There is a symbiotic relationship I have with my profession/s. Artist and Atelierista.
When I am both teaching and creating art I am immersed in and blessed with: aha moments of discovery, the anxiousness of the unknown, the struggle and challenges of making ideas into something visible, the struggle and challenges of materials, tools, and media, limitations of time, deep thought, play, experimentation, expanses of altered time, introspection, reflection, conversation, mistakes, mistakes that are paradigm shifting, collaboration, the feelings of exhilaration and fear within expression.
I start this blog off with these thoughts because, the children conceptualized, experienced, and sketched the music of Bach played live by Joshua Bell on a Stradivarius Violin in Union Station surrounded by a gazillion people, and it is breathtaking. Every part of this experience is breathtaking.
This is Liam’s sketches while listening to Joshua Bell perform live at Union Station.
This year, the Kindergarten classes are engaged in a year-long exploration and encounter with Union Station, located about 8 blocks from School.
The poetry of these pictures illustrate the connections, interactions, observations, and encounters that the Kindergarten Citizens experienced in the last few months. In and out of Union Station, the immersion, awe, and thinking is evident in the Historic gem of a building, teaming with humanity. The children’s presence seamlessly adds to the hustle and bustle as they sprawled and pointed and pondered.
But wait, this blog post is about the children’s conceptualization and making visible the music of Joshua Bell.
Perhaps you have seen the viral video clip of Joshua Bell, one of the best concert violinist in the world played for free, for 45 minutes, on a violin worth 3.5 million dollars at a subway station in Wash DC. Over a thousand people passed by Bell, only seven stopped to listen him play, including a 3-year old boy, and only one person recognized him.
So imagine my excitement when a week after taking the Kindergarten children on another excursion to Union Station I saw this headline in the Washington Post:
Joshua Bell to play again in DC after 2007 stunt
By – Associated Press – Tuesday, September 23, 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) – Joshua Bell wants a do-over in Washington.
The Grammy-winning violinist played for change in a D.C. Metro station in 2007 during an experiment with The Washington Post, and almost no one paid attention. It made for a good magazine story that won the Pulitzer Prize. But Bell hasn’t been able to live it down after seven years.
Now, Bell tells the Post (http://wapo.st/ZGRQRm ) he is planning another public performance in the main hall at Washington’s Union Station. And he hopes to have an audience this time. The performance is set for Sept. 30 at 12:30 p.m.
I love my colleagues at SWS! When I squeeled that we HAD to take the kids in just 3 days, both Kindergarten Teachers, Margaret Ricks and Laura McCarthy took a breath and made this last minute hustle with chaperones and schedule changes a reality.
But first: I showed the kids the above video about all the grown ups who walked by a world class violinist, because he looked like just some guy in jeans and a baseball cap. Here’s their faces as they watched:
They were flabbergasted.
Parent, Emily Greif told me there was a childrens book made about what happened, and how it was the child who heard and wanted to stop to hear the music, but the Mom was too much in a hurry. The child noticed.
She lent us the book. Here’s a short trailer about it: The Man with the Violin
The children wanted to hear the book again and again. The day before the Joshua Bell concert, the children would yell out as they passed me, “We’re going to Joshua Bell tomorrow!”
The day of, many parents in excitement pulled up some Joshua Bell music for their children to listen to. Even before the concert, children were doing this at home:
Finally the day arrived.
The kids had to eat quickly and then walk briskly to Union Station. Spirits were high. They sang as they walked. And then we arrived.
You cannot imagine the adult crowd. Almost 45 minutes before start time and it was packed!
Being a short person who can readily scoot to the front, I attempted to part the crowds like Moses, shouting out, “Please make way for the 5 year olds! Excuse me can I lead these children through so they can see?” I was almost to the inner circle just one row of people to go, I had 40 5 year olds and a dozen adults protecting them from the throngs. And then a voice rang out. “It’s first come first serve and we were here first. We are not moving!!!”
“Can they please just scoot in front of you and sit? The adults will stand back.”
