Elementary-aged students can be brutally honest: they simply tell it like it is. “Why didn’t you do your hair, maestra?” (I actually did, but the humidity wrecked it.) “Your room smells funny today.” (Not my fault that the air-dry clay I bought has a weird after-smell.) Or… the one that cut through to my soul: “Pato isn’t real. I can see your lips moving when he talks.”
Umm. That is my curriculum you’re talking about! I can use hairspray to mat down my hair. I can find an air freshener to eliminate foul odors. But Pato? Now you’ve touched a nerve, kid!
Pato, for those of you who don’t know, is my stuffed animal duck with a squeaky voice and mostly innocent though mischievous mind and past. He didn’t mean to dip his beak into that red paint; he thought it was a bowl full of strawberries and was ravenous. Yeah, sure, Pato, uh-huh. Or how about when he accidentally plastered all of the Spanish stickers from my desk drawer onto his bedroom walls (a shoebox)??
Then there was the day he heard food-ball when I said fútbol, and ended up inventing a sport where you roll raw eggs across the floor, kind of like soccer, but the goal is to get them in the goal without any cracks on the shells. Yes, he had to clean up the egg yolk mess afterwards and apologize. After a while, the sport came to be called comida-bol among my students, since comida means food…
His best friend–(Oso/the stuffed animal bear; kind of like how your child calls his teddy bear “Teddy”)–is less impulsive and much more level-headed, but he still gets involved, somehow. Like two weeks ago, when a second grader… wait, let me start from the beginning.
Initially, the objective was to string up two ziplines, from the second floor hallway of the school down to the flagpole, on which my two stuffed animal friends would race. Students would ultimately learn what country each stuffy was from, but they would need to do some sleuthing first: each time their team (Team Pato or Team Oso–terrible Spanglish, I know) won a race, students would earn a letter of the Spanish-speaking country, if they answered a Spanish trivia question correctly.
For example, when Pato won the first race, Team Pato was asked, “How do you say, “I love cheese” in Spanish?” When Oso won the next race, Team Oso was asked, “Name one country that borders Paraguay.” etcetera, etcetera. Some questions were linguistic, some were cultural, and some were song-lyric related. If they got the question right, they would earn a random letter in the answer (e.g., a “t” in Argentina). Here, they could eliminate España/Spain (no “t”), but “Costa Rica” was still a possible answer.
More to the point, during this activity Oso the Bear was inadvertantly tossed up not to the second floor hallway balcony, but rather high up onto the second floor roof, at least 25 or 30 feet in the air. He was a good sport about it and commented later that while he liked star-gazing that night and the general peace and quiet, the heavy rainstorm was a definite dealbreaker, in terms of Long-Term Roof Living Arrangements.
I panicked momentarily, as now not only was Pato the Duck not real, Oso the Bear was stranded indefinitely on the roof. So much for my Spanish curriculum. #EpicFail
However, with many thanks to the maintenance department, Oso the Bear was rescued, though not until the following day during lunch–at which point practically the entire school cheered!
If Oso could be saved, then maybe there was hope for Pato and my ventriloquism skills, too.
I was first introduced to ventriloquism in the 90s, by the beloved Shari Lewis and Lambchop. In reading articles about her as an adult, I learned that Lambchop became a part of the family at a certain point, which definitely resonated with me. Pato has become a part of the culture at my school, to the point where fourth graders perform an original play about him and his crazy adventures every year for the entire school and community. During the quarantine, I made videos about the silly duck for students.
That said, I am 100% self-taught, which means that 1) I have had laryngitis more times than I can count (because ventriloquism requires a lot of air, and clearly I am doing something wrong); and 2) students are brutally honest and also tell me when I’m doing it wrong (i.e., “Pato is not real!”). If you are interested in making the stuffed animals in your classroom fully legitimate, the consonant chart above helped me a lot. Just replace all of your “b’s” with “d’s”, “f’s” with “th’s” and so on and so forth.
If you visited this page because you think ventriloquism is awesome and were looking for inspiration, I included some of my favorite videos below.