Sandra Lafferty

Writer ~ Educator ~ Mental Health Advocate


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Lessons From Grandma’s Button Box

The Great Depression taught my parents and grandparents to save. They saved pennies, broken things with usable parts … and buttons.

A Button Box Moment

The button box held a wide array of closures from garments worn beyond repair.  If a shirt or coat could not be passed along to another wearer, the buttons were salvaged and stashed in the button box. Searching through the button box hoping to find a ‘matchie’ for replacing a lost dress button gave me the opportunity to listen to stories of need that my grandmother saw as bounty, anecdotes my mother remembered from her childhood, and the occasional fashion history lesson.

The button box was always a favorite with my own children as well. It has survived the generations, gaining and losing buttons along the way. There are history, math and sensory lessons hidden within the colorful assortment.  The tactile experience as they run through a child’s fingers and the sound of the buttons toppling down upon one another inside the box has delighted every child who shared in the treasure that now belongs to me.

Over the years I’ve gone beyond sharing the family history and incorporated Grandma’s button box into lesson plans and spontaneous learning moments. What does it feel like to squeeze a handful of buttons? Can you find the one that is made from a sea shell?  I try to keep the “planned” learning short and simple so that I don’t encroach on the exploration.  Chances are if I sit back and just share the moment I’ll be answering instead of asking questions. Little minds are always full of questions.

We sort by color, number of holes, size and shape. We match them to the clothing we’re wearing and giggle when they look silly. We search out buttons, huge and wooden, that went on coats. We find small white buttons like the ones on Grandpa’s shirt. We wonder how long rectangular buttons got through their button holes. We rub our fingers on leather covered buttons without any holes at all.  All the while we’re bumping into accidental learning.

Even ADHD kiddos seem to stay focused when using the special buttons as manipulatives for math or arranging into letter shapes for phonics.

Counting, addition and subtraction can easily be hidden in button play for those who don’t relate to flash cards and rote learning.

Autistic children don’t connect well to the interpersonal world but thrive in the button box collection. Often collectors themselves, seeing my collection gives us a touch point to join our worlds.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

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From time to time I will be writing about educational moments you can share with the children in your life. Children of all abilities. Some will involve modern technology and others will need only the magic of creativity like the lessons found in Grandma’s button box.


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Learning Love From the Simple

I always loved Charlie Gordon just the way he was.  From my first reading of Flowers for Algernon, Charlie captured my heart. Just the way Kenny did.  His simplicity was pure, his smile captivating, and his vulnerability huge.  It was easy to hurt him and the general population felt no bones about doing so.  He was fair game — for hurtful names, pranks, teasing, manipulation.

I’m not sure what it is that makes people think that the Kennys and the Charlie Gordons of the world don’t feel pain.  Maybe it’s because they don’t hurt back.

Frustration comes easily when rote tasks are struggles.  It’s embarrassing when your peers are studying algorithms and you’re studying how to read a bus schedule and count change.  But if you fall, the Kennys and the Charlie Gordons are quick to extend a hand; if you miss the ball they cheer you on…because they understand that.

It was hard not to like Kenny if you took the time to know him. His smile was infectious, his heart was huge, and his hugs were wonderful.  He loved, he trusted and he followed.  And that made him prey, ultimately costing him his freedom and his life.

I’m angry with those who took his life but the greater struggle is reconciliation with those too impatient to wait, too lazy to teach, too unwilling to sacrifice. Those who said “I love you” but used him for their own good, left him when it was convenient, drew him near when it paid, and in the end threw him to the wolves.

I want there to be a special place in Hell for those who torture the simple but Kenny wouldn’t like that I feel that way.  He’d tell me they don’t really mean it. I still have much to learn from him.

I always loved Kenny just the way he was.