How does the 100 Languages of Children facilitate deeper and more meaningful expression and responses?
Why does it matter?
What can we learn?
As we embrace a new school year, the most important thing to feel, see, and create is engagement.
Children and adults whose faces light up when they interact,
An environment filled with provocations that delight, intrigue, and expand possibilities,
Values made visible in words, images, and actions that proclaim that all are welcome here
Tools and practice in spreading kindness and compassion, even when it is difficult
Rich opportunities for delving deep and expressing ideas, concepts, and understandings.
We have a ritual, a tradition at SWS called Kindness Day.
On September 11th, we experienced 9/11 as a school community.
Since then, we created and celebrate Kindness Day.
Our active enduring question is, “How can we spread Kindness?”
This year, the Monarch butterflies, who routinely lay their eggs on our school Milkweed did not arrive. I’ve heard it was due to some cold summer weeks in the Northeast. While it turns out, it did not negatively affect the migration, it did affect my start of the school year. My Atelier curriculum for the Fall was based on the Monarch rescue, transformation, and migration, starting right after Kindness Day and leading up to Solstice! So, I threw myself into Kindness Day hoping the Monarchs still might arrive.
Here is a link to explain the origins of this beautiful and pivotal SWS experience.
On the day of 9/11 every child walks under the arch of teachers holding hands and singing. This year it was, Put a Little Love in your Heart. Together as an entire school, we reflect and share , sing, and then go out to exchange the small hand made gifts.
Be it the story of the Phoenix, 9/11, or the myriad of injustices and pain that surrounds and often includes us, there is within the human capacity, the audacity to develop, teach, and grow the lens to see, honor, celebrate, and practice kindness.
Kindness Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
The butterflies did not appear despite every day combing the Milkweed leaves. Kindness day was beautiful. However, I had to quickly recreate curriculum as expansive and exhilarating as metamorphosis!
My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and connected.
If we are to share personal stories, we need to do it in a space we feel cared for, not judged. We need to be loved for who we are.
There are Atelier Rituals you might not be aware of. The first thing children do before they even enter the Studio is they are invited to take up to 10 jumps on the trampoline and meet on the rug. Once all are on the rug, my hands make a beat on my legs and I look every child in the eye and sing, I’m so glad you’re here today, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad ___________ is here, I’m glad ____________ is here, I’m glad______________ is here, until all have been seen and sung to.
Even if someone is having an off or sad day, these small and intentional actions allow a child to switch, to activate (or deactivate) and enter into a the space with their body, mind, and heart open.
To facilitate an intimacy of sharing and making, the book “My Heart Fills with Happiness?” was read in the Atelier with small groups as a provocation for using wonderful new art materials and expression.
“International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.”
My eyes often filled with tears as children shared these small glorious moments that give joy to their lives. Our conversations of smells that fill our heart with happiness included Soba noodles, banana bread, syrup, hash browns, bacon, cookies, apple pie, soup, pizza, birthday cake, and even broccoli!
Home is such a visceral and grounding place. These conversations celebrated and made visible how breaking bread truly creates a sense of togetherness and stability.
“Time spent” was a common thread, be it at the beach, playing, or taking a walk. Not one child said their heart filled with happiness when they were bought something. Each and every recollection was about the preciousness of just being together. This included friends, grandparents, pets, siblings, and parents.
Just seeing the face of their loved one, being held, hugged, kissed, and just showing up. Our children are speaking to us. Are we meeting their eyes with our own during these moments? As the children spoke, their eyes were bright, and their faces glowed as they spoke. They painted with passion, intensity, and a sense purpose.
Sharing these moments became like little blessings. As one child shared, the others (and me!) would join in or add to the conversation. We might all be living in different homes in different types of families, but the enduring beliefs of what filled their hearts with happiness was the same.
As children painted and used materials, they became closer to reliving that moment.
When you feel like you haven’t given your child (or any child you have a relationship with) enough, just take a breath and read these responses, and remember, they innately know what matters.
Our next journey (Prek and Kgn) was inspired by the book All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. This picture book has a call and response cadence and rhyming verses that allowed the children to “sing” the book with me.
