Interview- Lin Bartlett -Taylor –
By Cesar Obeid
"String Lady in Canada" - Retired teacher. Created the program called "World on a String" - That is adapted for audiences: 2-92 years old. Her work is with small groups in libraries, schools and book stores.
Cesar - First of all, thanks for answering our questions. Where were you born and when you did your first contact with string figures?
I was raised in a small town called Corfu in New York State. It was very storybook with little stores and safe streets lined with tall trees. I walked to school and I lived near where the sidewalk ended. This was in the early fifties. There was always string and yarn at my grandmother's house because she could tat, crochet and knit. She is probably the one who taught me cat's cradle. But is seems like I have always known that one.
Cesar - Do you remember what was your first figure made?
My grandmother took me to see a young girl who was ill when I was about
nine. I remember playing cat's cradle with her, but I already new it then.I played Cat's Cradle with my grandmother and with some other girls at school. My dad knew how to play, but he did not do it much because playing with string was for girls. It seemed that every spring, strings would appear with the spring rains and flowers. I don't know why this was true, but it was true when I was a teacher also.
Our strings were rough. They were like a cat's tongue: heavy package string or yarn we took from our mothers and grandmothers. Our knots were bulky and often interfered with the game. Our fingers might get sore from the string. If teachers caught us, it got thrown away. Sometimes we wore the string in our hair to hide it. Or we wrapped it aroung our fingers like a ring.
It was so fascinating when we could just keep passing the string around and
make new shapes. I remember that our favorite was called The Cat's Eye. But we didn't have names for the other figures and never asked why it was called Cat's Cradle.
Cesar - In your hometown, what's most popular; string figures or cat's cradle game? Could you explain the difference between them?
For me string figures describe any picture you can make with string like Witch's Broom, or Jacob's Ladder. The secret to making them was often guarded by those who knew them. Cat's Cradle was a game that we shared with others and no one minded teaching it because you really needed a partner! This was in the late fifties when I was in grade school. We stopped playing by grade six. That seems to be true now also. After I retired in 2003, I kept on with string. Now I take it with me when I visit my mother in the nursing home. I have found that in each old person, there is a child who knows about string! Almost everyone knows Cat's Cradle, Jacob's Ladder and the Broom.
There were always funny string tricks that my uncles would play. One caught our fingers. Another looked like knots that disappeared. I had an aunt that showed me witch's broom but she never taught it to me. Jacob's ladder was usually done by an older kid to show off. The children mostly did the Cat's cradle and the grownups knew the tricks. Funny that the figures were what girls did, and tricks were what boys did!
Once my grandfather got tired of my grandmother picking bits of lint or thread off his jacket, so he put a whole spool of thread in his pocket and threaded a small piece to the out side with a needle. Of course, when it was pulled, my grandmother got a whole lot of string! Now that's a trick with real string!
I am not teaching in schools now. But in the summer I live in Canada and do string shows there. People who don't know my name call me the string lady. here are kids from all over Canada in our little town in the summer. We also have kids from Great Britan. I have never found a child who didn't take an interest in the string. The most popular are the string tricks like Cut the Hand.
Cesar - Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I had a retarded cousin, a blind sister, and a deaf cousin. It was just a natural thing for me to want to teach children who were handicapped. We call it special education, because the children have special needs. But I always think that it is because the children are special. I think I will always be some kind of teacher. I also teach about old fashioned toys like balls and tops. I like things that don't run on batteries. Imaginations seldom run out of power
Cesar- Why did you introduce string figures in your classes?
Actually in my very first job, in the late sixties, it was the kids who showed me! I caught them playing with string (in the spring!) but instead of throwing it away, I asked them to teach me. My students were very patient with me and taught me Witch's Broom and Jacob's Ladder. If work was done, we played with string. It was then I realized that even though my kids were "special" they had hidden talents. (Well, one girl used to steal
the mail, and boy who couldn't read could write bad words on his body.) For the most part, they liked to be able to teach me. I remembered that when I went on to other jobs. Kids need to be good at something.
After I had my own children we were living in Washington State on Whidbey
Island. This was in the seventies. I found a string book, Jayne's, and we tried to do them together, but we didn't progress very far. That was my first reference book. When I went back to teaching in the eighties, I started string figures again. My children and my students became my practice partners. I used string as a reward and also to determine what kind of learning skills my students had.
Cesar - Do you think that the continuous practice of string figures could
help the students in others skills, like lectures, concentration, teamwork
etc?(I will find for you a piece I wrote about this and send it later.)I absolutely believe that solving the figures helps in many ways. The concentration was incredible in kids who hated learning. I learned that one
of my students could learn figures just by watching me once! Another could
learn just by looking at pictures. I started buying more books when I could
find them and used string practice as a reward for the not-so-much-fun things like learning to read. Camilla Gryski had just one book out when I started. I brought it to class and funny thing, my nonreaders read it. They cooperated with each other. It was like they formed a secret club, girls and boys! And the kids not in my class began to take notice. When I found that there were pretty strings to buy, I bought them as rewards and my students wore them like jewelry. If they got their homework done, they were allowed to bring another student to my room. It started to be a way for my special students to make friends with other students, and these students were usually the best of the best! The kids who were curious and not afraid of different people. The word spread. Some of my students went to other classes to teach. It gave them something to be proud of. Of course I had to keep up with them and as time went on and I had more books, better string and lots of new learners. By the time I finished teaching, I knew about one hundred figures and games. Now, on a good day, I know about one hundred fifty.