“We were here first!!!”
And so I signaled, to go back the other way.
As the crowd capacity grew I finally said, “Everyone sit! We are claiming our ground!”
The adults encircled the children with love and passed out the sketchbooks.
It was loud and chaotic.
And then something completely magical happened…
First, they started sketching the noise and the crowd.
Lily’s diagram or map of the concert.
And then the second magical thing happened. The music started. And the din of the crowd silenced. The haunting and soaring, the joyful and the somber sounds of Bach surrounded us all. And this is what I witnessed:
Sasha F.’s sketch
Edwin’s sketch (below)
Please watch this brief video clip of what is was like there, in the moment these images were taken. The magic of making sound visible.
The experience was seemingly spiritual, as the sounds and the sketching melted away the sea of adult legs pressing in on and around the children. Their being, their presence as participants in this historic moment solidified and confirmed their citizenship. In fact their sense of noticing and hearing surpassed the majority of the crowd of almost 1,500 who were jostling to get closer and closer and closer. In fact, the children managed to get the closest…inside, in their hearts and souls.
The newspapers gave great reviews to the event, but I wanted Joshua Bell to know about these small folks and their experience with his music. I sent Joshua Bell’s “people” an email with some photos of the children and their sketches of his music.
A week later I received this response, and a package in the mail.
Thank you so very much for your email to the Joshua Bell team. I am based in Los Angeles and just returned today.
I found the children’s drawings quite fantastic and thank you for sending them along. How lucky they are to have you as their teacher, someone who thinks “out of the box” and knows a good teaching moment when there is one.
I’d very much like to send you the new Bach CD for the children to listen to and an autographed photo of Joshua if you will kindly provide me with your mailing address.
With sincere thanks and best wishes,
Press Representative / JAG Entertainment
4265 Hazeltine Ave. / Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind,
flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” …Plato
Her response moved me. She also validated the depth of young children and the importance and beauty of their collective voice.
The very first time I handed out the Union Station Sketchbooks,
“real artist sketchbooks” to the children,
and the first time the children sketched into them
at Union Station, Mason Grace turned to me and said;
“This journal is like a bible.”
And I say to that, Amen.
This year at SWS, I have three new classrooms of children to interact with. For the first time we have two 3 year old preschool classrooms and one classroom with non-categorical medically fragile children.
Scarlett, one of our children from our first SWS 3 year old PreSchool program
Ayanna, who is in Ms. Maureen’s non-categorical class next door
Because they are located on the ground floor, many people have not had the opportunity to greet the possibilities that grow with these new populations.
In a Reggio context, this has been an opportunity to truly believe in the concept of the 100 Languages.
The idea that children are able to express themselves through 100 Languages and that teachers/facilitators need to be “Visual Listeners” to observe, understand and extend that conversation (especially non-verbal conversations) has always been a tenant that I embrace.
In the context of our new classes, the pre-school children do not necessarily possess the strongest ability of expression verbally and with the medically fragile children, the majority are non-verbal.
With the preschool children, my goal has been to engage the senses, develop their capacity to be in a small group that gives and receives, and the experience/environment to express themselves and their theories and for them to find value in this.
Using the outdoors and the garden as a provocation to “see,” I set up this provocation in the studio.
“There’s something on the round carpet for you to see. Please walk around it, look closely, have a seat, and think about what it is.”
“It looks like a snowflake!” Abbey
“Green stripes!” Joe-Joe
“Green pictures!” Oskar
“A flower and the petals.” Miles
“Like the sun!” Emily
“It looks like a spider.” Coby
“I think it looks like a spider web.” William M.
“It looks like a diamond.” Elana
The previous week I had the children paint and asked them what they “saw” or imagined in a painting. Because of this, they returned to this type of thinking and few children noticed or verbalized that everything was green without prompting.
“There are 100’s of greens in the world, and we are going to hunt for them in the garden today.”