The vocabulary is rich, so for 3 studio sessions we returned to a single page and I would ask just one question from the book. Through Kindness Day we had determined and set the intention of our Community as a Kindness School. We moved on to wondering
What is diversity?
The next project was proposed.
I recently attended a DCPS Professional Development for Visual Arts and Music Teachers. It was centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
I attended a dynamic session with Living Cities entitled On the Pulse of Morning, Looking at Structural racism that Exists in Education.
History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, Need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream. Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings. Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness. The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out upon me, The rock, the river, the tree, your country. No less to Midas than the mendicant. No less to you now than the mastodon then. Here on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, Into your brother’s face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning.
I must thank all the folks who sent photographs and videos, both Erika and I had our hands full and were unable to do it ourselves. Thank you thank you thank you!
Thank you to Lynette Craig who did all the paperwork and phone calls to convince our city to shut down the streets for this parade (park service and the police!). She left to me- only to meet with the officers/officials and sign my name. You have powers!
Thank you to Erika Bowman, my sista Atelierista and dream-it-into-reality-parade- partner. I will miss you. But I get to keep the memories (and friendship!), lucky me.
After the video link is documentation of some of the early childhood experiences that inform the parade video.
As a team (Prek3, PreK, Kgn) we focused on a year long exploration of Global Environmental Citizenship. Here’s how it emerged in the studio context:
It’s a new school year. Filled with possibility, new relationships, and sweet growth for both the children and all the connected adults in their lives.
“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” Loris Malaguzzi
When children learn from their heart and soul the importance of protecting and honoring the earth (even cuty kids), when they learn to wonder, think, imagine, and be curious of the world around them at a young age, when they experience the connection of all living things, they develop the empathy and awareness to make a difference. To be kind. To create solutions. To find metaphors.
And this is why we engage so deeply in the Monarch rescue effort. It is more than science.
It’s making ripples.
“I wonder if caterpillars play with their friends?” Olivia D., Kindergarten
“I wonder, how did they take such big bites (of the Milkweed leaf) with a tiny tiny mouth?” Lucy, PreK
After the caterpillar falls, because the cage is accidentally bumped, the caterpillar curls up. The PreK3 group gasps because they think it’s hurt.
Suddenly it stretches out on the leaf and starts moving.
“It’s not curled! It’s happy now!” Alonzo, PreK3
“Actually I see (the caterpillars) are the same. Same stripes.” Felix, PreK3
In these images Laurel communicates all her knowledge and wonder and understandings to me by tapping, and pointing, and expressing non-verbally. By “visually listening” I learned how enthralled and connected she is.
“I see they have black and white feet.” Lucy, PreK
“I see they have antenna.” William, PreK
“I see 4 antennae.” Lan, PreK
One Monday, when I arrived at school, I found that 3 of the caterpillars had escaped the cage. Two were found, but one disappeared. I told Mr. Moore the custodian about the missing critter, and hoped when he swept, he would find our missing caterpillar. I crawled under every table and chair. Eventually, I cam to the conclusion that the cat had either crawled away or had been vacuumed up by accident.
5 days later, Alexandra says, “Ms. McLean, I found something in the pony palace.” This is a play house about 25 feet from where the caterpillar tent is.
“What did you find?”, I asked.
I gasped. “Is it alive?”, I asked her.
“I think so.” she replied.
I put that caterpillar on a milkweed and low and behold, after 5 days of no food, it began munching away! It has since turned into a beautiful female butterfly. What a magical story!
“I wonder why it hangs upside down.” Nergu, PreK
Transformation of the caterpillar into the chrysalis is a rare thing to witness. This year, children, parents, and staff had the opportunity to watch this four times! It is such a grand moment of wonder and hope. For if this little creature can make such a spectacular transformation, surely we can too.
“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreK
Here’s a brief video of the end part of the transformation. It is aptly called, the pupa dance.
“I wonder how does it (the chrysalis) stick up there?” Will C., PreK“I think the golden on it tells you it’s a special surprise.” Hope, PreK
Engaging in small groups with tiny miraculous creatures offers deep moments of observing, thinking, wondering, expressing, and caring. In these small moments were opportunities to focus on not only caring for the earth, but each other too. Listening while others spoke, engaging in kind language, sharing materials, and collaborating. These are not the small things, but the big things. The ripple makers, to spread goodness.
