It symbolizes 'strong base for children'Etoya Johnson / Chicago Parent Learning Center preschoolers attend the dedication ceremony for their school's totem pole.
Native Americans decorated totem poles with images of bears, beavers and other animals to tell stories of tribal unity and love. Decades later, Jan Peterson, owner of Little People Learning Center, is incorporating that same idea at the school.
Each year, the Downers Grove daycare center, which serves children from 6 weeks to 6 years old, adopts a theme and creates crafts that fit. This year's theme is "Building a Strong Base for Children." The totem pole was a perfect symbol, Peterson says, because it tells a story about the family or clan. By building a totem pole, the families celebrate their own individuality as well as their place as part of the larger family at the daycare center.
"Bringing families, children and teachers together is what creates a strong base for each child," Peterson says.
All 40 of the daycare families were given a large coffee can and asked to decorate it in a way that would tell each family's story.
"We sent parents little bags of gravel, wood, feathers and other accessories to get them started," says Peterson. "We also asked each family to write something about their family and enclose it in a plastic bag, which would be inserted inside the can, much like a time capsule."
Each can the families decorated made the body of the totem pole, which stands about 6½ feet tall now that it's finished. The teachers helped by building the arms from cans they decorated to symbolize the many hugs they give the children.
"I decorated the head, which symbolizes me as the 'leader' or 'chief' of the center," Peterson says.
The Gorski family made the face on their can look like a griffin-the mythical animal that is half lion, half bird-and also the name of their son, Griffin. "It represents the strength of our family, the love and support of each one," they write. The Stoki family made a bear pole. "The multicolor, inconsistent layout signifies our unpredictable life," they explain.
"I never expected them to do such a wonderful job," says Peterson. "They really put themselves into the project. The vivid imaginations of the families made each piece that much more interesting to look at."
The totem pole will remain in the playground area of the school at 2144 Curtiss St., Downers Grove, throughout the year, weather permitting, according to Peterson.