children were so excited! After this visit, we visited the village preschool. It was a beautiful day so the children were outside playing when we arrived. Although there were some purposeful structures for climbing and exploring, most of the children were squatting in a very large sand pit. We did not hesitate to join in the fun and get dirty. I found a little girl on the edge of the group and was intrigued about what she was making with the sand. The little girl and I said “ni hao,” then it was back to work. She was busy creating a little house using the materials available to her – a small plastic cube, sand, leaves and sticks. She delicately filled the cube with sand and evaluated it. I handed her a leaf and she incorporated it by placing it on top. She found a few more leaves to make a design. Next she found a plastic bottle from the pile of recycled materials and continued the process. We continued playing until we had a little neighborhood. What struck me is that although the materials were simple, the children were enjoying the activity and were very serious about their creations. We enjoyed visiting these schools and meeting the children! Later in the afternoon we were welcomed into the multipurpose room at the Qingdao Children’s Welfare Institution to view the performance the children eagerly prepared for us. The children danced and sang for us. We greatly enjoyed the show and noticed both the effort and joy of all the children involved. The day reminded me of one of Fred’s favorite quotes, taken from The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Today was our last day in Shanghai so Casey, Kyle, Dr. Li, Dr. Winters and I ventured out for more street food one last time. Since it was Monday, the streets were much busier than yesterday with the hustle of people going to work. Once again, we all got Jian Bing, a delicious Chinese street food of crepes folded around eggs, green onions, pickled vegetables and crispy crackers, and other breakfast items from various vendors. We also tried lychees and dragon fruit before checking out of the Shanghai Hotel. Lychees are DELICIOUS! I am so happy we have experienced so many different foods and dishes in China!
It’s the first day on the ground, and if I had to assign a Fred quote of the day it would be: "We are far more alike than we are different." Today we had the opportunity to visit a pre-school for migrant workers in Shanghai. For a little background, migrant workers are individuals who are not citizens of Shanghai but come to the city for work. As a result, their children do not have educational rights in Shanghai and are not permitted to participate in the public pre-schools there. Unfortunately, due to educational limitations, the children of migrant workers are only able to receive instruction up to the 6th grade because that is what's available to them. The preschool we attended schooled about 400-500 students. Once we arrived, we divided into two groups to observe classrooms with students aged 3-4, 4-5 and 5-6 years. Upon entering the classrooms, the excitement from our group and from the students and the teachers of the school was overwhelmingly wonderful. We had the opportunity to play number games, sing songs and do crafts to bond with the students, and although language was a barrier, play was not. Overall, there were not many differences in the classroom: the classroom environments were decorated, token systems were utilized, they practiced motor skills through games, but also stressed the importance of structure in their classrooms. Many of our group believe that the importance of structure was more pertinent in the classroom here than at home in the United States. Their class sizes were much larger than what we see in the United States, too. The kindergarten rooms had 45-50 children with two teachers. After observing the classrooms, we met with the staff of the school to ask questions we had. The principal told us more about the schedule of the children, the turnover in the classrooms due to children's migrant status and the evaluations they use to assess each child's progress.