I attended a conference where a presenter shared that because of the extended time young children are spending on ipods, iphones, and other close range viewing screens- children are not developing full spectrum color sight as well as full long range distance sight.
As an artist and human this appalled me. To counter this possibility, the intention was to get the children to observe all the nuances of color outside, especially in our vibrant garden.
After an exciting and intense green hunt, the children engaged in painting only in green. It also was an opportunity to introduce small brushes and small paintings, another way to make marks, learn to take care of paint colors, and have a shared experience in the studio.
“What do you think of your small green paintings?”
“This one (green color) is kinda blue. The dark green, it is melting all the light colors up.” William T.
“Mine is beautiful.” Jillian
“They look like the grown up paintings.” Simon
Continuing the provocation of nature and the garden, I facilitated embodying leaves and the concept of metaphor within the concept of the fall leaves and three year old children.
With the non-categorical medically fragile children I began a journey of non-verbal communication and relationship through materials and the senses.
My goal is to develop a relationship of caring and trust, a community of “makers” and an awakening of senses through projects and materials.
At first I was a little timid. How much can I touch, move, adapt with these young children. What is safe for them? What is a good risk? How much can I expect?
(Making musical percussive shakers)
The beauty of eye contact and a pat from a child who initially stayed across the room and by week three began to join me and “make”, observing a child realize they are making marks instead of watching others make marks, the reactions to cause and effect, the feel and sound of materials, the lightness of being when I began spontaneously singing to engage them in a new project, the non-verbal greetings of joy when I walked in by week four, the deep beauty and surprise of touch (both human and materials.) The richness in these small moments of connection is vast.
The continuity of the garden and nature explorations and inspirations continues with the Prek 4’s and Kindergarten classes.
I have such gratitude for the community (led by Jennifer Mampara and Nicole Mogul) in creating and maintaining the garden that greets every child, family member, friend, and visitor as they enter our school.
At a staff meeting last month, 2nd grade teacher Erika Bowman spoke with great admiration and awe at a community who makes it a value to create and grow a bountiful garden, the first year existence in new location.
For the PreK 4’s, all the project work has been about facilitating the development of visual voice to express their observations in the garden.
Each small group picked a vegetable to touch, observe and then sketch. Before beginning each child was asked to observe their plant silently and think about something they noticed after looking really really really closely. Then we took turns sharing and listening, learning that listening to your friend is an important part of the curriculum. Listening to another child gives the group new ways of thinking, seeing, and doing. This is a practice that I want the children to value.
Here’ a radish conversation:
“Whoa, there’s a pink thing down there!! Charlie B.
“There’s spikes on the stem.” Liam
“The leaves are a little pokey.” Priya
“There are lines on the leaf.” Julia
“The shape on the leaves is blurry like, wiggly.” Santino
One of the cabbage groups had a very interesting conversation that developed into theory building:
“I can see little holes in the leaves.” Myles T.
“Caterpillar must have ate it.” Quinn
“I see a bubble. It’s a bubble of water.” Melin
“Why do you think the leaves have those bubbles?” Ms. McLean
“I think maybe a bumble bee came. I think a bumble bee came and sting the leaf to make a bubble” Edwin
“I think it’s juice that someone spilled.” Quinn
“I think it’s bumble bee honey. I think a bumble bee ate the leaf, then licked it and the bumble bee made a juicy on the leaf.” Anais.
“Yeah, I think it’s from a bumble bee licking it.” Myles T.
In the following weeks children used their sketches from the garden with a corresponding photo of the vegetable and used paint to make an observational painting in the studio.
This time the children had to be extremely observent not only about line and form but color.
Going through the same thinking process, children were asked to silently look closely and observe the color and then we went around the table and listened to each other’s observations.
“The white on the leaf is cause the sun is shining.” Mason
The following week each group progressed to making Observational Art of the same vegetable, this time using materials.
First they had to shop and collect materials. Next they had to arrange the pieces so it made sense using their photo, observational drawing and observational painting as a resource.