“I wonder, is there a mommy and daddy?” Josephine, PreK
Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each. – Plato
When one of the PreK3 children became frightened by the butterfly, the effect was catching. Soon I had four screaming 3 year olds. I quickly grabbed two Kindergarten children, Dale and Olivia, who were on their way to recess, and asked them if they would come in and teach the 3 year olds there was nothing scary, while I took the very frightened little one out to get a drink of water and calm down. The two stayed for a whole hour, even facilitating and helping the younger children make a great big butterfly mural. I really couldn’t have done it without them. When I thanked Dale and Olivia for giving up their recess time to help me out, Olivia looked at me and said, “No, thank YOU Ms. McLean for inviting us.” I almost cried.
When it looks like you’re breakdancing in the atelier, you know something good is happening.! Embodying and engaging all senses makes one alive to the world. Processed with Snapseed.
“I think caterpillars have different brains.” Gilly, PreK
“Hey butterfly, look at this picture. She cute, right?” Ryan, PreK3
Themes and discussions of freedom emerged, as the children vacillated between wanting to name and keep the butterflies and also wanted to let it go. It also allows children to think about their selves. Wanting to be totally free, but being a child and also wanted someone there, when they are afraid. Isn’t that what we all want?
“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change
My deepest wish is that I can be an instrument in supporting your child/children to become themselves. Beautiful kind compassionate loving selves.
Here’s to a year of making lots of ripples, and butterfly flights.
“From seeds” comes from a conversation that came about today when I was in the SWS garden harvesting vegetables and flowers to paint with Caleb, Franklin, and Boaz (PreK children).
The act of picking the produce or herbs or flowers develops a shared anticipation, as each child waits their turn to cut, pluck, or support a friend who is cutting.
It’s exciting, the bees are buzzing, the wind blows, the sun shines, or maybe it is raining. It is an act made with care. It is filled with sound and touch and friends.
Placing each tender newly harvested item onto a tray or basket to bring back to the art studio, there is a glee and a joy. Once we have happily skipped back inside to the studio, the work of looking
and collaboratively choosing just the right pallette of paint for each piece of nature becomes a debate.
No, it’s purple.
Well maybe purple brown.
Where is that?
There! There! As a group, this act of looking, observing, debating, and choosing goes on for each pepper, tomato, zinnia, or radish.
It is slow.
It is purposeful.
It is a task that connects the children deeply to each nature item, even if they didn’t pick it. It connects each child to one another as they help, shout, whisper, and cajole their friend who is choosing a paint, that no, it really should be a light green for the stem. After this beautiful experience of harvesting, and collaboratively choosing a pallette of paint, each child gets to choose what they want to paint.
Since they themselves pulled the radish from the dirt, passed the radish from hand to hand while choosing a tub of paint that matches it, and then carried it all to the table…what happened next was a natural act. These small children, PreK children, naturally understood the beauty and nuances and began to paint. The Trail of Tears Bean on the vine gestured.
It was silent.
This is more than painting a still life.
This is connecting to life.
This week as millions marched world wide to stop climate change and met to discuss the health and future of our planet, I am struck by the importance of these small connecting moments in the garden with our young SWS caretakers of the urban garden at the entrance to our school.
Please read the conversation below. It speaks to a child’s understanding of interconnectedness, of consumerism, and in the end…that it all comes “from the seed.” We had this conversation outside, hands in the earth by the radish bed.
I wonder, if I did not take them out, if SWS did not have the vision and will to place a garden at the entrance to our school, if parents and staff did not have the passion and energy to volunteer and create and upkeep this plot, if our FoodPrints program did not exist, if the teachers did not have the values to get the kids in the mess and the dirt and the seeds…
would the conversation had ended at “…food comes from the store”?
It is science, it is art, it is literacy, it is nutrition, but it is oh so much more.
These acts of engagement and connection are acts of activism. They are acts of expression. They are acts of discovery. They are acts of joy.
Better than “dust to dust,”
our young children are expressing that human existence is “From the Seeds, From the Seeds.”
Please watch this 3 minute video. It is a love letter. This is the poem by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands that brought down the house at the UN Climate Summit today. It is moving in a way that you wouldn’t believe.
