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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Lamb

Week 7: Lessons from a Ludoteca

Ludoteca’s are after school programs in Italy, and students are grouped by age – preschoolers, young elementary, and older. In my field placement, I have been volunteering in a preschool aged class. Normally I use rudimentary language to help with puzzles, read a book (I can read and pronounce Italian even if I don’t understand it all), assist with paint or coloring, etc.

 

This week was a different experience. My placement is Monday afternoons, and this past weekend was the big Carnival celebrations everywhere in Italy. In a Catholic country, all Catholic holidays are celebrated, and each region has their own traditions and ways of celebrating. I went to Venice on Saturday to experience Carnival, and then to Bologna on Sunday and saw families with young children celebrating in the Piazza Maggiore and heard that Rome had celebrations as well.




If you know what school or childcare is like after Halloween, then you know the tired emotions the kids were feeling and expressing in the Ludoteca. At snack time they devoured their pastry and juice, asking for more. In the classroom, there was extra whininess heard.

 

Some children at that age naturally are still learning impulse control, how to ask to share or use a toy, and use their body more than their words to try get what they want. It was in these moments that I was the most frustrated with my lack of language skills. Here I was, in the middle of preschoolers, with the ability to ask them about colors, and where to put a puzzle piece, and talk about food toys.

 

What I needed was the ability to redirect when a child was getting frustrated because he wanted to play with something that another student had, when his actions showed that he needed a little coaching and guidance. What I needed was the ability to ask another student what he was trying to do when it looked like he was trying to destroy the block wall others had built. I would have been able to discover that he wanted to add an archway to go through rather than destroy. I could have compared his building ideas to the ancient architects who built the Colosseum or aqueducts. Instead, I felt useless and helpless.

 

At one point, I was the only adult in the classroom – the one who can’t seem to remember a lick of Italian in the moment. In that moment I was faced with myself and had a realization. I am educated, have worked with preschoolers, and have raised children. I understand how to guide young children when they are frustrated and either need space to calm down or redirection to lessen their intense emotions and give them a way to release their energy. I can read the room when 15 students are over stimulated and exhausted from an exciting celebration weekend and need to play large motor skill games outside to release energy rather than fine motor skill activities of drawing.

 

Yet, I don’t have the Italian language skills to communicate that in real time in a meaningful way. That was when the thought hit methis is how highly educated and skilled immigrants and refugees end up in low communication or low entry jobs when they arrive in a new country. You don’t need to have language fluency to do custodial or similar work. I also see even easier how people can be easily taken advantage of. When language skills are minimal, comprehending legal, medical, housing, and employment contracts become exponentially more difficult. In Rome I have the general benefit for basic interactions that a fair enough amount of people can speak some level of English and we can have a “broken” English and Italian mixed conversation. Both sides may not be able to have a full and interesting conversation, but it is sufficient to make it through the transaction. In the US, there is such a resistance and underlying anger towards people who speak other languages, that it makes absolute sense why people seek out others who are from similar backgrounds for living or work connections.

 

Palestine flag. Student wants peace. Author's personal photo collection.

Towards the end of the evening, the students were drawing what they had dressed up as for Carnival and asking the teacher and assistants for help showing what they had been. I walked over to the table and saw a Palestine flag. I asked the teacher, who speaks some English, about the flag. She shared with me the student who asked for it and mentioned they also asked for a drawing of Israel. When she asked the student about that request, they answered “for peace.” My heart melted a little. Amidst all the fun and celebration of Carnival, these students who live in a community of refugees and immigrants, are also absorbing what is happening in the world and want peace.


Who knew that a Monday afternoon surrounded by 3-5 year olds I would receive such sweet lessons from a ludoteca.



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