Cultural and spiritual heritages are often passed on to new generations through stories and teachings by elders. Knowing this, Jaqueline Woodson uses classic black folk tales dating back to black enslavement as a launching point for her picture book, The Year We Learned to Fly (2022).
In this award-winning story told in verse, Grandmother encourages her grandchildren to face their challenges like their ancestors did. She shows them how to use their imaginations to fly. Eventually, they learn to soar away from their troubles, just as their enslaved brothers and sisters did before them. Help children ages 5-8 explore the book and the spiritual practice of flying with one or more of these thematic activities:
Stories: Jacquline Woodson was inspired to write this book after reading different folktales told by generations of slaves living in America. In those stories, the slaves were able to draw on their magic from their African homeland and fly away to a better place when faced with the harsh realities of slavery. Brainstorm or share some stories with children that are important to their faith or culture. Ask: Why did people tell these stories? Why do you think these stories are important?
Ancestors: Grandmother learned the practice of flying from her parents and grandparents, who learned it from their parents and grandparents. Select a few individuals from an older generation. These could be grandparents, an elderly neighbor, or an adult friend from a community center, religious organization, or afterschool program. Invite these older adults to tell children about an important lesson their parents or grandparents taught them. Encourage children to ask questions about these lessons, such as Why do you think your parents or grandparents wanted you to learn this lesson? and How are you passing this lesson on to your children and grandchildren?
Mindfulness: What grandmother teaches her grandchildren is a mindfulness practice that they can use when they are facing challenges or feeling big emotions. She instructs them to lift their arms over their heads, close their eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine something different. They use this practice to think differently about the world or imagine that their anger isn’t so overwhelming. Encourage children to imitate this practice, adjusting the last step for whatever situation or emotion needs attention. After using the practice for a week, evaluate your experiences together. Ask: How has this practice been useful? What has been difficult or disappointing about the practice?
Imagination: Grandmother says that their ancestors used the practice of flying to imagine a place where there was no more slavery. Her grandchildren use their imaginations to picture what the world would look like if they weren’t bored, or angry, or lonely. Talk together about some of the problems in your community. Then invite children to close their eyes and imagine those problems going away. Afterward, encourage them to draw a picture of what the world would look like if these issues were made right.