Dear Matafele (a love letter to a child)
Please linger in the garden with your child, or volunteer to cook, harvest, plant and water at SWS, in your community, or wherever you live.
Get a little dirty.
March, sing, dance, research, talk, touch, create.
Every small act.
We truly are interconnected.
We are all
(Thank you to Boaz, Franklin, and Caleb who inspired this post.)
I wish sometimes that others could just understand what I’m creating or doing, imagining, or thinking. I wish the intent and meaning of my work was clear without narrative sometimes. (Liminality ll, Marla McLean 2014)
I worry, if I write about it, will I then have the energy to do it? (Detail from Rivers, Marla McLean 2013)
Which brings me to the dilemma of not posting since APRIL!
Where do I begin again?
Is there a thread to return to?
I am deciding at this moment to start with the most current of thought and experience. (The streets of San Miguel, 2014, MM)
I just returned from co-teaching a course, “Art & Social Justice” in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with the Corcoran College of Art & Design Pittman Study Abroad Program. (Mojiganga, in front of La Parochia, San Miguel de Allende, 2014, MM)
It’s my second year of traveling with Art Ed Grad students and Art Ed Director Dr. Pamela Lawton to be immersed in the rich cultural heritage of SMA, as well as facilitate an art project in Casa Hogar Santa Julia, an orphanage/girls home.
(Here’s the Corcoran gang at the studio of Anado and Richard.
First, let me say that San Miguel de Allende is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s a World Heritage sight.
It is an ideal location to travel with Graduate Art Ed Students to inspire, immerse, and learn.
Despite it’s vast riches (as world-over the case may be), poverty and need still exist. Similar to the US there is a great level of income inequality.
As part of the Corcoran College of Art & Design Study Abroad Course, students are given the challenge of creating art/arts programming at Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco. (A look at life at San Miguel de Allende that is often hidden.) (Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Ana Maria, 2014)
“Casa Hogar Santa Julia, founded in 2005, provides housing, education, and support to girls in need. Surrounded by the competent, caring devotion of their beloved Madres, the girls of Santa Julia are transformed into confident, educated young women.
The needs of these girls stem from the precarious circumstances of their homes of origin; but at Santa Julia, these girls are being equipped to flourish in all parts of their lives—from faith to friendships, preparing for college, and personal discipline.” From the Santa Julia website
Casa Hogar Santa Julia far exceeds our American foster care system. Girls from toddlers to 19 yearl olds are nurtured (emotionally, educationally, physically, and psychologically.) That being said, this is a hard deck of cards to be dealt. The resilience and inner beauty of these girls is fierce in the face of the hardships they deal with daily.
Loris Malaguzzi , visionary of the Reggio Emilia Pre Primary Schools in Italy really nailed it when he coined the phrase The 100 Languages of Children. This idea is that children or individuals express themselves in a multitude of (non-traditional) ways. When given the opportunity to express through many vehicles (poetic languages of the arts and sciences) and simultaneously being in the company of those who “listen” through these non-typical communications, great understandings and empathy are developed.
The Art project we presented to the teenage girls, was a photography based concept. (We spontaneously created programming for some of the younger girls, however the crux of the course/plan was working with the teens.)
It began with a slide show and talk of The History of Mexican Photography By Contemporary Photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio. He took the girls on a journey that ended in popular culture and connection.
We then asked the girls, in just one session to photograph, with the caneras we brought, the following ideas using these prompts:
1. Autoretrato (foto de ustedes)- Self portrait
2. Foto de objecto (objecto importante, que signifique algo)-Significant or important object
3. Foto de algo bello- Something you find beautiful
4. Retrato de alguien que les guste -Photo of someone you like
5. Foto de su lugar favorito aqui -Photo of a favorite place within Casa Hogar Santa Julia
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Katia, 2014)
In Reggio-speak these prompts are what is called a “provocation.”
Or something that provokes and generates thought, excitement, wonder, or relationship.
A good provocation is the opposite of finite. It is an interaction or idea with legs.
What happened next is almost impossible to describe.
The girls took off like a butterflies being released.
These teenage girls first went about this photo shoot cautiously, but then literally began running from place to place,
high and low,
open and hidden with a sense of urgency.