Cesar - Did you use to tell stories with string figures in the classroom? How was this experience?
Sometimes we would make up stories by going from one figure to another. As time went on, we researched where the figures came from and added stories about other countries. It was a good way to learn about other places and times.
If a student knew only one figure, I would make up a story and let that child demonstrate it.
Sometimes we wrote the stories down. But mostly it was like the old times, we shared and talked together.
When I was a camp counsilor, I used making pictures in string as an icebreaker. I would tell the stories that went with them, like The Candle Thief.
What is the best thing about being a funiculologist (a person who plays with string)?
String has a language all its own. It doesn't need speech. It doesn't need words. Anyone can do it and everyone enjoys it either by learning or watching. It is movable art that can be done over and over and over. It has a rhythm that is almost music. And it all fits in your pocket.
As a reward for one of my students, I took her and one of her friends to a midnight breakfast. (It's a family tradition to celebrate some birthdays at midnight.) It happened that there had been a Civil War reenactment nearby. As we played with string and waited for our food, a guy in a civil war uniform came and asked me to play. So there we were: midnight, restaurant, civil war soldier, playing Cat's Cradle! I keep a diary of my encounters. String is a window into many worlds, it is a gateway to friendships, it is a way to touch the hands of our ancestors.
Cesar - I want you to leave one message to the Brazilians teachers that are not so used to use the string figures in school.
Just give a student a piece of string and ask them to make something. Encourage creativity. Then, even if you know only one figure, share it. They will be amazed and you will be on a great adventure with the most wonderful people in the world: kids.
Cesar - I'm sure that Brazilians will encourage to do string figures after this interview. Please, fell free to tell what you want to us.
I forgot to say that I was passed the string on to my grandchildren. My granddaughter, eight, just likes to make up her own string things. They look like knots to me! My grandson (12) likes Catch the Fly. My grandson (14) thinks he is too cool, but he was excited by your e-mail. The three of them went with me when I interviewed for a book store program. They each demonstrated a figure appropriate for their ages and told the interviewer how much fun they have with string. I got the job.
Here is a thing I wrote while I was teaching. We used to give tests to students to find out their ability and then place them in the appropriate setting. Option 1 was a smaller class with one teacher. Option 2 was an even smaller class with a teacher and an aide. Resource Room was a place kids went for extra help. Consultant teacher was a teacher who helped the student in a regular classroom for part of the day. There was a committee called CSE (committee for special education) which held meetings with parents and teachers to plan for the student's success. I thought the process would be faster if I just used my string!
LBT's test of Academic Achievement and Learning Styles Placement Test with Creativity Subtest (based on Cat's Cradle)
tester: the teacher
material: a looped string
format: teacher presents Cat's Cradle initial figure to student and notes response
A. Student Response: Oh, Cat's Cradle let's play!
Teacher: 1. play one round successfully: dismiss to regular class (student learns well in a group)
2. try to play: student wants to play but can't because:
a. fingers won't cooperate: refer to Occupational Therapy
b. student gives up too soon: set up another session
1. student improves with help: refer to Consultant Teacher
2. student improves over time: refer to Resource Room
c. student forgets some moves but responds to verbal instruction: refer to Consultant Teacher
d. student needs repeated verbal instructions: refer to Resource Room
e student tries, fails, cries: refer to counseling
f. student tries, fails, asks to see reference book: return to regular class, this is an independent learner
B. Student Response: Oh, Cat's Cradle, want to see some other figures!?
a. refer student to gifted and talented program
b. student offers to teach others: ask him to be on Olympics of the Mind Team
c. student plays one round but prefers his own figures: Regular Class, independent learner
d. student demonstrates an original figure: take the student's phone number and contact him when you retire and ask him for part time work: he'll be a success
C. Student Response: Nice Shoes!: refer student for outside evaluation for Attention Deficit Disorder
D. Student Response: No response
Teacher: prompt: Want to learn a string figure?
a. Student: what string?: refer to nurse for eye check
b. Student: what is string? refer to option one
c. Student eats string: refer to option two
d. Student wraps string around teacher's neck: refer to therapist for conduct disorder
E. Student Response: Ith dat tring?: refer for speech therapy
F. Student Response: I hate Cat's Cradle and you can't make me learn it: refer to counseling
G. Student Response: what's that? : teach cat's cradle, return to A
H. Student refuses to enter testing area:
a. practice control theory (a way a speaking to elicit a response)
b. call the principal for help
c. tie the kid up with the string and drag him to the room: look for another job
d. go to the kid and do all the string figures you know and observe reaction
1. student applauds: return to A
2. student turns away: refer to counseling
3. student reaches into pocket, pulls out a knife and cuts the string: CALL THE POLICE!