The Canuck Place classroom is a place where imaginations run wild and children learn in a supportive environment. For Canuck Place’s very own schoolteacher, Kay Lever, the classroom is a space for education and also healing.
Bear in a Chair began as a program for children who were undergoing treatment for cancer. Kay has recently implemented it at Canuck Place. A stuffed bear occupies the child’s seat in the classroom until their return from treatment and serves as a tangible way to allow both child and classmates to stay connected to each other. In the meantime, the bear accompanies classmates on school trips and children are encouraged to speak to the bear, ask questions, and write comments or short stories to share with their friend who can’t attend class.
While it can be overwhelming and intimidating, using a teddy bear allows children to feel more comfortable sharing and expressing their feelings. For Kay, this program is especially important to create a space where conversations can happen. “The fact that they have the bear in the classroom allows them to ask questions about the child,” explained Kay. “If there’s no contact, it’s hard for them to ask questions because they’re afraid or unsure if it can be talked about. But the bear opens up a channel of communication.”
But what happens if the child never returns?
Kay shared a story about a child who passed away last summer. The bear was at the school when classes resumed in September, and students were encouraged to write memories in a book. The children were able to say goodbye to their friend by cuddling and kissing the bear. “Because the child’s sister is in the same school,” Kay explained, “the bear is going to spend a couple of weeks in every class this year, to keep his memory alive.”
Addressing life-threatening illness and grief is difficult, but in Kay’s classroom, children find a welcoming learning environment that allows them to participate in creative activities and express their emotions. Bear in a Chair is a unique example of that.
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