Language barriers faded as small moments of intimacy, silliness, and connection were shared because of the camera.
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Abril, 2014)
I became witness to their unspoken. (Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Paola, 2014)
Favorite places, beauty, their personal photos/momentos, their hopes, their place of rest…
(Photo By Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Joanna, 2014)
When we returned the next day with contact sheets, well, I wish you could have seen the moment when we handed each girl their images.
And then we asked them to edit:
1 image for a pillow
2 images to keep.
Pam and I would choose 1 image to be in an art exhibit.
This was difficult. The girls discussed, meditated on it, were decisive, indecisive, torn. Editing is tough.
While Ben (Corcoran Graduate and our Tech in residence) was off to print. The sewing part of the project began.
Some girls experienced sewing for the first time, while others were skilled.
Beginning things can be tricky, especially when there are language barriers (none of us were bi-lingual, and our Spanish skills ranged from nothing to a 5 year old’s level!) The girls’ English skills ranged from very little to excellent. Through a mix of doing, diagrams, English, Spanish, body language, and lots of visible listening, together we became a small temporary community.
The following days were filled with communion. It is why for generations people have gathered to stitch together; in New Orleans the men gather to hand stitch elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and the women of America stitching quilts in quilting bees. We returned the next day with the photo they had picked for their pillow on transfer paper. After ironing onto the fabric, the moment of suspense and excitement where the image transfers…
The steady work of the hand in a circle of others for hours creates space for both conversation and silence in the presence of shared work.
We brought fabric markers so the girls could put text on their pillows, dreams or thoughts. Many chose to write in English or asked for translations. The words were quite astounding. (The pillow reads: My Dream is to be a good sister.)
(The pillow reads, Always Smiling at Life, Thank you God)
(Her pillow speaks of loving her 3 siblings)
This is also, why, in the context of the Reggio-inspired Atelier, children work in small groups. It creates a circle of familiarity and trust, a repeated gathering where the making is the vehicle for complex relationships.
(The many uses of pillow stuffing)
In the case of the girls at Santa Julia, their relationships already exist. Our small group of Corcoran students and staff were there to offer another language, another experience, an interaction, a provocation, and an opportunity to facilitate an exchange through the arts.
This year, for the first time, Pamela Lawton and I chose one image for each girl to be exhibited in Gallery 13, at La Fabrica de Aurora.
Here are some of the images we selected for this exhibition: By Erne
While we, the Corcoran engaged in this “service,” it is always ambiguous as to who in fact benefits most from these small moments.
I contend that while we gave the girls this opportunity, it was in fact, ourselves who received the greatest gifts.
The girls, knowing we were there for just a short time took the greatest risks.
By sharing their space and place, and engaging us gringos (who by the way, spoke Spanish at the level of a 5 year old at best!) they communicated great integrity, creativity, and gratitude.
Self Portrait By Silvia
I think perhaps this is true of teaching, universally. Yes, teachers work tirelessly and endlessly to develop, create, facilitate, and fight for the rights of children. However it is the reciprocal wisdom that the teacher receives from the student (sometimes in indirect ways that you don’t even realize in the moment) that makes life full, meaningful, and worth living.
If one can access through reflection the gifts received, well, that is the secret and art to persevering in teaching (and life itself.)
The exhibit is up through November 2nd.
In gratitude to:
Veronique and Bob Pittman, who make the Pittman Study Abroad Program in Mexico through the Corcoran possible.
Robert Devers, Director of Corcoran Study Abroad Programs for his incredible planning, organization, and support.
Dr. Pamela Lawton, Director of Art Education at The Corcoran, Partner in crime.
Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Photographer/collaborator. He truly helped us rethink this project while in the planning stages, and provoked us to both broaden and edit our plans. He also gave an exceptional lecture to the girls at Santa Julia.
The incredible women of Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco:
Barbara Rueda, Madre Lidia, Arcelia Chávez, all the Madres who greeted and smiled and made us feel welcome!
The Grad students: Amanda, Christine, Judybeth, Lauren, who participated in this course with gusto.
The Santa Julia girls who participated in our programming with gusto.
Ben Granderson, who printed and formatted all the images, and also volunteered.
LaMar and Mara, for volunteering.
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