One Thousand Cranes for Healing the Earth: A 5th Grade Project
Monica Laurent | Class Teacher
In early October, any day in 5th grade felt like the equivalent of being in close proximity with a beehive. The class, outdoors for most of the day, was always buzzing with excitement as we returned to school in person after several months of online learning. It was as if no one could believe that we could actually wake up in the morning and spend the day with teachers and friends in a place that felt familiar, safe, and mostly joyous. After the experience of quarantining at home, seeing friends on a screen, being unable to immerse ourselves in each other’s energy and enthusiasm, returning to school in person was a gift to us all. Often, we only realized how lucky we were, when, for different reasons, we had to return to the old online ways for only a short period of time.
Returning in person at the beginning of October, a happy, small miracle in itself, also presented unprecedented challenges. The students knew that the privilege of being together was only granted to us because we were willing to wear masks, respect physical distancing requirements, and follow the plan the school had committed to for reopening to in-person teaching. I was inspired and in awe at how even the younger ones around us tried very hard to follow the new ways of being together. The fact that, since its reopening, we have not experienced a COVID case at school, is certainly a testament to the commitment to being together we all enjoy so much, youngsters and adults alike. Behind the masks that for hours cover nose, mouths, and every nuances of facial expression that usually connects us to each other, I could still spot twinkling eyes and the excitement of being together again. The joy was palpable within our smaller cohort of students, but so was the trepidation and the worries brought to us by a world full of uncertainty that we were not fully understanding.
We were all navigating a new reality, and it felt to me that an elementary-age child, who already had little control over daily choices about life, who observed adults living with uncertainty and a heightened level of anxiety about the future, needed a special something to feel empowered towards the healing of the times we were living and experiencing together. Additionally, I was living with the ongoing questions of how to bring connections, how to cultivate the interest in each other that is so pivotal to our journey together as a class, and how to keep the flames of compassion alive in a world that was becoming increasingly divided and isolated.
In general, the students might not be told directly about what is happening around them, but they know. They know because they hear the adults talking, they know because they listen to the news that is inevitably always around, but most of all, they know because they have an innate, natural affinity and connection with their surroundings. Children can still sense if their surroundings are beautiful, good, and true just by living in this time and age.
As often is the case, intuition and the Waldorf curriculum came to the rescue. While looking at the shelf of class readers, I spotted a set of Sadako of the Thousand Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. This set of books was purchased by a former colleague, and I wondered why it had been chosen to align with the 5th-grade curriculum. Since I love books and what is hidden inside them always intrigues me, of course, I picked one up and read it very quickly. It is indeed a short and little gem. It tells the story of Sadako Sasaki, 2 years old, living in Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. When she was a 12 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia, “a bomb disease” as it was called at that time. During her stay in the hospital, Sadako heard of the legend of the thousands paper cranes. She discovered that the crane, a sacred bird in Japan, lives for a hundred years, and if a sick person folds 1,000 paper cranes, then that person would soon get well. Sadako tried to fold 1.000 cranes but she died before she was able to finish.
When we read the book as a class, we discovered the existence of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park where the Children’s Peace Monument, a statue of Sadako Sasaki, was unveiled on May 5, 1958 which is also the Japanese Children’s Day holiday. To this day, people from all over the world fold and send cranes there to be laid over and around the statue of Sadako with wishes for healing and peace.
While discussing all this with the students, it dawned on me that we could all learn how to fold origami cranes. We have a few origami afficionados among the students, so learning how to fold cranes was easy, and quickly we all became very involved with the process. The wheels in my mind were already spinning, thinking of how to take this newfound passion to the next level, when, before I could even share my plans with the students, they had already voiced them. “Mrs. Laurent,” I heard one morning, “Why don’t we fold 1,000 cranes like Sadako? Do you think we can do it?” Well, I am not a teacher who easily refuses a challenge, especially when brought up with such enthusiasm by the students, so of course, we set up to fold them all. All it took was a small investment in squared colored paper, some time, and lots of patience. Soon the students began counting the cranes, sorting them by colors, and most importantly, decided that they were folding them with the wish of healing for a world that felt so urgently in need of it. We called it the Healing the Earth Project, and we vowed to fold, string and mail the 1,000 craned to the Children’s Peace Monument before the anniversary of the unveiling of Sadako’s statue on May 5. A few months later, the cranes have been folded, counted, and strung up in ten stands of 100 each. Together they are a beautiful visual reminder of our effort, ability and passion to do something little for a very big cause. They are now ready to be shipped to Japan, together with the other 10 million cranes that arrive in Hiroshima from around the world every year. All in all, it was not a big project. The ever-capable students folded the 1,000 cranes quickly and what slowed everything down was the time it took to string them up. Nevertheless, we did it, and as an adult, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction coming from the class. The students might be young, and sometimes they might feel powerless, but this little project brought us all together to give our heartfelt contribution of much love and a little intention to peace and healing to a world we love and that desperately needs it. And that is enough.