“Why do you have all the colors if we only need greens and red and pink ?” asked Gabriel. He had a radish and was a little disappointed when I asked him if his radish had all the rainbow of materials color that he had placed on his paper.
“Because then I would be doing all your thinking. You get to make your own decisions and this is how I can see your thinking. It’s hard but your brain will grow.” Ms. McLean
Before gluing, I ask children to place the obkects on the paper, allowing them to edit and change, unti shape, form and space begin to come together and make sense into the form of their vegetable plant. When I see they have solid ideas forming, I place the glue down for them to use. Because of this process, children usually continiue to add and delete objects as they observe nuances not noticed before.
Sometimes a child will need what is called scaffolding.
“I see the red stem very clearly. What do you see inside the leaf?
Andrew then went back, getting more materials to show his new observation. (below)
Children are learning to make visual metaphors by using objects to represent and symbolize real thinking and observations. This is no different then learning that letters symbolize words that can represent thinking and observations. This is literacy.
Ava’s Swiss Chard
When looking at their representations, I avoid having children at this stage present their own work.
Here are the two “scripts” I give them:
“Please share what was difficult or hard about making this observational painting.”
(With the Materials Observational Art project, each child was asked to “read” the art of another child’s work in the group and respond,) “When you look at Ingrid’s Observational Art, what is it telling you she noticed.”
This intentional reflection practice encourages children to utilize visual thinking strategies (instead of “I made a stem.”), listening (the artist is eager to hear what his/her friend sees in his/her art) and another layer of observation development. It also illustrates the belief that every child has something to learn from another.
Using the garden and nature as a provocation with all grades, (but with a different approach) allows for a continuity and collective understanding for the representations throughout the school.
The Kindergarten children were challenged to tackle symbolism and meaning through color and objects.
In this provocation, they were asked to make a plan for a collaborative sculpture where every color or image had to represent or symbolize something from our garden or nature experiences.
These plans stayed up on the big whiteboard in the common are. They were a constant reference point and guide as children made choices as to which part of their plan they wanted to create to be added to the collaborative group sculpture.
Here’s Noah working on wrapping blue fabric around sticks he had painted yellow. “It represents the sun and the sky.”
As children progressed in making all the small symbollic pieces, the counter became a bounty and source of ideas.
Each week Kindergarten children returned to see visually what the next step was.
Last week many of the small group sculptures were assembled.
The process was truly an act of trusting the group, as the head became unbalanced and balanced as the children took turns drilling and adding pieces.
An unintentional lesson was in fact Balalnce.
Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Orange/Gold Variation) 10/22/13
My sticks look like flat oranges. It represents oranges. –Lilah
I planned to do the stick. I painted it gold. The gold represents the sun. –Dorian
I made it be like an acorn tree. I painted it blue like water around the earth. –Aksel
I painted the head golden like hot lava. –Gabriel
I made the thing about some flowers that are in our garden. They are kind of colorful and they are are very soft. And they are small. The petals are warm. Flowers are important in nature because they are beautiful. –Anabel
I painted the golden part on the head. I was thinking of rocks. Some rocks are golden.
The acorns represent the sky, the blue acorns. The sky has clouds. The sun shines on it. –Sofie
Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Blue Variation) 10/22/13
I made flowers. They help bees and butterflies live. –Mira
Flowers make the world a beautiful place. –Willa
I did the sun. It helps flowers grow. –Dylan
I made grass. Grass is good for the world because it makes people walk on it. –Willa
I made a flower. Flowers help butterflies and bees. Butterflies make pollen. Bees make honey for us. If they weren’t alive we would have no pollen or honey. And then we wouldn’t be happy because if there was just plain yogurt, you would want honey in it. It doesn’t taste so good, if you mix it up with honey it’s good. -Ibby
I made some sticks that I painted yellow. It represents the sun. And the blue that I put on, represents the sky. –Noah
The red roses, they can grow good and live like if you water them a bunch they will be good. They will grow better. –Isaiah
The blue face represents the water and the sky.
Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Orange/Blue Variation) 10/16/13
The flowers represent nature. -Isabel
Flowers make earth look beautiful. They bring pollen for bees and butterflies, to help other flowers grow.
The leaves represent flowers. If there were no leaves then the flowers would never have water. Cause the leaves have little tiny strings that go into the tree that gives water to the flowers.
After you grow cucumbers you wash them. You can cut it up and then you eat them. You can turn them into pickles and eat them too. –Benjamin
The tree represents growing things.
The head represents the sun. The glasses represent water. The water makes things grow.
The carrots symbolize eating. And they also help you grow. –Samuel
The leaves give us air. -Madeline
Nature Garden Centerpiece/Sculpture (Green/Brown Variation) 10/15/13
I painted the head green and brown. The brown symbolizes dirt. The green symbolizes leaves, spinach, and grass. –Riley
I made the sticks like with the tomatoes. The beads represent the tomatoes. -Lusa
Birds like gardens because they like fruit and stuff. –Gael
The apples represent a tree. When you eat apples you get very healthy. The apples stick on a tree for a reason, so they don’t get bruised. –Dominic
The carrot grows. The root grows from the bottom, and the carrot is part of the bottom. You pull it up from the leaves. You wash it, and then you eat it. –Tate
So leaves, they survive on trees. So it is beautiful.
The caterpillar and the butterfly symbolize nature because they live in the dirt and nature is in the dirt. -Audrey
Nature Garden Sculpture/Centerpiece (Purple/Brown Variation) 10/15/13
The brown paint represents the dirt in the garden and also the earth. –Harvey
The carrots go in the dirt. –Eric
The necklace represents the rocks of the ground.
On top, the stick represents trees with berries.
It symbolizes a flower to the branch. I see a carrot tree, there also might be an acorn tree.
The purple is for the whole wide world to grow. If people die, the purple takes their spirit and buries them.
The flowers symbolize prettiness.
The jewels symbolize a shiny thing, like the sun shining down. It also makes music, like a jingly.
I no longer am teaching the older expanded grades of (this year) 1st and 2nd.
The growing pains of a Reggio Inspired school are , How do you keep the continuity, caring and intimacy of a small community, while at the same time expand to secure a vital future and create a new revolutionary model of public education?
This questions helped me to develop some small “interventions” to cross-fertilize the entire community through creativity.
The first small intervention I just recently tried, is inviting two first grade children to be studio assistants for an hour while I have a 3 year old group.
My first two friends were Kayden and Remi from Ms. Scofield’s class. I wanted them to experience being in a different developmental bracket, so I asked them to visit while a had 5 three year olds in the studio.
I broke their time in to two segments. Before I went to retrieve my three’s, I invited Remi and Kayden in.
“The three year olds have been exploring nature around the school. They have such wonderful ideas about the changing of the seasons and the leaves right now. However, you have the experience to illustrate and respond to their ideas, like an artist who does the pictures for another writer.”
Here are there responses.
They took this work seriously. They didn’t laugh or question the validity or ideas of the three year old children, they simply, responded visually.
I will continue to explore the possibilities of these types of new interactions.
Last week many of the teachers attended a professional development at Washington International School, in conjunction with the DC-Project Zero (Harvard Grad School of Education Research Collaborative/Institute.)
One of the speakers, Ben Mardell said, “We can make children (young children) big or small.”
At SWS, our youngest smallest children are not considered small. We see them in big ways, as individuals and as part of the community.
The first ever SWS Yarn Bomb was the second intervention or act I facilitated to bring the community together in a creative cacophony of joy and color.
As I view the images of children/adults of all ages equally participating, it clearly makes visible the strength of honoring every individual at their current stage of development.
People stop by and ask me, How’s it going? What do you think of this big place? How’s the change? Do you like it?
This is a great experiment in expanding the heart. It is beating, it is warm, it is vigorous non-stop beating, it is at times exhausting, but it is, truly wonderous and just the beginning of a ripple of change. A ripple that will keep on moving outward, one heart at a time.